Friday, April 28, 2006

three chapters and an epilogue

i am a lame duck tourist.

coming around the corner is a long plane ride, a long lay-over in Korea (which originally sounded exciting, but after emails from jacob and kham, sounds rather boring and uneventful.) i often fall into a deep depression after a trip like this, having to go back to the usa and face the reality of work, expensive groceries, my credit card bill, and new episodes of "lost", but i have many hours of video from the vacation, so maybe if i turn out all the lights and turn the tv up real loud, i can pretend i am not in seattle at all - if i could only transport the perennially peaceful chirping of the meng chakchanh back with me... i might be able to pull it off.

i now have the task of doing some shopping before i go home, which i will do today. tomorrow i head to bangkok and on monday night i head home.

i called my dad today, but it was really a one-way conversation (with the delay and all the bad reception). but i think my blog had him convinced that i wasn't having a good time. (dad you can comment on this if you want!) but i tried not to do that. (i just thought that the bug story was funny.)

so i will break it down like this -- this trip really has three chapters and an epilogue: chapter 1: visiting kham's family; chapter 2: vietnam; chapter 3: descent into southern Laos - and all that encompasses. the epilogue is now, and epilogues aren't very interesting as a general rule. in fact, i think that people write an epilogue cause they don't know how to end their book - so i won't spend much time commenting on the present. well, each part of this trip has been interesting and invigorating for me. obviously i haven't gone for the vacations where i went to a beach to soak up sun for a week (my skin is too pale for that), even though i can empathize with those who do. and maybe my dad can take credit (or blame) for that - the only thing that we ever did growing up that might be called "vacation" was going up to northern Louisiana for family reunions and that was always more educational and interesting than anything else.

i think i have said plenty about chapters 1 & 2 of this trip... and i am sure that my movie of kham's homecoming will have plenty to say to those who are interested... so i will say one more thing about my trip down south and then call it good.

two days ago, i paid for a car to take my client and his relatives to go to see Khonephapheng falls, (the large waterfall that borders Laos and Cambodia, and makes the Mekong impassable for shipping - and ultimately it protected Laos from the extreme "perils of french colonialism" that Vietnam saw.)

none of his grandparents (on his or his wife's side) had ever seen the waterfall before, and i was touched to see how excited they were; they thanked me over and over again. even though they are close to the falls, they cannot go because they haven't adequate money or resources. one grandma, after having swam in the water for a spell, came up to me, held my hand, and said in so many words- "today you are likely to earn a lot of "boun" (merit); i have been here for 60 years and have never seen Khonephapheng! but because of you i see it today." ...and the funny thing is it only cost me 20 bucks to rent the truck.

it was a full day, and by the time we got back across the river to done khong, and then got ready to take the long boat back to the village on the west bank, it was completely dark. no one had brought a light either, so my client had to scramble around the town to borrow one so we could navigate back through the many small islands and trees in the river. as we set out for the 3 mile trek upstream, i was amazed at the stars. with no moon, no trees to block the view, and no electric lights in close proximity, the sky was huge. i got a crick in my neck from staring up so long, and i saw three falling stars in the course of the ride back. my client's relatives were laughing at me; they see the stars every night, and i think they would probably give up a few of the smaller ones if they could have electricity in their village. but for someone like me, i would give up a few of the lights on my street (especially the sands and the waterwheel) if i could have a few more stars...

shoo fly, don't bother me

i have just returned from Ban Veunh, on the west bank of the Mekong, just north of Meuang Khong in southern Laos. reference the map previously posted, and see how far south i got; i think the map is archived now...

southern Laos is beautiful. i am captivated by the calmness of the islands and the slow-paced feel to life down there. as the Mekong river flows south to the Cambodian border, it widens, and in the middle of the river are all these small islands. but many are still without electricity and potable water. most of the villages on the west bank of the river are also without electricity, and such was the village where i stayed. (in case i didn't explain before, i went to southern Laos to catch up with a former client; he moved to Laos about a year ago, and since has gotten married. they are currently expecting a baby in january.)

i stayed at his mother's house, and she has a generator that is turned on for a few hours each night so they can have light, a fan, and Thai tv in the main room of the house. she and her husband live in the usa, but they had a sizable house built there in the village a couple of years ago. and when that tv comes on, the neighborhood all shows up to watch. its just like a movie theatre, but the seats are on the floor and are free.

the first night of my stay there at the house followed a day when a sizable rain storm had come through the area. so when the lights were turned on, the bugs were came out in full force. i've never seen so many bugs swarming around a light before; the doors (more like a cage gate) of the house are constantly left open, and the windows don't have screens. so i just sat there in awe as the bugs just poured into the house. i figured this is how Noah gathered the bugs for the ark, because at least two of every type of bug in Laos were flying around in that front room. and they would fly in so fast that they would hit the light and then fall to the floor. every 15 minutes or so, one of the girls would get up and sweep up the pile of bugs gathering in the center of the floor and try to push them out of the door. at one point, the girl screamed cause she found a scorpion crawling in (towards my sleeping palate, i swear.) that scorpion is no longer alive. it was squished with the end of the broom stick.

i kept wondering how this problem would be dealt with once the lights went off. bugs just don't leave because you turn off the light. but i tried to have some hope that maybe Lao bugs are different than other bugs... and when you turn off the lights, they all go home (like the kids did when they turned off the Thai tv...)

well, i probably don't need to continue this story, because you already know the ending. besides, karma comes back at you in interesting ways. (reference the story i told that made fun of jacob for his little episode with the striped bug on the boat in halong bay; thus is my reward for a story that put him in a bad light; but he is kinda wimpy though when it comes to bugs - but i guess i am kinda wimpy when it comes to a swarm of locusts sent to chastise pharaoh.

well, the lights were turned off after another futile attempt to sweep up the ugly bug ball in the middle of the floor, and the three cousins and i tried to get to sleep. problem #1: it was HOT. i cannot tell you when i have been that hot before. no air... just dead heat. the whole room was thickly sticky and dark, and i had no fan on me. problem #2: bugs. i have never had to sleep with bugs crawling on me before. at any given moment, i had 5 bugs on me that i could feel (and another 20 that i couldn't). i just lay there, picking them off my skin and flicking them across the floor. most of them were the jacob-scared-of-the-striped-bug size, but some were the size of a four-year-old's fist. i tried to spray myself with mosquito repellant, but that only seemed to attract them more: what scares off mosquitoes seems like the call of the wild for every other bug. the cousins were cracking up at the whole thing. they seemed to think it was funny... (and i guess i did too, until i decided to slap one that was crawling on my head - and it let off this stinky stinky death knell smell... that was the last one i decided to kill.) the cousins informed me that i had killed a meng kheng; they didn't see the thing, but you don't need to see the jar of mustard to recognize the smell. (too bad kim wasn't there to help me with this one).

i finally fell into unconsciousness, half laughing, half crying, thinking that i would assert myself the next day and demand to sleep somewhere else (in the upper room maybe? or at least request a mosquito net... ) but of course, the next day i just let it go; the feel of the country side down there does that to you. it's almost like nothing can bother you there; valium's in the air, and time just stops. and things like unfinished case notes at work, the iraq war, and missed episodes of "lost" don't matter... and true to form, it all worked out ok in the end anyway: the next evening saw about 10% of the bugs of the first night. and i can sleep fine when, at any given moment i have 0.5 bug(s) crawling on me that i can feel (and another 2 that i can't feel).

and with all this talk of bugs and opressive heat, i am sure nobody wants to visit Laos anymore ... and i would tell you another story about a big bug (meng valy or vady, not sure on this, cause the southern Lao change their d's to l's) that i was coerced into eating that grossed me out so bad i left the house so i could spit it out, but my blog is losing subscribers fast, and i can't afford to lose any more.

Monday, April 24, 2006

one night in bangkok is not enough: a note from kham

Hello, hello, hello.

Yes, I am still alive, and the Thai people don't hate me. "One night in Bangkok" is definitely not enough; I actually had two nights, and that is still not enough.

It is Monday, April 23, 2006, my final day in Thailand. What to do? Knowing me, I will shop till all the Baht is gone. Since I've had a short amount of time in Bangkok, all I did was shop and spent some time eating. There are just too many things to buy; but no worries, I didn't buy everything I saw, but it looks like I am gonna have to buy me another suitcase home. I also had the chance to go to church on Sunday, and it was good to see members in this part of the world. Thankfully they still accepted me in my jeans, shirt, and sandals. The church is true folks.

Well boys and girls, so little time, so I must go run errands and get some shopping done. This whole Southeast Asia trip has been fun, eye-opening, and simply amazing. I'm glad to have experienced it all with my family, and two odd friends from Washington; good thing I have made more friends along the way. If anyone is asking, yes I will be back here again.

Take care everyone, and remember who are, and keep smiling.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

everybody's leaving hanoi

i am alone in hanoi. jacob left a little while ago - in a taxi to the airport, heading back to the usa. nick (friend from thailand) left this afternoon for bangkok, and nid (nick's girlfriend) and sophie (friend from england) left for the train station about an hour ago to catch a ride in a sleeper car to sapa. there they will visit some of the minority ethnic villiages of vietnam. we have really enjoyed wandering the city together.

so i am the last of our little group left. i will leave for viengchanh early tomorrow morning, and then i will head down south to meuang khong. the internet is scarce there, so you may not hear from me for a while.

vietnam is a country beyond description, and i have really enjoyed the visit here - although it was too short. but i am happy to be returning to Laos where the food, the people, and the pace are familiar.

the progression of pho in hanoi

Saturday, April 22, 2006

ahan viet, mak mangkhout, and thit cho

i have said this before: it is pretty pathetic that i can spend 3 weeks (actually its closer to 4; but i say 3 because i tire of the question: "how do you get so much time off from work?") in developing coutries where people are in severe poverty, and i can come away having gained 5 pounds.

but when the food is this good, i don't know how to say no. (although i am anxious to get back to my home turf, where the food is more flavorful and spicey; viet food, while good, is sometimes bland and uneventful. i don't find a big distinction between what i eat here and what i find in the way of viet food back home in the usa.) i leave for Laos on monday morning, and i have a list of foods i still need to eat before i return home. but even if i don't finish the list, i can count the trip a success because i found mangosteen (mak mangkhout, as the Lao call it) see previous entry entitled, "kham trapped with joseph and jacob in Vietnam!"

i can't express adequately exactly how much i love this fruit, but those who have travelled to Laos with me (jacob farrar) can probably give you a good idea. if you have never have eaten it then just imagine your favorite fruit and how good it tastes... then multiply that by 5 - and you got an idea. so a trip to Asia is never complete without happening upon the mangosteen and eating a kilo or two.

here is what an American living in Java wrote in 1898: "The five white segments separate easily, and they melt on the tonugue with a touch of tart and a touch of sweet; one moment a memory of the juiciest, most fragrant apple, at another a remembrance of the smoothest cream ice, the most exquisite and delicately flavoured fruit-acid known - all of the delights of nature's laboratory condensed in that ball of neige parfumee"

and from we can learn that:

The mangosteen (garcinia mangosanta) is a tropical evergreen tree. The tree grows from 7 to 25 meters tall. In Asia, the mangosteen fruit is known as the "Queen of Fruits."

The outer shell of the fruit is rather hard, typically 4-6 cm in diameter. Cutting through the shell, one finds a white, fleshy fruit 3-5 cm in diameter. The number of fruit pods is directly related to the number of petals on the bottom of the shell.
On average a mangosteen has 5 fruits (round up figure).

for the full article (with links):

so i am forever in search of the mangosteen. eating it once is not enough. and the usa should ease its restrictions on Asian fruits. i have to go all the way to canada to get some mangosteen now (if i am not flying to Laos to get it), and it is expensive and not that good.

WARNING: i will now mention dog (cho) eating one last time (as promised - and so if you don't wanna hear, just stop reading here... cause the rest of this is only about that): i will confirm once more - BBQ cho is good, steamed cho is not so good. Sophie is adventurous, and she and i set off today in search of thit cho, the Viet specialty. Viet only eat cho during the second half of the lunar calendar because to eat it before is considered unlucky. the cho is prepared seven different ways - and dark dogs are considered more tasty. the diner will often order several different kinds of the preparation styles - as that is considered the best way to eat it.

we stumbled upon a dog restaurant, by 100% complete accident, and it was packed! (that is always a good signal that you have found a good spot to get some food.) but it was a little strange cause i got the feeling that we were sitting among an old fraternity organization of sorts; women don't usually eat cho, and so it was all these older men besides one other woman and sophie. but that didn't stop her. after the initial shock of seeing the cho layed out on the grill, we set to work. it took me a while to get the server to bring out the BBQ. all i got at first was steamed cho with some unidentifiable sausage, (and neither was very good). i finally had to get up and point at another guy's plate of cho before she got the idea. (i don't know what made her think i wanted steamed cho in the first place? do i look like the steamed cho kinda guy?) well, the BBQ was excellent, and even sophie was surprised about the taste. but the taste was more about the way it was prepared than any inherant flavor of cho itself. they had seasoned it with galanga and also gave us a lemon, pepper, and salt dipping sauce.

we finished the plate and decided to recommend the restaurant to all our friends when we got back to our respective countries. (it is not far from the Ho Chi Minh house and one-pillar pagoda; just ask someone, they will know).

but a quick analysis of the whole thit cho controversy: i don't have a big problem over eating a dog or any other animal. however, i can easily understand why dogs have been deemed "special" (ie., off the the butcher's list of meats to sell) by western society due to their willingness to connect and create a relationship with humans. that dogs will look you in the eye (in hopes of getting a scooby snack) puts them in a category all their own, and i am not sure that the flavor justifies the means. but all food is cultural, and in pursuit of cultural openness, i have opted to look at the dog eating in Asia differently. killing any animal for food is a messy and unsettling process when you look at the details, and so it seems somewhat contradictory to empathize too strongly with a dog bred for comsumption and then turn around and buy celophane pig meat at albertsons. and now i have turned preachy so i will turn off.

to connect with the anti-dog eating faction just click on the following link. be cautious; the website contains some graphic images.

Friday, April 21, 2006

say goodbye to kham

mi feel guilty. i said that Vietnam had blocked my blog - and here i am - in Vietnam, posting to the blog. (but really, EVERY computer - until this one - would not show it; one even said access denied!) but thank you cindy for your willingness to keep my blog active regardless of the circumstances.

well, today we returned from our two-day trip Halong Bay. incredible. we cruised around the bay, visited a cave, and spent the night on the boat; we were lucky to have only 9 others with us on the boat - and we all got along very well. i did have a little trouble getting to sleep cause jacob got scared by a little striped bug. he WOULD NOT go to bed until the thing was removed from the room or killed. at one point he yelped when i touched his head with a pen (to make like the bug had landed on him.) well, when i got lazy hunting for the bug, he chided me that i would not be able to abdicate such an important responsibility as bug hunting if a woman had asked me. he did finally kill it, so i guess he redeemed himself in the end; (i felt sorry for the bug- it wasn't that big, and looked like an endangered species.) in response, jacob will tell you all how i threw my dental floss into the already fragile halong bay... but i still say i am not to blame for that cause i thought dental floss was made out of biodegradable string (not plastic, like jacob was quick to point out). so i guess it's nothing but fighting and contention on this end... but that's what vacations are for.

well, meet nick, nid (from Thailand, living now in Australia,) and sophie (from England):

we met them on the boat and spent the rest of the day with them. nick and nid have a restaurant in their city of Sydney (voted best Thai food in the city 4 years in a row!!) so virakone, go check it out (if you haven't already); there menu looks great, and they have a gift shop where nid sells her handmade jewelry. meeting people like them is really what makes traveling fun. and we had a great time this evening.. we ate at a street stall restaurant, and took turns singing our respective national anthems while the waiters stood by with their hands over their hearts.

check out the website for nick and nid's Thai Pothong Restaurant:

the sad news of the day: kham is leaving us for bangkok. he has a friend there and is looking forward to cheap shopping, good eats, and lots of traffic. i have asked him to send an email with updates about what's going on his last few days before he leaves back to seattle (which i will post on the blog); hopefully he comes through! he is taking off on tuesday (early in the morning) with a 10-11 hour lay over in Korea and will be back in seattle at noon of the same day. (you lose a day coming over, but gain a day on the way back)

in closing: vietnam is awesome. so much different than neighboring Laos (economically, culturally, and gastronomically (let me know if that aint a word). but watch out for the taxi drivers. we got lost trying to find our hotel today - so i hailed a taxi so we could get dropped off right in front. we had been walking for 10 minutes already, asking people where to go, and they kept pointing us in different directions - it was like we were going in circles! well, the taxi guy turned on the meter and (without a hint of an explanation) proceeded to drive us 6 kilometers around town. it was strange , cause even though i don't know the area, i knew that he was driving us further and further away from our hotel. it wasn't even the same neighborhood!

we figured he was trying to run up the meter, and so i started to get mad. then jacob started to get mad, AND EVEN KHAM started to get mad (which proves how bad this is...) we kept telling him that we werent gonna pay him to which he responded with "Bac Su... Bac Su..." (the name of the street the hotel was on.) we knew we had been within blocks of the hotel when we took the taxi, several people had told us so, and we only took the taxi cause we were tired of getting lost, and it was the only sure way to get there. but this guy decided to give us a sightseeing tour first. in fact, after driving all over town, he even drove by the same spot where he picked us up to finally take us the two blocks to the hotel.

well, we got out and just started to walk away to the hotel entrance (without paying). so taxi guy tries to stop us from leaving by alternating between grabbing my arm and kham's arm (but he was too scared to grab jacob's arm, so i think he just grabbed his bag). i think kham threatened him with physical repercussions, and he finally let go.

taxi guy then followed us to the hotel where the ever-friendly hotel staff smiled and sorted out the issue for us (they threatened to call the police if he didn't leave). i gave him 15,000 in the end - the base rate for a taxi fare, because he did give us a nice view of the lake and the opera house, which i hadn't seen before. i feel kinda bad (not that i did anything wrong, but because people will be dishonest and get themselves in situations that cause them problems later on... i mean, he had the meter on, so he will have to come up with the difference in the fare he didn't collect from us.) but i don't feel bad enough to pay him the full amount the meter said i owed him.

vacation continues. tomorrow we are meeting up with nick, nid, and sophie to see the city and eat some food.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kham Trapped with Jacob & Joseph in Vietnam!!!

sorry i have not posted for a while!!! i did not meet with some accident or tragedy... it's just that vietnam has been kind enough to block websites containing potentially offensive or devisive content. (blogs would fall into this category). so cindy is posting this for me (thanks cindy!) - I feel like I have so much power right now, Joseph must really trust me. This speaks a load to the situation in Vietnam. but i must say, i am inpressed with the progress made here. the cities are big, and they easily dwarf anything that Laos can offer in the way of goods and services (not that happiness can be measured by how many TVs and DVD players can be found for sale on the street.)

anyway, we made it to vietnam after some interesting obstacles. (the bus that was supposed to take us broke down, so we were delayed for a while - but finally got an 11-hour van ride after that) we found jacob where he said he would be, and made an attempt at the city of Danang, visited China Beach, and hassled over plane tickets out of Danang to our individual destinations... which leads to another interesting turn in events: kham wasn't able to make it down to Dalat because all the flights were full; he tried everything too - rerouting thru nha trang, or saigon, etc, etc., but it just wasn't working out for one reason or another, so he didn't get to go. (jacob and i are glad he didn't get to go cause hanoi wouldn't be as fun (or funny) without him. comic relief is good) so he is still in tow as we made our way to Hanoi this morning.

we are off to halong bay tomorrow... and back on friday. we are spending the night on a boat. longer post when i get back. but hanoi is big and time is limited. and the best news of all: i found mangosteen... out of season or not, i found them, i ate them, (a whole kilo to myself) and i thought i might burst with happiness. more pictures to follow...

Friday, April 14, 2006


Laos is really one of the best places to visit. it seems that almost everyone that i have talked to (even the ones that are not biased like i am) have all told me how much they enjoy the country, the food, and the people. but that isn't to say that Laos isn't experiencing its own set of difficulties. for example, the haves and the have-nots are becoming more pronounced. it's amazing to me how many of these new "fancy" concrete houses are popping up all over the country. and the weird thing about it is how prosperity hits like lightning: one can go out into the baan nauk (the rural area) and find a bamboo house on stilts right next to one of these big new gaudy concrete-covered-in-shiney-white-paint houses. with the loosening of the economic system here, people are finding ways to make money (legal and otherwise - connections with those in power never hurts), and some have relatives in other countries that send money. kham's parents have been extremely generous with their family still here in Laos and Thailand. they have helped build houses for them and supported their business ventures.

well, the youth of Laos are beginning to show some wear. drugs, especially meth, are becoming a problem (i am hearing about it much more than i did two and a half years ago when i was here.) and gangs are starting to form around the drug trade. kham's 14 year-old cousin, kii la, is caught up in the mess, although he is reporting that he is "stopping" his involvement in all of it. but this morning some 20-something year-old came by to talk with him, and he wouldn't answer when his aunt asked why he was talking to someone that old. kii la told me that there are about 15 or so "groups" of these gangsters in in Savannakhet. they don't have names (like in the USA) and they don't steal, but just sell drugs, and some of them carry guns... but mostly just sticks and knives.

kham and i were out water-fighting the other day,(see the pictures kham took right before the preceding incident) and then, outa nowhere, these guys with sticks came running up the street to the teenagers we hanging out with. the group we were with responded quickly - engaging in "battle" almost instantly. (there were mostly teens and twenty-somethings on the street where we were). well, kham froze there (like he was about to take a picture) and so i just pushed him to the other side of the street, yelling, "move! move! move!" and as we were crossing to the other side, the fight turned bad - one guy picked up a hollow square brick and hit another guy over the head with it. i don't know if it was the head that shattered it or if it happened when it hit the concrete- but it was splintered all over the side of the road. there were some other bricks and stones thrown, and people hit with long sticks, but the assaulting team eventually dispersed and disappeared around the corner.

well, the defending group had grabbed the guy that had done the most damage (i guess he must have been the one that threw the brick) - and made to arrest him. it took several people to take him down, and handcuffs appeared out of nowhere, like some kind of citizen's arrest. the victim (he was walking around like it was nothing, but with blood pouring down his face and shirt from the gash in his forehead,) confronted him there in the street; he and his friends were yelling, punching, and kicking the guy in handcuffs. then the bloody faced guy took a stone and hit the handcuffed guy over the head with it- and at this point i started to think it would turn into a public execution. but they took him away on a motorcycle, presumably to the police station...

anyway... initially i was hesitant to share this and i had decided not to - until i realized i would probably just tell everyone anyway- that's how i am. but i don't want to give anyone a negative perception about Laos or have you worried for my safety. i still feel that it is safer here than in the USA. but something is afoot here... i was met a couple of women at a noodle shop where kham and i stopped for khao piak today; i began talking to them about the problem, and they agreed that Laos has had an increase in these problems in the last two years due to increased contact with neighboring Thailand. they said that the drugs were coming in from there, and that this influenced the violence. they also blamed Thai TV (the violence in Thai movies and TV has increased dramatically) and video games (internet cafes are full of kids during the daytime hours - no longer are they out in the fields playing football or kataw.) and i can't help but think that it has something to do with the increased prosperity for some- and a continued stagnation for others.

leaving for vietnam in a day or so... so i will email again when i get there. and just wondering: does anyone else think i look old enough to be kham's dad? what is going on here? do i really look that old? and second: do we really look that much alike? we have been asked if we were father and son numerous times... and i am starting to lose confidence. and another painful realization for me. dogs in Laos do not like me. (no dog-eating jokes please). i think they discriminate against me because i am white. they do not bark at anyone BUT me. any veterinarians out there that can help me with this?

more later...

Thursday, April 13, 2006

now's the time for us to say...

sabaidee pii mai!

mardi gras ain't got nothin on Lao new year. (mardi gras they throw beads off of floats slowly moving by; Lao new year they throw water from fast moving vehicles... i call it drive-by dousing. just don't walk down the street in your "dry-clean only" sweater. besides, it really is too hot for a sweater.
well, we have spent the last two days alternating between Buddhist ceremonies commemorating the new year to all-out water fights. it gets kinda out of control, and the police in america would never allow it. for example: some of the kids put colored water (that permanently stains your clothes) in little baggies, and then they chuck them at me with the force of a little league pitcher. (being big and white, i make an easy target.) well, all this would be ok if they weren't in the back of a fast moving truck while i was in the back of another fast moving truck when the baggy hit me and exploded. (we were driving around the town with two big barrels of water, throwing water at people as we passed.)

i have welts on my body from where the i got hit. one well aimed baggy hit my hand, crushing the plastic cup full of water i was about to throw in their direction. so after the third welting (got two on my chest, one on my arm... when they hit my hand it didn't leave a mark) i decided to stay down when we passed another truck, and i only came up to throw water on the motorcyclists we passed. and then we ran out of water altogether, and so i could only sit there and wait to get pelted until our driver got us back to the house. powder and lipstic are also favorites for putting on people. and i got hit with muddy water once, and another truck had little baggies filled with BEER LAO but that is considered poor form... not a good way to celebrate the new year. but for a little more humor - check out the BEER LAO website...

that initial question "are you of legal drinking age" is interesting considering there are seemingly no prohibitions on underage drinking here. (but i guess there aren't many in the usa either) but that is for another type of blog... at this point i will close with: happy new year

coming home

we are in Savannakhet at kham's aunts house now. i am enjoying the slower pace of things here more than i thought i would - it is a small town and the people are surprised to see an american since not many tourists come this way. i bought a tik shiro vcd at the market, and the shop owner told me how happy he was because i was the first foreigner to buy from him and help his business.

well, putting aside all the joking and sensationalism about the animals i eat, crashing tuk tuks, etc., i will say a few things about this particular trip here to Laos. this time has been extremely different for me than other trips i have taken. because i am behind the camcorder so much, video taping kham's return to Laos, i am forced to step outside the circle more and observe things in a different way. usually, i place myself in the center in order to absorb the interactions with those around me - and because its fun for me. so i am gaining a different understanding and appreciation of Laos and especially of kham's experience with it; i mean, not everyone needs to see Laos the exact same way i do. so i hope i am beginnning to realize that my experience here isn't necessarily the only one -or the right one.

anyway... i am very appreciative that kham's family has allowed me to participate in their trip home to Laos - and to witness and experience their family, their personal moments, and parts of their culture that i've never seen before.

maye one day i will step back and realize that i have been to Laos enough times and that it is out of my system. but it's amazing how much more there is out there - and even with the heat it is still energizing. but there's just a few more days here in Laos until we leave for Vietnam. there kham and i will meet up with jacob... then we will go separate ways. kham to the south, jacob and i to the north. my trip to Vietnam will end with me returning to Laos for one more week, while jacob and kham will return home. the first leg of the trip is almost over, and i am feeling as nostalgic as can be expected. (but no need to think of that now- there is still a lot more mangos, bowls of khao poun, and plates of laap waiting out there for me to eat.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

born Lao, must love Lao

we made it to Laos... and i was surprized to find that it is just as hot here as it was in Thailand. wow. but i won't spend much time on that, or about our last morning in Thailand (just note the picture to the right, but there is an explanation: it has to do with a big muddy hole in the road and my inability to turn a wheel or step on the brake when i panic; i should not be allowed to drive a tuk tuk...)

anyways... too much has already happened here. i ate nem on arrival, and followed it up with geng nommai (with padek and kermit the frog)... and today i went in search of khao soi and found it at the morning market! i have been joking with kham that instead of documenting his "coming home" to Laos, (in case you didn't know, one of the goals of this trip is to get some video documetation of kham's first trip back to Laos), we should be documenting my obsessive search for favorite foods... (is that really what my life has become?)

anyway, a few more highlights: saw a an accident (a van hit a guy on a motorbike) while trying to watch a game of katau, took a boat around the nam nguem resevoir, and got a haircut and a shave. don't recommend the shave part, just do it yourself. it hurts real bad, and i hope it was a clean razor.

going south to savannakhet tomorrow for the new year. having fun in the humidity. sabaidee pii mai...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

kham is Lao (afterall)

it's not for me or any other white person to say what makes someone Lao and what makes them american. but if eating a fried frog (khiat) can be a thermometer of sorts, then kham is Lao afterall. ...and there wasn't even a moment of hesitation; kham knew that that frog was destined to be breakfast, and it was consumed in one confident bite. (and i should also note, that as kham realizes his Lao-ness, he is beginning to correct me on my pronunciation of Lao words. for example, he told me last night that i said chicken butt wrongly... and don't ask, but i did have a good reason for saying that word.)

yesterday, we toured around the Nong Khai area. i think we saw all but 5 of Nong khai's temples (wats), and each had there own claims of uniqueness. the most interesting had a replica of a Buddha that originated from Laos. When the people tried to bring it across the Mekong, a storm arose and sunk the boat and its Buddha to the bottom of the river. The belief is that the Buddha did not want to come to Thailand. Now, in the Hoh where its replica is housed, an inexplicable leak drips continuously from the ceiling. Attempts have been made to discover its source and to repair the leak, but to no avail... so the water is considered sacred, and it is used for blessings. (see the photo of kham's cousins and the pottery).

when i tried to walk into the building i hit my head on a wood pole going across the entry. i was subsequently informed by kham's cousin, Noy, (in the white jacket)that "those who don't believe slam their heads into the wood." (and i hadn't said anything!!)

we also went to the Nongkhai version of Viengchanh's Buddha park. those who have seen the one in Laos will recognize the work - its by the same man. he escaped the communists in Laos and continued his "interesting" sculpture work in Nongkhai. and this park actually contains his body- he died about 12 years ago. he is enshrined in the main building on a stand decorated with lights, shiny paper, and tinsel, with a glass globe covering his body.

and a word about the heat: it is really hot. what else can i say? it is really really hot. yes, jacob, i mean really hot. but when you sit in the back of a truck all day, with all the cousins, eating pineapple and corn on the cob, its not all that bad.

its early here right now; we got up at 5 am. we are leaving for Laos around noon. i think we are gonna stop by a market first and maybe find some fruits to eat that i have never seen before. but the biggest lament of the trip: no mangosteen... its out of season. but mangos are everywhere. they are not yet ripe, but that never stopped anyone. you can eat them "heum" with salt and chili pepper. and i will.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


hello again everyone that reads this blog on purpose or by accident.

the picture to the right: the internet cafe in the airport where i typed up my first entry; we (kham) made a friend there named toum (spelt with a mai thoh) and i promised her i'd put the picture on the blog. so: "sabaidee toum!"

Nongkhai is good; yesterday, we spent the heat of the day sleeping... and then we ate some gooooood food. (as yall may know, i measure the success of a vacation on how much weight i gain; its directly proportional too). yesterday was all about meeting the relatives, kham trying to figure out who was related to who, and which cousins would be legal to marry.* then last night we ate at the buffet to celebrate kham's 31st birthday belatedly. that place was crackin' - they had little tables set up where you could tam your own makhoung (with HOMEMADE padek), make some mee mama or pho, and pick your own meat cuts for the dath sinh contraption (see picture). this "cook your own meat at the table" is a fun way to eat, but i was suffering from jet lag, and what i really needed was someone to cook my food for me. (isn't that the idea of a restaurant?) all the relatives were there, and we sang happy birthday, ate cake, and took family pictures. kham was presented with a bouquet of roses (we have a picture, but he made a face when i was gonna post it, so i didn't*) and i fell asleep with my head on the dinner table.

but to all the naysayers (j.f.) saying that kham couldn't eat Lao food... i've been impressed. he has already eaten mok fish eggs, some plant with a name that sounded like "dead chicken," and (the bravest of all- even i wouldn't eat this!) a hot dog from a Thai 7-11.*

the last picture here is kham's mom and dad: i call it "still in love."

*all jokes about kham are intended for entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered true or in any way an actual depiction of reality.

Friday, April 07, 2006

looks like we made it...

i made it to Thailand! and we are in the middle of a 6 hour layover then we leave for Nong Khai. the plane ride wasn't too bad considering we were up in the sky forever. AND they had a tv screen on the back of every seat, so you could pick what movie you wanted to watch. (see the picture to the right for proof) and the first one that can tell me what movie is up on my back-of-the-seat-movie-screen, wins a prize: a matching set of Hmong pillowcases** and usually i don't give those out unless you're getting married. So i watched several movies, ate some Korean food, made friends with a Lao man going to Pakse for the new year, and chatted with Kham's dad about the scarcity of dogs on the streets of Savannakhet due to the popularity of eating them. i guess that the lack of supply, high demand, will drive up the prices. but Kham's dad was insistent that its the Viet community that got the Lao to eat dog. well, i can't say nothing cause it was the Lao community that got me to eat dog. and i promise this will be my second to last reference to dog eating while on my trip.

**no purchase necessary. must be 18 years or older to enter. employees, or relatives of employees of Padek Productions are not eligible to win.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

on a jet plane...

i am here at CYFS (Central Youth & Family Services - where i work) waiting for kham to come get me outta here. catching the plane at 2 pm, so i came into work to get in a few work hours before i head out.

and here is a map of Laos so you can follow me up and down the country...
after a 6 hour layover in Bangkok, we will begin our trip in Nongkhai, Thailand - right on the Lao/Thai border; the Mekong river is the natural border between Nongkhai and Vientiene (Viengchanh), Laos. but first i gotta get through this 20 hour plane ride. it's ok though cause they got lots of movies and korean food. i will email links when i update the blog...

all kitchens are not created equal...

some kitchens are smaller than others... but that don't mean you can't shove a whole lotta people into 'em. especially if you gotta cleaver

i almost cancelled this dinner cause i am trying to get out of town, and i still gotta lot to do. but tom, sarah, jenni came over and i made some tam makhoung with padek. nobody ate it. i think its cause i make it poorly. (not cause padek smells bad).

in case you wanna see a picture of what tam makhoung looks like, or wanna try to make it yourself, here is a recipe to check out:

the problem with this recipe is that she says that you may substitute fish sauce for padek; i haven't seen many people do this: tam makhoung is usually made with some of both. and i don't like crab paste all that much. and forget peanuts, they don't belong in LAO tam makhoung.... peanuts are only good when eaten with raisins (or if you don't have allergies, right Lisa?). reference the previous post: the fish sauce is the bottle to the right. three crabs brand is the only way to go for fish sauce. don't be fooled by the cheaper squid brand (green bottle). the extra $1.21 that you pay for 3 crabs is worth it...

ok... gotta get back to work so they will let me leave tomorrow. it is crazy busy around here.