Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Sunday Ending With Ass Glue

Woke up today and got a little work done before my noontime/midnight quitting point. After that, it was over to Owen's house for his son's and wife's birthday party. (Yes: Same day.) It was a good time, and Bob provided the catering as per usual.

After that, it was out to TQ2 with Riza's Mike to hang out with Stan, Steve, Bob, et. al. for a couple of beers.

I've been developing a really bad smoker's cough seemingly in reaction to the less that I smoke. (I'm down to 2-3 cigarettes per day.) Mike recommended this super crazy Chinese cough syrup which I picked up on the way home. Syrup seems to be defined differently in China than in America, where we would call this medicine more "molasses" than anything else. Well, it doesn't taste bad... more like a semi-melted cough drop.

When I got home, I read the ingredients on the bottle... being the only thing not in Chinese script on the entire package. Now I'm worried: Among the 20 or 30 ingredients, the most prominent ingredient, coming in at 5%, is "ass glue."

This stuff had better work seriously well, if I'm to become a chronic ass-glue consumer.

Thinking Of

They say that these are not the best of times
But they're the only times I've ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own

Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lover's eyes
And I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It's either sadness or euphoria

And so we'll argue and we'll compromise
And realize that nothing's ever changed
For all our mutual experience
Our separate conclusions are the same

Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
Our reason coexists with our insanity
So we choose between reality and madness
It's either sadness or euphoria

How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies
And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It's either sadness or euphoria

—Summer, Highland Falls

Suk San Wan Gut

My sister, Nancy, gave birth to a baby boy, Vincent, yesterday (here) / today (Chicago), April 29. Her first. My family's first. Way cool beenz.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Out To Dinner

Pui, Pot, and I went over to Stan and Mem's for dinner tonight. Mem made shephard's pie and I bought a bottle of wine and an apple pie from Foodland.

Stan and I spent the evening watching the fish videos that he made for sale in his tropical fish store back in London. They were interesting enough to watch assuming you are sitting next to somebody who knows tons and tons about fish, so you can ask questions as you go.

One of the videos was about his trip through northeastern India as a part of an Indian Fisheries Service survey. Verrrry remote areas... basically the same as a safari. Stan got to meet people who had never seen a Westerner before. Once in a lifetime trip kind of stuff.

Unfortunately driving home at 10:30 at night from Stan's is no longer a 3-minute jaunt through peaceful back roads, but instead a much less comfortable drive down Third Road and out Soi OBL in order to get home.

Friday, April 28, 2006


Riza's Mike likes to say how he never wants to go to Walking Street because of the traffic there.

I think he's got things mixed up: It takes me longer to drive the 2 miles down Soi Osama Bin Laden to Sukhumvit Road than it does to drive the 2 miles from Sukhumvit Road to Walking Street... and that is on a motorcycle.

The traffic here in the suburbs is much worse than in Pattaya proper... because the roads out here were all built (and remain) as 2-lane country roads that are now playing host to hundreds of vehicles at a time. At least in Pattaya, you have 4-plus lanes to get around in. On Soi OBL, if a car stops to make a turn, everyone behind him (motorcycles included) have to stop.

No Posting

Sorry about not posting much over the last week. My bete noire is that my mode d'emploi has been interfering with my joie de vie and since it is de rigeur to have a cause célèbre about one's pomme de terre... er...

Sorry. I just felt the need for French in italics this morning. Must be the croissant.

What I was trying to say is that my internet connection is down to half-speed dialup, one of my monitors on my graphics computer is busted, and one of my keyboards is busted as well, and thus, my enjoyment of blogging has been hampered by the fact that I just can't blog in the fashion that I'm used to.

The Dream

She was an old Thai lady, thin, tall, frail and ugly. She was wearing rags that were once Thai finery. She had long, gray, tangled hair put up in a bun, but dangled down messily. We were in a valley forest with a raging wide river running through it. I was standing on the bank, watching a local man drag her and a rickety shopping cart filled with her meager belongings down to the river. It was obvious to me that the old lady had stollen something in a bid for survival. It was obvious to me that the old lady had once been very pretty. It was obvious to me that everything the old lady owned was now in that shopping cart. It was obvious to me that the old lady was alone in the world.

The old lady was begging, wai'ing on her knees as she was dragged.

The lady's shopping cart of belongings was thrown in the river, and although she wailed about the loss, she almost seemed to accept that as punishment for having stolen something, and she forlornly followed her sinking life away from me down the river. However, close to the bank, close to me, a single bright object floated in an eddy, caught close to the edge: A small gilded book wrapped in a baggie.

I took the book from the water, took it out of its baggie, and opened it up. It was a diary of the woman's life. There were things like "7-4-1926, Pizza in Vancouver, Peter didn't arrive, I'm so sad," and "1-1-1916, Happy New Year from Hong Kong, the lights are so pretty." Just hundreds of little thoughts and little feelings from around the world of a life long dissappeared, and the last remnants of which were just destroyed in a river.

I've slept with so much anger and hatred in my heart lately. I've had violent dreams and dreams of loss and dreams of conflict. Dreams I took some comfort in.

This dream was different though: This dream woke me up filled with compassion, and I cried for so many minutes, but with a warm feeling in my heart... a warm feeling that I hadn't felt in a while. All in all, experiencing the sadness in order to once again experience a sense of humanity and charity was well worth it.

Ah... the power of a dream. Even the most stoic like myself can be slapped awake and humbled by our own thoughts creeping through our minds as we sleep, healing us, making us remember ourselves.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jil and The Texas Sniffle Meet The Karia

Karia = village in Arabic.

So I'm moved in here on Soi Osama Bin Laden... a name given not by myself, but by the local Thai people who think that it is only noise pollution when it is coming from a minaret. Heheh. There may be freedom of religion here in Thailand, but the Thais do know how to be pissy about things.

Personally, I don't think it is that bad. I've only heard the Adhan when I'm outside, and I think the mosque is only about a mile away from here. The church bells in my hometown that rang "Big Ben" every half-hour were about the same volume, I would guess.

I like my new house. The only drawback being that my office is now in my bedroom. However, since my bedroom here is actually about 50% larger than my bedroom in the old house, that's not too bad.

I've been nailed with a cold... a Texas sniffle. These are the hottest days of the year. (According to, it is 97º. 97? Yeah right.) Personally, I have been keeping almost exclusively to the air-conditioned areas of my house, with things being a nice 75º inside. Ahh.

Of course, going outside into the sun causes an instant geiser of sweat to cascade off of me, and I'm soaked within minutes. Therefore, I rush as quickly as I can, soaking wet, back into my beloved air conditioning. That is how you catch a Texas sniffle.

For moving day, I was worthless. Since I had been sneezing and coughing so much, all my muscles were seized up, and I couldn't lift a damn finger to help. I was able to sit at my desk and do a little work while the first load of my belongings was loaded into a truck and sent over to the new house. Since my computers had to go on the second load, I took them all apart and (for the first time ever) allowed the Thai moving guys to carry them out to the truck.

Mickey, unfortunately, was not moving. Neither was Pridi. Mickey refused to get anywhere near the truck, apparently recognizing the packing-and-moving-and-the-dog-is-next thing from the last time it happened. So, as of 24 hours later when this is written, he is still sitting at the house, waiting for Risa to get back from the Phillippines tomorrow, to coax him into a car to take him to his new home.

Pridi was nowhere to be found. So, she stayed behind as well. Khun Khan had hopped the fence last week sometime, and amazingly out of 6 cats, I am now back down to one... and she is my constant companion, probably out of acute lonliness.

Anyway, the act of taking apart my office finished me off, pretty much, and I was strengthless. I rode in the moving truck to the new house, managed to climb the one flight of stairs to my new bedroom, and immediately crashed.

Every house I have moved into since coming to Thailand had bedsheets, except for this one. Therefore, Pui had to go to the local market to buy sheets. She also came back with a new comforter for me (quite stylish too) since my old one was... well... it had had my corpse wrapped in it for the last 2½ years.

Anyway, ensconced in my new bed with new comforter, and oh-so-cool air conditioning (no... I don't learn), my Texas sniffle and I went to sleep.

Mike woke me up a couple of hours later inviting me over to his house for a welcome-to-the-neighborhood beer. I went over, and managed to put away a bottle before my Texas sniffle was dragging me home by my shirtsleeve.

Upon getting home, at the sight of me and my Texas sniffle, Pui and Go had all of their female compassion kick into high gear (which was amazing, since they had been working all day from sun-up until sun-down on the move to the new house), and took care of me. First, Pui gave me a big-baby bath. (i.e. I just sat there and got cleaned.) Then, she tucked me back into my bed in a nice set of jammies. Then, Go came and gave me a 90-minute massage... although I was asleep after about 70 minutes or so.

(Well, if there no benefit to catching a little cold, why would I even bother, right?)

Stupid is as Bangledeshi Does

British Judge dismisses charges against a woman for causing her child brain damage because she is ignorant of ways in the West.

A Bangledeshi woman who shook a baby boy so violently that he suffered brain damage walked free from court yesterday because a judge conceded that she did not know how to behave in the West.

Amazing. No wonder there are so many Brits in Pattaya. Can't blame them for leaving.

(Oh... in related news, the Thai people can't figure out why after selling so many 9-11 "celebration" T-shirts without any complaints they are having so many complaints about the even-better-selling Mohammed cartoon commerative T-shirts. )

Friday, April 21, 2006

Figurin' Stuff

I was thinking about when the new airport opens later this year about what effect it is going to have on tourism in Pattaya.

Pattaya sees about 1 million tourists a year - about 10% of all arrivals in Thailand (10 million people), plus another 1 million day-tripping tourists from Bangkok, or residents of Pattaya pretending to be tourists. (I myself represent 12 tourist arrivals each year.)

If one out of every fifty arrivals in Thailand is a person who would have gone to Pattaya if the airport was only an hour closer, that's 200,000 people. If they add the high speed train from Bangkok to Pattaya, that's easily another 400,000 arrivals in Pattaya annually, I would guess.

Pattaya already is woefully unprepared to handle the 2 million tourists it gets each year, with water shortages, overflowing sewers, traffic jams, crime, and beaches that are already abused far beyond anything they can accommodate. The airport is going to turn Pattaya into a teeming hell of tourists who can afford no better place, and that no better place wants to have visiting.

At least there is hope:

Pattaya is a ruined place. This is only going to increase substantially when the airport opens. There is nothing of value here for a tourist. There is nothing here that can't be found elsewhere in Thailand for a tourist. Once the Eurotrash and Russian mafia families vacationing here figure that out, there goes one fourth of arrivals. Once the hotel owners on Phukhet and Samui discover that they can make millions off of retarded Chinese people who couldn't be bothered to pick up a travel brochure before signing up for an all-expenses-paid tour of Thailand's shitstains, and snatch them away from Pattaya to greener pastures, there goes another quarter of Pattaya's arrivals.

What does that leave? Sex tourists. Old and young, but overall relaxed and groovy sex tourists. Send all the 20-something party animals to Ko Tao for the full moon parties. Send all the Chinese package tours to Phuket. Send all the Eurotrash to Ko Samui. Send all the Russians to Ko Chang. Leave behind the half-a-million-or-so guys who just want to sit in a bar all night, bouncing a Thai girl on each knee, kicking back with their friends, and then sleeping in until 2:00 in the afternoon. You see... Pattaya does have one thing: Entertainment (with a capital E and that rhymes with P and that stands for ___sy). As things stand now, Pattaya is the number one place in Thailand to go for Entertainment, beating Bangkok hands down in every category. So, what will become of Pattaya?

It will become a town of letches. A town of letches who want their town to be a little bit nicer, a little bit cleaner, and a little bit friendlier than it is at the moment. That is the hope for Pattaya's future.

That's Probably Because They're Shagging You

According to The Archives of Sexual Behaviour, the countries most satisfied with their sex lives are:

Top Ten Countries
% of people satisfied with their sex lives:

  • Austria - 71.4%
  • Spain - 69.0%
  • Canada - 66.1%
  • Belgium - 64.6%
  • United States - 64.2%
  • Australia - 63.6%
  • Mexico - 63.2%
  • Germany - 62.0%
  • Sweden - 60.5%
  • United Kingdom - 59.8%
Hmm... these all seem to be the nationalities of men visiting Pattaya on a regular basis. Coincidence?

Then, at the bottom, we have the countries least satisfied with their sex lives.
Bottom Five Countries
% of people satisfied with their sex lives:
  • Thailand - 35.9%
  • China - 34.9%
  • Indonesia - 34.0%
  • Taiwan - 28.7%
  • Japan - 25.8%
Actually, this probably explains why there are so many bar girls.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Who Is Walter Kirn?

I love the paragraph as an art form: A cluster of sentences put together in a way that, with just 20 or 30 seconds of reading, changes or amplifies the way you think about something... and does so in a way of speaking that really sets your mind skipping to the beat. I've read hundreds of paragraphs that I should have flagged and set aside for future remembrance, but truth be told, I would have already filled up several file folders already.

However, one man, Walter Kirn, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan (another paragraph artist) has hit me 3 or 4 times in one week with some awesome paragraphs.

I put them here so that I will remember them:

On Tom Cruise's new baby:
Of all the world's great traditions of exploitation -- master over slave, husband over wife, rich man over poor man-- parenthood is the most absolute and the least subject to scrutiny or pressure. Not only do the stronger parties involved have the right to construct the weaker one's reality and then imprison their subject inside of it, they have the right to create the subject at a moment not of its choosing and not necessarily to its advantage. For Holmes and 'Cruise' to have marched a helpless new spirit into the global media s***-storm that they, their publicists and their clerical overseers have been whipping up for many months now should not only be an actionable infraction but a grave reminder to all of us not to toy around with unformed soul material.

On Iran's nuclear program:
It’s been funny to hear the leader of Iran talking about his nation’s natural right to exploit the secrets of nuclear physics and join the global technological vanguard. His basic argument is “You can’t stop progress” even though stopping progress, I recall, is the great goal of his theocracy. Fundamentalist Islamic futurism? Can such a strange cultural particle exist, even for a half an instant in a cyclotron? Perhaps the man should speak more carefully, lest he unwittingly split the nucleus of the system he’s trying to hold together.

On the right to privacy, which I linked to earlier:
In the land of manic attention-getters, which is what the country's become in the age of American Idol, Oprah, and nonstop self-revelation on the Web. Consider the wild growth of MySpace. Com, a service that grants all who use it at least the hope of obtaining an audience for their biographies. The personal secrets that people broadcast on this and other websites far outstrip, in intrusive depth and detail, anything the government is capable of gathering. Users cough up, without ever being asked, and for the benefit of perfect strangers, every last sexual quirk, obsessive thought and grandiose fantasy that they can render in words. And then they add pictures. Sometimes naked pictures. They spill their souls onto the Web as though trying to purge themselves of loneliness through exhibitionism.

On "The Tipping Point" strategy in Iraq:
Behind every failed war is a failed metaphor (remember The Domino Effect, the Vietnam-era version of The Tipping Point?) that mesmerized its masters into waging it, kept them waging it once they started losing it, and immobilized them with disbelief when it turned back into intellectual smoke. From business-section bestseller to Pentagon battle-plan. Only in America. And it was a phony, decrepit notion to start with, despite being updated for today's executives and cleverly remarketed to every no one who ever dreamed of being a someone by working at home, in his or her spare time. The idea that one straw can break the camel's back, that one well-placed lever can move the world, that one added particle can bring on "critical mass" is the delusion that wears a thousand faces. It's the manic creed of the assassin: fire a single bullet, alter history. The principle rarely works when applied on purpose, but because it quite often works by accident (or seems to have worked, when viewed in retrospect; Henry Ford built his Model T and, presto, freeways!) it never loses its appeal.

To me, all of these paragraphs are great examples of "I knew that... but couldn't think it out quite like you did." I love that kind of paragraph. You, of course, by definition, can never write one yourself (because then you would have thought it out exactly as hoped), which is what makes finding them so much fun. They are little idea fuses: You read one, and bang, your brain starts jumping around saying, "thank you thank you thank you!"

Thank you Walter Kirn. Great stuff!

A Most Excellent Article

Rolling Stone has an article by Sean Wilentz ("One of America's Leading Historians") regarding how George Bush may be "The Worst President In History".
George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.

What makes this article interesting is that everything is done with an eye on history (as a historian properly should, of course), so that instead of saying "George Bush is bad because of X", he writes, "The worst example of X in American history before George Bush was James Madison in 1812... and here is what George Bush did."

We forget that the Spanish American war was also started on false information... and this article points it out. It's interesting to see that George Bush isn't the first to do much of any of the bad things people accuse him of doing... just doing them badder (better?) than any president before him.

Anyway, it's a long read, but by the end, you'll have read a perfect summary of the legacy of the Bush presidency, and how history will likely remember these times and these players.

All You Can Eat, All You Can Drink

Bob has turned Thursdays into an all-you-can-eat Bob's BBQ buffet at TQ2... provided you buy 2 drinks. Not bad at all. I just got back from stuffing myself.

Unfortunately, as soon as I walked in, Stan bought me a drink. Then Bob bought a round of shots. Then Alf bought another round for all the assembled. Then somebody else bought me a third (fourth?) round.

If you don't buy 2 drinks, the buffet is 499 baht.

So I bought Bob 2 beers for 178 baht. Of course.

Alan and I decided that we would make it official policy to always buy Bob 2 beers on Thursday to cover our 2 drink minimum requirement. I think it's a good idea.

Moving Day

So I'm moving out past Sukhumvit Road, the main highway past town. I don't know why, but there is some mental barrier that is crossed when crossing Sukhumvit Road as well. It's kind of like crossing Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City (the first street back from the Boardwalk): You leave the official part of Pattaya behind, where the tourists are, and move back onto native soil where you're not ticketed to go.

(It's the place where all of those weird farangs live, who actually speak Thai, and eat spicy food and know real Thai people. It will be fun to meet people like that in my new life on the other side of Sukhimvit Road.)

Anyway, I'm moving on Saturday, April 22, which both Maid Go and Pui have declared is a most excellent day for moving, in a "the monks would approve" kind of way. (First Saturday of the new year, I'm guessing.)

The house is a 3-bedroom house with no yard, but is in a nice development with a nice pool for Pot to piss in. Best of all, it's one-third the price of the house I'm currently living in.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Out To Play

Finally, the last day of Songkran.

Pui, Pot, and I went over to Stan's and Mem's, and then from there I took Pot over to Bob's Bar-Be-Que to take part in Songkran. His restaurant sits at the intersection of Pattaya South and Third Roads and is a hub of Songkran festivities.

I said before that I can't stand Songkran... and that's true because of (a) the carnage, (b) the inconvenience, and (c) the length.

The 40,000 accidents that occur in Songkran is actually a number that is off by a factor of 10 or so, since those are only the accidents that are reported to the police. For every accident that requires the police's attention, there are 10 accidents where the victims get up, wipe off the blood, pick up their motorcycle, and drive away. Hell: I saw 3 accidents today, where motorcyclists got caught looking at people throwing water at them instead of where they were going. Blam. Fortunately, the speed of driving during Songkran is a lot slower, so the accidents are mostly skinned knees and palms.

Pattaya is a "Songkran destination" for Thai people, and Songkran happens on different days throughout the country, so Pattaya begins celebrating on the first day that Songkran is celebrated anywhere in the country, and finishes celebrating on the last day. Thus, this year, there were 8 days of Songkran in Pattaya.

Well, if you are in the mood (which I was today), Songkran can be a lot of fun. The big club across from Bob's had put out a DJ and they were playing dance music, and there was a crowd of maybe 200 people dancing in the streets, throwing water, and having a good time. A steady flow pickup trucks in the street filled with water throwers ensured that there was always a target for throwing water at, and always someone throwing water back.

I supplied Pot with one of Bob's water pistols, and got him to do some firing at some of the other (older) kids, but when they fired back at him, they were always aiming strong streams of water straight for his face, and Pot couldn't master his own weapon well enough to make a showing, and lost interest rather quickly.

Bob put out some hotdogs and chili, and Pot and I had lunch and watched the revelers. After that, it was back to Stan's house to pick up Pui, and then home for a shower.

Songkran Party

After lunch, we walked back to TQ2, which was open early (to get in a day's fun before having to close at 6:00 p.m. for yet another election).

The original plan was for me to hang out with Stan and Steve for a beer while Pui and Pot sat back in the VIP room and watched TV. However, it soon became apparent that there was a real party going on, and nobody was going anywhere.

Well... except for Pot. Pui drove him home and then came back.

We all got 'faced. Aussie Steve had just had a baby, and he was passing Grand Marnier shots around. Everyone else was buying shots and rounds as well. TQ2 Steve had bought the girls a bottle of whiskey, and before long, the inside of TQ2 was a Songkran party all its own.

Pui wound up getting really lit on 3 bottles of Heineken, a shot of whiskey, and a frozen margarita. (She only weighs about 85 pounds, so it's not surprising.) She wound up asleep on one of the benches.

We wound up at home at around 7:00, and I was in bed and asleep by 8:00.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Eating Fish In Thailand

I took Pui and Pot out to lunch on Walking Street today. Amazingly, we drove all the way down the hill, and walked the entire length of Walking Street, and the only person who didn't pay any attention to my dead-eye keep-away sneer was some douchbag Scot who hosed Pui down with a water cannon. (Doesn't it always work out like that?)

Well, we wouldn't have gone out at all if we weren't willing to tolerate it if and when we got wet.

We went to lunch at that big seafood place on Walking Street. There may be good seafood in Thailand, but in general, I've not had it. I had a half kilo of scallops for 300 baht, but that included the shells... and the paltry little bits of dime-sized meat represented about 100 grams total. I had been giving a thought to having lobster, but at 1,600 baht per kilo (and Thai lobsters don't even have claws) I'd essentially be paying 1,000 baht (US $25) for a single lobster tail.

Really, the only fish that I am willing to put on my plate in Thailand is (1) shrimp, (2) crab, and (3) whole fried fish. Probably the fact that I'm really not a fish person means that all of the good stuff in Thailand is wholly uninteresting to me.

I Quit, She Said

Pui quit her job. (Actually, she went on a week-long vacation and was fired, but that's pretty much the same thing.)

I'm happy of course. I was never able to tell Pui to quit her job because she made far too much money for me to be able to come close to paying her even a fraction of her income to help out her family or whatnot. (However, with the smaller house and smaller rent coming up, at least things will be a little easier all around.)

Anyway, her boss's loss is my gain... and Pot's gain as well. Everyone is happy.
p.s. I think that is why so many Thai people can never hold down a job for a year or more: They get one day off per month, and perhaps a couple of days vacation or something thrown in once a year. You can't work like that for any length of time. Eventually you start calling in sick, and then you just go on vacation. Just one more thing this country needs to fix in order to create a real middle class.

Declaration of War

In a sharp departure from the previous Palestinian government's condemnations of bombings, the Hamas-led administration defended the attack as a legitimate response to Israeli "aggression."

When people from one country attack another with verbal support from their government, that is an act of war, and should be treated as such.

I've never been keen on Israel, and think that they enjoy tossing around gasoline whenever they see fire, but there comes a time when you have to call a spade a spade and a war a war. Palestine has earned whatever they get handed this time around, because they have lost their perennial excuse of "government ≠ Hamas".

I really wish it wasn't so, but even most Arabs (who aren't Palestinian, that is), think the Palestinians get what they deserve when they do stuff like this. (Middle Easterners will keep supporting the suicide bombing, but that's just because Israelis rank below Palestinians on their scale... but not by much.)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fool Me Twice...

The problem isn't so much that Iran may or may not be developing (trying to develop, natch) a nuclear weapon, but that everything that America says about Iran can be answered with (and said in an annoying, nasally, snotty, sarcastic voice), "Just like you said about Iraq???"

Weak Stomach

Early this morning, once again, after a night of hanging out at TQ2, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and ejected. This is getting really annoying (fifth time this year), because I don't deserve it (in the "I didn't drink nearly enough to deserve it" kind of way).

I think it is my stomach more than any excess of alcohol. (The chicken swarma and a bowl-full of Bob's chili probably factored in more than anything.) After my visit to the bathroom, I took two ibuprofen and went back to bed, and woke up at 9:00 feeling perfectly fine.

So probably what I am finding out is that as I approach my late 30s, I can no longer fill my stomach with some vile combination of food, drink, and alcohol, and not expect to be punished. It's kind of a letdown, as this means that my days of washing down 2 Big Macs with a tall glass of peach schnapps are behind me.

If I Were Only Half As Cool

Imagine you were 26 years old, handsome in a Rob-Lowe-meets-Jeff-Corwin kind of way, you worked growing medical marijuana for 2-3 hours a day, making a handsome six-figure income, spent the rest of your time racing motorcycles and cars, scuba-diving in Palau, partying in Amsterdam, and doing it all with a group of guys just as cool as yourself, and girls just as pretty as you could hope for.

Imagine being able to talk about your experiences in a way that is exceptionally funny and engaging, and entertains every 30, 40, 50 and 60-year-old guy in the room because they all are thinking, "If I was 26 years old again, I would want to be just like this guy."

That's one lucky bastard.

Oh... and in case you don't already know who I'm talking about, go to TQ2 and look at the "record board". He's the one who rang the bell 10 times in one night, bought the staff 15 rounds in one night, bought 80 shots in one night, and on and on and on.

Lazy Sunday

I had Mike and Stan over for beers and pizza yesterday out by the pool. Afterwards, Mike took a nap on my couch.

The cork on my 1700-baht bottle of Drambuie is as stuck as stuck can be. Cemented right in the neck. I twisted and pulled and it wouldn't come off.

Mike and I worked on getting it off. I had left it in the freezer for a couple of days, and then put it out in the pool hoping that would thaw/loosen the cork so that we could pop it out. I took a meat cleaver between the plastic cap on the cork and the glass, and rapped on it with a pestle to see if I could jimmy the cork out.

Finally, we just gave up and tried to use the meat cleaver to cut through the stuck cork.

The cleaver sheared clean through with a loud crack, and Drambuie spilled over the counter.

"Uh Jil," Mike said, holding up the plastic top, "you do know this is a screw top, right?"

"No it isn't... I'm not that stupid."

Oh yes I was.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chrome Pole Report

The plans for last night originally included a birthday party at the Cherry Bar, but I never made it. I called Rick at Margaritavilla and he (and his aide-de-camp, Robin) had just welcomed the arrival of three new students to Thailand, and they were going to be taking them out on the town for the evening. (Rick runs an English teacher training school here in Pattaya.)

So I went over to Margaritavilla and met up with Rick, Robin, and their 3 new students: A guy from California, a guy from North Carolina, and a girl from Australia.

We went out to Mike's Mexican for dinner. (Strawberry-banana margaritas — pretty good.) I had had Burger King delivery for late lunch, so just had a couple of tacos.

From there, we went to Walking Street. For the first time in my life, I got to hear (while standing in Pattaya) somebody say, "What's Walking Street?" This was from California guy... who had arrived in Thailand only 5 hours earlier.

The first place we went was TQ2, which was quiet enough to talk for a little while. We had one drink there and then went to Living Dolls Showcase where California guy went kid-in-candystore nuts and barfined the first two girls to latch onto him.

After that, Robin and the three students (and 2 bargirls) went to Lucifer disco which Rick didn't want any part of. (It is jet-engine noisy in there, so I wasn't too keen either.) So Rick and I decided to go to Angelwitch, which I still had not managed to find my way into at this late juncture.

Angelwitch certainly is a nice enough place, but it is more concept than gogo bar. Actually, that's not a bad thing. There is a big oval stage in the middle, with seats banking up arena-style for 3 or 4 concentric rings. The area above the stage is open so that the chrome poles vault up 2 stories, and a stage/scaffolding up high for girls to walk out onto from which they grasp a pole and slide down to the stage.

The concept is this: Put on a show. People will stick around and drink. That's what Angelwitch does. Instead of shows like Coyotee or (especially) Living Dolls Showcase, where the girls come out in a cute/sexy outfit, and then proceed to take off that cute/sexy outfit as quickly as possible and then grind and gyrate in a provocative (from the neck down, but bored from the neck up) fashion, in Angelwitch, there is distinct choreography, moves, movements, and synchronization among the showgirls, and the main goal of the show is not to get men horny, but to give them something sexy to look at.

It works... this concept. Some of it gets a little pretentious at times, but I would rather see showgirls (and bar owners) trying too hard to be sophisticated than not bothering to attempt any sophistication at all. It is the kind of place where I can go by myself and sip vodka tonics and watch four girls frolic under mosquito netting, do acrobatics on the tall poles, do a spastic tribal mating ritual in outfits that look like torn garbage bags, or bang coconut shells together rhythmically while they laugh hysterically, dressed in cute mini-skirted versions of Thai traditional dress.

Here's Hoping

From The Nation in Bangkok (hat tip to 256MB at

To prevent road accidents during the Songkran holidays next year, water-splashing will be allowed only on designated roads, the Interior Minister said yesterday.

Road accidents claimed 50 lives and injured 780 people on Friday, compared with 66 deaths on the corresponding day last year. Friday's accidents pushed the total for eight days to 393 deaths and 4,979 injuries, the Road Safety Centre said.

Anucha Mokkawes, secretary of the centre, said there were 699 accidents on Friday, compared to 669 on the eighth day of the festival last year.

After drunk driving, the main cause of accidents was speeding, Anucha said. About 86 per cent of the accidents involved motorcycles while 8 per cent involved pickups.

Won't that be nice?

Thought For The Day

The subject? The right to privacy. The point? We really don't care about it that much anymore. The proof? You're reading it.

Truthfully: If privacy really mattered to me, do you think you would be reading this right now? Do you think any of the million (billion?) blogs and vanity pages out there would exist? People can read this blog and find out more about me than my parents (regular readers) knew about me when I was living under their roof as a child.

I turn you over to the brilliant summary of this line of thought by Walter, guest blogging over at
In the land of manic attention-getters, which is what the country's become in the age of American Idol, Oprah, and nonstop self-revelation on the Web. Consider the wild growth of MySpace. Com, a service that grants all who use it at least the hope of obtaining an audience for their biographies. The personal secrets that people broadcast on this and other websites far outstrip, in intrusive depth and detail, anything the government is capable of gathering. Users cough up, without ever being asked, and for the benefit of perfect strangers, every last sexual quirk, obsessive thought and grandiose fantasy that they can render in words. And then they add pictures. Sometimes naked pictures.

They spill their souls onto the Web as though trying to purge themselves of loneliness through exhibitionism. It's not Big Brother prying into our lives that we have to fear, perhaps, but the Little Brother in each of us who craves the notice of others -- even if he has to make mischief to attract it.

I think that each of us has a private part of ourselves that we don't mind the rest of the world seeing: Otherwise we wouldn't put it on the internet. Other parts, we keep to ourselves. I have my own privacies and they can't be found on this blog. And we all have more crucial parts still... the parts that are not private now but may be (we're not so pregnant at the moment, but maybe we will be and don't want parents/boyfriend/abusive husband to find out) private in the future, and we would probably like to keep it that way.

So while I agree with Harold that privacy is certainly not as cherished as it once was, but the theory of privacy... and the vagaries of protecting it... are all important to us.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Rock

by Steve Rosse

I took my wife Mem and our son Andy to a temple fair at Wat Chalong last week. When I first came to Phuket, the fairs at the island’s biggest temple were simple country things; a dozen booths selling cheap clothing and house wares arranged around a small oval track on which ran an ancient miniature locomotive pulling five cars full of screaming, happy kids. On the edges of the fair would be shadow puppet shows and likay theatre, and way in the back would be one guy selling local whiskey off a card table.

In those days, families would wander up and down the midway, nodding and smiling to each other and buying their kids cotton candy. Young couples would express their affection by bumping shoulders and whispering as they walked, and a few knots of father-providers would stand under the trees talking politics and maybe passing a bottle around.

Click here for the rest of the article.

The fair we attended last week was a very different sort of event. There were at least one hundred booths selling the same cheap clothing and house wares, but now each on has a massive stereo system and a yammering Mister Microphone. The people at the fair were almost exclusively Burmese day laborers and teenaged punks trying to see if they could ride their motorcycles through the crowd at the same speeds they achieve on the open highway.

Among the booths full of polyester Levi’s and Day-Glo plastic kitchenware I found many selling brass knuckles, switch-blade knives, sew-on patches bearing swastikas, and a truly frightening array of “toy” weapons. Every little boy running through the legs of the crowd was shooting something. The selection of alcohol has expanded dramatically and moved into the very center of the midway, and so has the number of drinkers, who now wander through the crowd in little mean-looking groups staring hard at the foreigners. In front of a giant revolving barrel where daredevils ride motorcycles around the walls there was a stage set up, and on the stage were two girls, no more than sixteen years old, dancing the “hootchie-kootchie” in mini-skirts. Dozens of men were packed in front of the stage shouting lurid suggestions in Burmese.

I don’t know why the temple fair has changed, but I do know that it cannot be because the old fair wasn’t making enough money for the temple. Wat Chalong is by far the richest temple on the island, maybe the richest in the Southern provinces, visited by hundreds of tourists each day. Nobody on the island would ever open a new business, get married, or win even the smallest lottery without making merit at Wat Chalong. In the last three years every building on the grounds has been completely refurbished, many new buildings have been built, and the monk’s kutis all have widescreen color TVs and private bathrooms. The images of Phuket’s three patron saints are so covered in gold leaf that you can no longer tell Po Chem from Po Chung from Po Gluam. They don’t need to allow sex and violence within the sacred precincts in order to afford new shingles for the viharn roof.

As soon as we entered the temple grounds Mem bought Andy a red helium balloon, because at 15 months Andy is just fascinated by balloons. He clutched its string in one fist and with a very serious expression methodically banged his new toy against his father’s head while we wandered through the crowds. In an hour of walking Mem couldn’t find anything to buy, which must be her idea of Hell, and which put her into a bad mood. I was in a bad mood because I was afraid to smoke with that balloon next to my face. I’ve heard that sometimes they put hydrogen in them instead of helium, and the element that fuels the sun is not something you want igniting next to your cheekbone.

The old choo-choo train was still at the fair last week, though it was woefully unkempt and totally unoccupied. Most of the kids who had any money were lined up outside the bumper cars arena, probably waiting to take the Department of Motor Vehicles driving test. Mem took Andy up in a miniature Ferris Wheel, from the top of which, she shouted down to me, she could see our house. While my wife and child were going round and round twixt heaven and earth I was left in charge of the precious red balloon, and I held it at arm’s length while I sucked down a quick cigarette.

And then, when they came off the ride and I tried to pass the red balloon to my son, the string slipped between my nicotine-stained fingers and off it went like a rocket. Andy stared after it, pointing into the sky and saying “Boon! Boon! Boon!” A very poetic image, considering that in pali, the liturgical language of Buddhism, “boon” means “religious merit”, but an image of no consolation to a baby who’s just lost his balloon. All the way back to the parking lot Andy was pointing off into space and reciting his “boon” mantra, and when he saw the car he burst into tears and began to struggle in my arms.

I got into the car with Andy, turned on the air-con and held him while Mem ran to get a new balloon. She returned with an orange one; they were out of the red ones, and Andy didn’t want anything to do with the impostor. He beat at it with his fists and wailed all the way home. “He doesn’t trust it,” said Mem, and I think she’s right. But the fact that he also wouldn’t look at me on the ride home tells me that his new-found sense of distrust is not limited to orange balloons. I would go even further to say that his distrust is born from a sense of loss, and after going to the fair last week, I feel that same sense that something simple yet beautiful has been lost. And I am beginning to feel a deep distrust of those responsible.


While in Laos, Rick and I sat at Da's sister's house drinking beer, and he asked me, "Why do you spend so much in rent?" Rick then proceeded to tell me how he had done the same thing when he was my age, and how he regretted it.

He did stop and make me think. I'm now old enough to appreciate fatherly been-there/done-that advice when I get it.

When I got back from Laos and went over to Stan's house, I saw he had a brand new, large, flat-panel television.

He paid exactly one month of my rent to buy it.

That really settled it.

So now I'm house hunting. I'm looking for a 5-bedroom house with a large pool and 2 rai of gardens less then a mile away from Walking Street for 5,000 baht per month.

I might settle for less though.

Highway Assault

Rick was coming back from Rayong yesterday on his motorcycle when a truckload of idiots in the back of a pickup truck in the lane next to him tried to hit him with a bucket-full of water as he was going past them at 100 KPH on the highway.

Fortunately, as products of the Thai educational system, they waited to throw the water at him when he was right next to them and the wind took off with the water before it could reach Rick.

Yeah... Chok dee mak to you too assholes.

I recommended Rick start carrying a paintball gun so that he could return the New Year's cheer in kind.

I figure there are only 2 possibilities: One, that Thai people don't think that hitting someone at 65 miles per hour with a bucket of water is dangerous, or, two, they simply don't care. My guess is as good as yours.

Fred Covell Revisted

I remember it clearly: Second grade, a math test. We wrote our name at the top of the dittoed paper, filled in the answers, and then Mrs. Wallace had us pass our papers forward. She then somehow shuffled them, and passed papers back, so that we had a fellow student's test to correct as she read off the answers.

I looked down at the paper I had received: Fred Covell's, the class idiot and bully. However, the handwriting on the test was my own. In fact, once I looked closely, I noticed that my name had originally appeared on top of the test I was holding, and that it had been hastily erased and been replaced by the name of Fred Covell.

I took the test up to Mrs. Wallace and handed it to her... but how the story progresses from here is not really important.

What is important was how I felt: I actually felt pretty good that the stupidest kid in the class had singled me out as the person he would most want to be. It made Fred kind of pitiful and sad, but it gave my pride a little 12-volt zap. It was a little confirmation that I was actually one of the smarter kids in the class, and as much of a little prick Fred was, as much as he could beat me up with no problem, he knew that I was better than him.

I got to relive that feeling today when Reeza's Mike asked me if I was posting under another name at the PattayaSecrets' message board while we were having a beer over at Margaritavilla. Apparently some modern-day Fred Covell with the user name Algom was copying all of my writing here on Jil In Pattaya, and posting it over at PattayaSecrets as his own.

Heheh. Thank you for the affirmation that I can actually write Algom, you pitiful soul. Mind if I call you Fred?

Friday, April 14, 2006


These are the days when Thailand celebrates their "new year", Songkran... a far-too-many-day celebration heralding the arrival of the rainy season in which Thai people run around in clouds of talcum, smearing mud and splashing water on everyone in sight, willing participant or not.

Since looking menacing, and emphatically stating "NO" several times may not deter the most ambitious of Thai people determined to smear and soak you and your belongings, and since breaking their jaw is only an option if you have enough money to pay for their medical bills, I and about 98% of the rest of the farang resident population either leaves Thailand or hides in their houses until the party has finished.

Well, as always, the Songkran celebrations do an excellent job of culling the herd as an average of 40,000 injuries and 500 deaths (greatly decreased from 60,000 only a few years ago) will occur over the week-or-so celebration. (Yet one more reason to stay inside.)

It's sad, because it is such a great premise for a holiday, and the traditional washings and offerings just seem so right as a way to welcome a new year. It's just a shame that it is not possible to find some peaceful, dry, observe-from-a-distance manner in which to enjoy and appreciate it.

Mango Sauce's David puts it so succinctly:

According to long term ex-pats, Songkran was good clean fun until about 10 years ago... Perhaps I've lost my sense of humour but I don't find it particularly funny to send a motorcyclist sprawling under the wheels of a passing truck by throwing talcum powder in his eyes.

For those readers who suspect that I'm a miserable fucker I can exclusively reveal that I also hate Christmas.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Don't Bother Asking How I Feel

Tragedy has once again visited itself upon Pui's family, this time it being Pot's father who joined the ranks of retarded Thai people who anually slick down the nation's highways with brain matter, whiskey, and motorcycle oil.

Pui is obviously upset. Apparently two other single mothers are upset as well. Good riddance, I say. There should be a no-helmet law for the million-or-so douchebags in this country who dissappear into the ether, never to have anything to do with the women they impregnante or the children that they sire. Animals... dogs... all of them. Roadkill seems so fitting.

Quote Of The Day

Snatched from Andrew Sullivan:
"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart," - H. L.
I just love quotes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Illegal Immigration

First and foremost, I'm an illegal immigrant in Thailand. I, like thousands of others like me, am abusing the tourist visa rules in order to stay in this country. (Therefore, I'm not technically "illegal", but... well... let's be realistic.)

I have no problem with somebody being an illegal immigrant in a country, only as long as they can maintain themselves "outside the system". In other words, if you can find a way to support yourself, get around, and just plain old survive in the country you are in illegally without the benefits of being a citizen there, then more power to you.

Living in Thailand, I am totally aware that coming back across the border from a visa run one day, the Thai border patrol could tell me that I'm not allowed back. I could be stopped by the Pattaya police and they could look at the 3 years worth of tourist visas in my passport, and decide to chuck me out. That is their right. I have no right to complain. My house, my friends, my belongings, my girlfriend, everything dear to me... it could all be half a world away from me before I realize what happened.

If Thailand passes a law stating that one needs to have a Thai driver's license to operate a motor vehicle in this country, well then I'll stop driving. If they decide that only Thai people can have cell phone accounts, I'll give my phone to Pui.

If things get too bad, I'll make plans to find someplace else to live.

The one thing I will not do is march around insisting that I should receive the same benefits of citizenship as Thai people. I'm in Thailand illegally and I don't have that right.

I came to Thailand because life is better here. My money goes further. I have more freedom and more fun here. If I were tossed out, I'd wind up back in America where I don't have many of the joys and benefits that I enjoy in this country. However, I accept the fact that I could be forced to leave Thailand at any time and that is part and parcel of the life that I choose to live here.

That's the way it is with illegal immigrants around the world. Everywhere.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Below, in reverse chronological order, are my blog entries from Laos. If you want to read about my trip in proper order, scroll down to "First Day Of Vacation" and read that, and then move up one article to read the next, and so on.

Otherwise, you'll just confuse yourself, and we wouldn't want that.

Friday, April 07, 2006


We were back in Vientienne in no time flat, and Toom's brother was waiting for us at the airport. We drove to a different hotel than the one we stayed at before — Rick's "other" choice — the Vansana Hotel, out from the middle of town a little bit.

Really gorgeous place... especially for $25 per night. There were covered walkways leading through tightly-packed gardens to various parts of the hotel, including swimming pool with full-service restaurant right beside it, massage parlor, night club, and spa. Our rooms were right next to the pool, and were very nicely decorated. We had (as I forgot to mention... always had in every hotel we stayed at in Laos) full cable television, with CNN, Discovery Channel, ESPN, et cetera.

It was getting on in the day, and the girls rode off with Toom's brother to fetch the motorcycles. Rick and I immediately hit the pool where we had a long discussion about how crazy our government is now compared to back in the 1960s. We had Beer Lao served to us by a pretty barmaid while we soaked in the pool.

When the girls got back, we went to our rooms, got dressed, and then walked all of 20 feet to a table laid out for us next to the pool where we had dinner. Unfortunatley, the food wasn't particularly great. (Not bad... just not far above average.)

After dinner, we went out on the motorcycles to the Samlor Bar, which is one of Vientienne's oldest expatriate hangouts. It was cool/hip in an East Village kind of vibe... well, except for the people of course: All older men reading newspapers. Kind of clashed with The Chemical Brothers playing on the sound system.

After one drink, we went over to The Snack Bar (although everybody calls it The Snake Bar). Here, my frustration level was once again breached.

There was a live band playing. It was the worst live band that has ever played. Anywhere. Their song selection only amplified the annoyance (Elvis' "Fools Rush In" sung so far off key it made me cringe; "Rock Around The Clock" played verrrry slow and — get this — without a single chord change).

This was Lao psy-ops: Music designed to provoke a negative emotional response to the point that you wanted to tear off your ear lobes with ice tongs.

Well, we left... er... I dragged everyone out after one round of beers, and we went home. (Actually, much like the other night at the karaoke strobelight bar, once I got outside and away from the abuse, I was perfectly fine to go do something else, but...) Everyone was tired and so we headed back to the hotel. We were thinking about trying out the night club on the hotel property, but we all pretty much gave it a pass and went back to our rooms.

(I wound up watching "Instinct" with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr. until about 2:00 a.m. on HBO. It's a "Patch Adams" level of sappy, but Anthony Hopkins is one of my favorite actors.)

The Wounded Land

We arrived at the airport (the little building next to the runway) an hour before our flight, and went next door to a restaurant and drank beer. I ordered one large beer and two glasses for Rick and I, but instead we received two large beers and four glasses. (Apparently it is customary to order one bottle with two glasses per person in Laos so this was sort of understandable.)

Our flight was right on time. We walked from the cement building out to the tarmac, and on to the plane. Probably one of the last places on earth where a metal detector is not used.

As we flew away from Ponsavan, the aforementioned bomb craters were certainly evident. Most of the bombing that went on here was American bombing of (then-rebel) communist positions that were attacking the Air America airstrip (which we just took off from).

I say most bombing: I have no idea what we bombed and how often, to tell the truth. Obviously some bombs fell on the nearby town we had visited earlier in the day. I have no opinion one way or the other about 40-year-old strategic bombing choices because I wasn't there. It's all wrong, of course, in a historical perspective. Whether it was sound military reasoning or just some awful animosity on the part of my countrymen that directed those bombs to fall where they did, on the parents and grandparents of those pretty kids walking home from school (I'm sure their parents and grandparents were just as pretty then), those pretty houses, those pretty fields... all of it... I don't pretend to understand or have all the details. I probably don't want to know.

The whole Viet Nam war? The grand scheme of things? That, of course, can be grasped and judged. That single bomb crater two thousand feet below me caused by a bomb that landed a few yards from someone's hut? I really cannot say.

Ponsavan wasn't really a great place to visit as a tourist, but personally it left the biggest impression on me. All I saw were just some circular dents in the earth... forming a long chain across the landscape... left there 40 years ago by men much like myself. However, I saw that dented land and the people who live on it up close... and it did make me stop and think.
(Since I take all my photos with a camera phone, and the M16-wielding Lao soldier (disguised as a cute little Lao Airlines stewardess wielding a tray of orangeade... but I wasn't fooled) told us to turn off our phones while in flight, I had to snatch the airborne crater photo from


We got back to Ponsavan and went to lunch at another of Toom's relative's businesses: A restaurant built out over the world's largest mud puddle. Actually, it was kind of cool. There were about 100 local kids with fishing nets trawling through the waist-deep water. Four local government officials were seated nearby tipping back bottles of Beer Lao like it was their last chance to get any.

The menu had spring rolls on it. Oh joy. It wasn't farang food, but it was something that I could really enjoy.

My spring rolls turned out to be a sweet and sour cabbage dish. "Spring rolls" was nothing more than a typo.


Well, Toom was more than happy to eat my (their) mistake. Besides, the girls had ordered "hot pot BBQ" which turned out to be the old standby, Thai bar-be-que. The charcoal was fired, the metal dish thingy was heated, the fat was sizzled, the water was poured, and Da and Toom proceeded to load all the fixin's. They didn't have my favorite spicy sweet sauce, but I managed to make due with Heinz Pepper Sauce.

When we left an hour-and-a-half later, the four uniformed guys were still at their table, surrounded by 18 empty large beer bottles.

The Abondoned City

We went out for breakfast today and after 24 hours with no farang food, I was starting to get antsy. I ordered a breakfast of ham, fried eggs, and a baguette. I got pork steak, eggs (can't get it all wrong), and a stale roll. After asking where the ham was, the waitress said that they didn't have any ham, but pork was just as good. Sigh.

Since we had 5 hours to kill before our flight, we decided to rent the same van as yesterday and ride out to see the abandoned capitol ("Old Ponsavan", we'll call it) which apparently was bombed to smithereens by the Americans in the war. (Our other choices included waterfalls, caves, and temples, of course.) So we paid $25 to ride 30 minutes out to see the ruins.

Abandoned capitol? How cool. There would be a desolate deserted main street, jungle pushing up through the pavement, black gaping windows on the bottom floors and skylight showing through the windows on the ceiling-less upper floors. Perhaps we'd see an abandoned newspaper stand with some circa-1968 magazines still rotting on the shelves. There would be overturned tables in a restaurant with silverware strewn about from people fleeing the bombs. We'd be led through an abandoned overgrown hospital where the tour guide would point out brown blood stains where the screaming wounded were treated. The ultimate would be seeing the ass end of an unexploded bomb with an American flag painted on it sticking out of the wall of a now-empty primary school. It was going to be like going to the set of a Viet Nam war movie, but it would be the real thing. Rick and I were psyched.

So we pile into the van and ride 30 minutes. We get to this larger village / small town, and pull into the parking lot of a small government building. We are led around the back, and there is the ruins of a temple. We take a picture.

We get back in the van. The van pulls out, crosses the street, pulls into the parking lot of another small government building. We are led around the back, and there is the ruins of another building. We take a picture.

We get back in the van. End of tour.


Psycho Somnolent

I'm a terrible sleeper. I'm a terrible person to sleep with. I snore. I emit. I talk. Worst of all, I thrash. This is especially true if somebody is in bed with me. This is why Pui (and my last 2 prior girlfriends) has her own bedroom back in Pattaya. (It's okay, for all you romantic-minded readers: We just plan our snuggle time in advance.)

Apparently, I'm at my worst (and this is from next-morning reports) when somebody tries to slide over against me when I'm sleeping. (I'm asleep, so I have no conscious memory but...) if somebody rolls up against me, I slide over. If it happens again, I slide over some more. When I reach the edge of the bed, and somebody rolls up against me again, I thrash.

The hotel we stayed at last night only had double beds: Toom and I had to share.

At breakfast this morning, I noticed that Toom's watch case was smashed. Apparently I did it in my sleep last night. I don't remember a thing. She wasn't angry or anything since we have been sleeping in the same room for 5 nights now, and she's seen me in action when I'm asleep and knew what I was like.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


After dinner, we went back to the hotel where Rick got a stomach ache and Da and he decided to stay in for the evening. That left Toom and me to ourselves. Toom wanted to go to her cousin's nightclub. (She has family in Ponsavan.) That sounded fine with me, so at about 8:30 her cousin picked us up in a nice new Toyota pickup and drove us over close to the airport to "Highway Karaoke".

I'm quite used to Thai nightspots, having done my share. Lao nightspots are no different: They are all the same level of annoying. If you know what to expect, it can be tolerated.

That is what I believed until I got to this place.

The music was loud. That's what I expected. No problem.

It was the lights. The lights were dimmed to the point where I could barely see my drink in front of me... for the 0.95 seconds out of every 1 second when the room wasn't lit by a blinding, single strobe light.

No: Think about it for a second. You want to define annoying? You can't do any better than that. Close your eyes? Nope... still there. No escaping it.

I begged Toom to have them turn off that light. She asked, and some waitress fiddled around with the strobe light controls, but couldn't turn it off (wouldn't turn it off, I think) and gave up. After 30 minutes, my eyes were throbbing and I had Toom take me home.

Maybe those deep dark Lao eyes can handle something like that, but my baby blues certainly can't. They, and thus I, indeed have a frustration level.


Once again, the highlight of the day was just sitting in the van and watching Laos go by. The people are so good looking, so healthy looking. Rick noted how 30 miles out into the middle of nowhere, a crowd of a dozen impoverished school children walking back to town were in perfectly pressed, perfectly clean school uniforms, hair done nicely, looking absolutely beautiful. From penniless families all, but there was always time to keep the kids looking right apparently.

Everyone was doing something to keep themselves occupied. The simplest little undertakings were done with flair and pride: The woodwork, the trim, the weeding of the gardens, the cleaning of the yard, the maintenance of the sheds and bins... all of it. I remember remarking how the Cambodians seemed to take more pride in the things they had than Thai people did. Lao people even more so, it seems.

Having now visited 3 of the 7 major populations in southeast Asia (the remaining being Vietnamese, Burmese, Malay, and Indonesian), so far the Thai people are running far behind their regional brethren in civic pride, community appearance, and maintenance of personal property.

I will say that it is kind of weird that the town of Ponsavan did not seem to be quite as interested in all of the things I just mentioned. Perhaps because of the wealth there: Perhaps in Asia, more wealth means less time spent on making one's environment pleasing to the eye. It certainly seems that in Southeast Asia, the more patently poor a place seems to be, the more I'd be willing to hang around and enjoy looking at everything.

The Ponsavan region itself was beautiful as well, although the deforestation is going to have to be addressed... and soon. Rick says that Ponsavan reminds him quite a bit of Montana. I've never been there, but he was quite certain. So that should give you an idea, if you know the place.

We were done with our touring by about 3:00 in the afternoon, and decided to check ourselves into a hotel closer to the center of town. Immediately thereafter, we walked into town and went to a Chinese restaurant. (Since Laos actually borders China, it is a distinct possibility that a Chinese restaurant may be just that.)

As per usual, we ordered 7 or 8 dishes, spending about $14 or $16 in the process. Ponsavan is as yet not really on the tourist map. Therefore, the business owners are not really "in tune" with how to handle Western tourists... what they want and expect in level of service, et cetera. Having 2 Lao girls as traveling companions helped Rick and me avoid most of the pitfalls that seemed to pop up, and we had a generally smooth experience, but if you have any frustration level other than "zero" (like Rick and me, to tell the truth), Ponsavan is going to find a way to raise your blood pressure.

Well, OK... I do have a frustration level.


We woke up and checked out of the guesthouse at 9:00 since we would be riding around in the van all day and then going straight to the airport. The van was waiting as scheduled outside the guesthouse and the first order of business was to go straight to the Lao Airlines ticketing office to book our flight to Vientiane that afternoon.

Da had snatched a copy of the Lao Airlines magazine which was very helpful during our trip, and also contained a complete schedule of all Lao Air flights. There was one daily flight to and from Ponsavan at 4:30 p.m. The magazine said so.

The ticketing agent disagreed.

The next flight leaving wouldn't be until tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. as flights are now only 3 times a week. We were thusly awarded an extra 24 hours in Ponsavan. Oh joy.

Well, the truth is that we had no other plans and nothing else to do, and no place to be, so whatever. We bought our tickets for tomorrow's flight.

So! Plain of Jars! One of the great mysteries of Asia... or something like that.

Well, actually once you reach the place, there really isn't too much mystery: The jars held dead bodies which kind of sat for a while before being cremated, and then the ashes were placed back in the jars... or something like that. It really wasn't a mystery, but certainly cool to look at.

Truthfully though, I was expecting a little more: I expected a plain of jars. Instead, the jars are kind of clustered together on various hillsides. They should call it "The Great Lao Hilltop Jar Collection" or something like that.

The area of Ponsavan is kind of cool in and of itself: It's rolling foothills that have been long since deforested and are now covered in cow-trimmed grass. Unfortunately, if you dump 12 inches of rain onto a grass-only mountain side, you get slides where the grass slides down exposing the sandy earth beneath, and thus the entire region looks not unlike a giant golf course.

Additionally, the area really is pockmarked with bomb craters. Americans really did bomb Laos. Rick was telling me that Ponsavan was actually the center of Air America, the CIA operation. While touring the first site of the Plain of Jars, right there next to the jars was a big ol' crater. You could turn around and see boom-boom-boom craters lining up coming towards you from the distance as a B-52 or something emptied it's load.

Of course, there is a sign there saying something like "American imperialist bastards bomb crater from illegal war of 1960-1970!!!"... actually it just says "Bomb crater, 1960-1970".

Most of the bomb craters, however, are best viewed from the air. It's kind of cool, kind of eerie.

After the first Plain of Jars site, we went to a second Plain of Jars site which was like the first Plain of Jars site, but slightly more of a climb, and trees around the jars.

From there, we went and saw another waterfall. Then lunch, then more Jars... further up, further out. There was also a quick stop at a place that makes rice whiskey. Didn't partake thanks.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


We arrived in Ponsavan, home of the Plain of Jars, at about 5:00 in the afternoon. The land isn't quite plain-like, but compared to what we went through to get here, it is quite flat. When we turned left (east) onto the highway to Ponsavan, turning off of the highway from Luang Prabhang to Vientiane, we left the well-traveled tourist trail and moved into the "real" Laos.

The city of Ponsavan is not a particularly pretty place. A place, Rick would say, more suited to everyday life than an appearance-conscious place like Luang Prabhang. I likened it to small town Northern Thailand: Dusty, needing a paint job, construction going on right and left... always building, always half-built.

We found ourselves checked into a large house-turned-guesthouse on the main road into town. As far as residences go, it really was pretty, with teakwood everywhere. We took rooms on the second floor, and relaxed after our trip. Unfortunately, the water stopped working before the girls could get a shower, and a Thai girl without access to a shower (when she wants one) is a bad thing. We were going to check out, but the owner of the guesthouse offered us two rooms in the basement, where there was water. Not much of an improvement in my opinion, but like Rick, I am of the "whatever" camp (as in, I don't worry about minor things that don't effect my overall joie de vie) and we settled in downstairs.

Then, we walked up the road. We passed another guest house and as we stopped a moment to glance around, a man came out and asked us how he could help us. (You have to get used to that in Asia: It's a perfectly valid way to run a respectable business, walking up to somebody in the street and asking them if you can interest them in your offerings. As a Westerner, you would think this is a con man or something, but that's never (rarely) true here.)

We told the fellow we wanted to see the Plan of Jars tomorrow, and we took his business card. (The girls had Lao telephones with them, so we had constant phone access all the people we wanted to talk to.)

We then found a restaurant, discussed our plans for tomorrow (buy our plane tickets in the morning for an afternoon flight back to Vientiane, go see the Plain of Jars, do a little shopping, and then get dropped off at the airport). We then called the fellow from the street, and he showed up at the restaurant 3 minutes later with brochures, order forms, et cetera, and we made our reservation for a van for tomorrow... $30 for the day.

After that, it was back to our room where we went to sleep.

Glorious Road Trip

We hired the same van driver as yesterday to take us to Ponsavan, the next stop on our trip. First, before leaving Luang Prabhang, we visited the Royal Palace, which is now the national museum. As far as museums go, it was really kind of crap. However, as far as palaces go, it was really lovely... and I say that in the "laid-back, not ostentatious, not ribald, not garish, not needing to impress" kind of lovely. Aside from the throne room, it was a simple, open, airy, pleasant place which felt more like a large house than a palace.

After that, we were off. We took highway 13 south and immediately were swallowed up by some of the most insane roads, insanely gorgeous landscape I had ever seen. We were in the most mountainous country I personally have ever seen. We drove up and up and up thousands of feet, and then pretty much stayed up there for the entire trip to Ponsavan, with views that were awe-inspiring.

<-- Rick kickstarting the rainy season.

Also, I have to find out if there is a website where you can submit "the greatest drives on earth" because while there may be some stretches of Alpine motorway in which to have fun, I can't imagine a better place to take your sports car for a spin. First of all, the road surface is near-perfect. (If you are a communist country, you'd better be able to produce good roads, yes?) Rick and I marveled that such a small, poor country could produce such an amazing piece of road. (And that isn't to compare it to an American highway or anything... it's a two-lane asphalt road, but the terrain that it was carved through is the most ferocious on earth.) The curves and cutbacks and twists were amazing. I kept an eye out for about 30 minutes or so, thinking it would make a good point, and... no... I did not see one straight piece of road longer than 200 or 300 feet. It was that twisty.

Obviously, it was slow going: Our van kept to about 40 miles per hour on average... and that is not as the crow flies, of course.

One downside to the sports car scenario I mentioned above is the mountain-top hill tribe villages that this road passes through. Beautiful, hand-made, all-wooden villages built between the road on one side and a thousand-foot drop-off on the other. (Hundred-dollar houses with million dollar views, I commented.) Chickens, pigs, and cows wander in the road. Not a place for speeding. In fact, truly a place where you want to slow down and take a look because chances are, this is the kind of Asia you have been hoping to see.

Anyway, the trip to Ponsavan took 7 hours, which in truth was about 2 hours longer than I would have liked it to have been, but under no circumstances would I have missed the first 5 hours of endless visual rapture just because the last 2 hours were of the "are we there yet?" variety.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Out For Dinner

We had a nap back at the hotel and then woke up in time for dinner. We shot the moon for dinner this evening, going to what seemed to be one of Luang Prabhang's most upscale restaurants, located on the second floor of this gorgeous boutique hotel on Saccharin road. Once again, we had the full shebang with cocktails, appetizers, soups, entrées, desserts, wine and aperitifs. (I had the pork, which was good, but not amazingly so, but everything else I had - and everyone else had - was great.)

After that, Rick and I went to the "noisy" bar (comparatively, that is) and had beers while the girls wandered off to the night market to do some more shopping. Then, it was off to bed.


We hired a van to drive us out to see some waterfalls. Luang Prabhang in and of itself is a wonderful destination, but as with all other southeast Asian tourist spots, the secondary sites around it are limited to the tired old temple-waterfall-cave-ethnic village combination. (Eventually, somebody will add an elephant trek, a crocodile farm, some kayaking, and a hiking trail to form a complete set of attractions.)

So we chose the waterfall. We chose right. The drive out to the waterfall was a little bumpy, but not overly so. It certainly was scenic. We arrived at the waterfall and it really was pretty... even at the very hind end of dry season. (We tried to imagine what it would be like with thrice the amount of water coming down... it would be exceptional for sure.) The water was very cold which was a bit of a letdown as I really wanted to swim. I managed to get in about waist deep before giving up. Rick managed to get all the way in.

Rick wandered down river and found a nice deserted house which design he wanted to use when he gets around to building on the land he brought down close to Vientiane. I had to admit it was quite nice, and very traditional. Also inexpensive: A house like this in Laos would cost around $10,000 to build.

We went to a nearby shack-style restaurant (i.e. a thatched straw roof over a bamboo frame, with few or no walls around it) and had lunch, which consisted of noodle soup... a Lao staple.

After that, we stopped at a Hmong village which was kind of crap. Unlike the Lao people last night at the night market, you get the feeling that the Hmong people would rather you just stayed away... just send money. The kids begged. The adults pretended to be nice until they realized that you weren't going to buy anything, and then just went back in their houses to watch TV. The whole village came out to their stalls en masse when we arrived. By the time we left, there wasn't a soul in sight.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Touring Around

We finally found a guesthouse by hopping into the back of a songtaew whose driver had been standing by patiently outside the restaurant we were eating at, hoping he could assist us in some way.

We told him that we wanted a guesthouse someplace close to where we were currently were sitting, but he proceeded to drive us off the peninsula to see if any of the outlying guesthouses interested us which of course they didn't. He turned around and drove us back to within 50 feet of where we had been sitting at the restaurant and suggested another guesthouse, which we accepted as it was nice and inexpensive. We didn't have to pay the driver as the guesthouse gave him money for bringing us in.

We unloaded our bags in our room, and then immediately went out to the street and hired 2 samlors to drive us around for an hour. It was a good idea to hire this kind of vehicle as opposed to a baht bus type songtaew because you really have a 360-degree view. (Oh... in case you are thinking of renting motorcycles in Luang Prabhang, it is not allowed. Period. Even the girls couldn't get one.) It took us about 5 minutes (at jogging speed) to get to the head of the peninsula, to see the convergence of the 2 rivers. Then, we drove about 10 minutes back to the stem of the peninsula. After that, we drove out towards the mountains where I saw a temple in the distance and figured to just head for that. We visited the temple, and after that, our agreed time was just about up... exceeded a little even. We were dropped back off at the guesthouse.

We walked down to a bar called The Chang Bar, which was on one side of the road, but intelligently had set up an outdoor cafe on the other side of the road, which was the river side. The view we had over the Kharn River was exceptional. They seemed to specialize in fresh blended fruit drinks, so I had a vodka lemonade to start off while Rick discovered the joys of lumyai juice mixed with Jack Daniels. I had a sip, and immediately ordered one for myself as well.

We went back to the hotel room and took a break, and then walked back down Saccharin Road and found a restaurant to eat at.

When the sun goes down in Luang Prabhang, the city becomes even quieter. The street lights are low to the ground, in a gas-lamp style, and with most buildings being the low two-story type, the night sky is ceiling-like above you. The shops, which earlier in the day seemed like dark caves in the bright light, were now brightly-lit holes in the night showing off teak, silk, and bamboo. Only one bar on the entire street had any noise coming from it, and that seemed to be almost by design, as if this were the one place in the entire city where talking louder than normal was acceptable. There was even music playing quietly at this place.

Walking back the other direction along Saccharin road, we found the street closed off, and a night market had sprung up. Compared to the gaudy, garish, abusive atmosphere of Thai markets, this was other-worldly: People beckoned to me in quiet voices, palms down in Asian style. Small lanterns lit everything for the entire mile-long length of this market. There was nothing made of plastic sold here. No cheap T-shirts or factory-ready products. No music CDs or bootleg DVDs. No hoochie-momma slutwear stalls or $2 sunglasses or knock-off Orlando Magic jerseys. The only thing you could find here were village crafts. (If these things were made in nearby factories, as opposed to villages, I of course couldn't say, but I'm just going by my own visual impressions... kind of like in Disney World.) The overall effect was tranquil beyond description.
All four of us found things to buy. Hell: All four of us wanted to buy one of just about everything we saw. If you are on a southeast Asian trip, and Luang Prabhang is on your itinerary, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to do your souvenir and gift shopping.

Luang Prabhang

We arrived in Luang Prabhang and caught an air-conditioned van into the city (about 3 miles away) for $5. Ripoff again, but not much you can do other than walk. We were dropped off at a restaurant on the main street, Saccharin Street. We had wanted to go to a different restaurant, but the driver wanted an additional $5 to take us there. We later found that the restaurant we wanted to go to was only about 200 feet away, around the corner, so determined that the driver must get paid to drop people off at this place.

Well, it worked, as we sat down with our bags and had lunch there. I had a wonderful ham and brie on a baguette. French food in Luang Prabhang is where it's at.

Luang Prabhang is a small place if you include only the "colonial" part of it: A peninsula on the meeting of two rivers (one being the Mekong) about 2 miles long by about half a mile wide, a goodly portion of which is taken up by a temple-topped hill. Back away from the peninsula is the more modern Luang Prabhang which consists mostly of small markets, small houses, and the occasional small hotel or government building. However, across the Mekong from Luang Prabhang is virtually no development, and the far bank of the other river (the Kharn River) is limited to grass huts and vegetable gardens. Both rivers have cut deep valleys around Luang Prabhang, so the view from town outwards is exceptionally scenic and exceptionally Asian. Steep mountains fill in the backdrop in a 360 degree arc. Oh... and the temperature is fabulous here in early April.

Luang Prabhang itself is really very pretty. Rick was of the opinion that it was all kind of a superficial presentation... a Lao Disney World. I wouldn't disagree with him, but I found that to be a positive, whereas he found it to be a negative. All of the buildings were old but well-kept. Everything was clean. There was no evidence of the "modern" southeast Asia which nobody (except southeast Asians) likes. There was nothing here to remind you of Bangkok, and nothing in Bangkok looks like this place.

It was quiet. Silent even. No music blaring from shops. Only an occasional chainsaw-like samlor engine broke the otherwise tranquil atmosphere. You could walk down the middle of the main street and not fear for your life, as the maximum speed of the motorized vehicles would be likened to the speed of a comfortable jog.

It took me a while, but I finally came across the perfect word to describe Luang Prabhang: Mellow.

Missed My View

The flight up to Luang Prabhang was longer than I expected: About 1 hour by propeller-driven plane. Toom annoyed me (well not really): As it was her first time in a plane, I decided to give up my window seat overlooking what promised to be some of the prettiest landscape on the planet, so that she could get the "full experience". Once airborne, she proceeded to pull out the Lao Airways magazine and thumb through it and then close her eyes for a nap. Oooh... I oughta...

Communism and Community

Toom's brother drove us to the airport to catch the plane for Luang Prabhang. The domestic air terminal in Vientiane is quite spartan and unpretty. It was also the first place that I was reminded that this was a communist country, as the hammer and sickle was flying outside.

Actually, it is reasonable that Laos is a communist country. Rick and I talked about this a lot. Communist, associated with the word "community" is what the Lao people naturally are: A communal people. They defer to a central body to determine what is best for the community and they all work together to achieve those goals.

Additionally, if you walk around Laos, there isn't much to make you think "communist" in a fashion that Rick and I came to term "KGB Communist". Everybody works for themselves. Everybody seems to be perfectly free to come and go as they please (as evidenced by Toom and Da getting on a plane to Luang Prabhang with two foreigners without the slightest of questioning). There was never a moment where some official looking person stepped in front of us wanting to "see our papers" or something like that (although I'm sure that was primarily a function of being in heavily touristed areas all of the time).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Play That Funky Music

The party was halfway between fun and boring. Rick and I stayed mostly to ourselves, sitting at one end of a bank of tables that had been set up. The Lao adults sat at the other end of the table. The dozen-or-so kids had their own little table in the center of it all. The oldest adults had their own table where they sat as they watched the little 4-year-old kids jump and dance to "Yo Bitch! Shake That Ass" blaring out across the neighborhood on the stereo. (Obviously Rick and I were the only ones privy to the meaning of the lyrics.)

Fortunately, the music was soon switched over to Lao music, and the kids sang and did their little Lao dances for us, which sent the cute meter clean off the scale.

The party finally ended at about 10:00 at night, and we went back to the hotel.

Out To The Burbs

We went to Toom's house to drop off presents. Toom's father is a jeweler, and seems to be providing quite a nice middle-upper class existence for his family: New Honda Jazz in the driveway, big television with DVD and karaoke in the living room, carved teak staircase and trim all around, and teak furniture throughout. Not bad when you consider that 90% of all Lao people survive on a dollar a day.

After Toom's house, we drove out to Da's sister's house, which is actually about 5 miles back past the border crossing into Thailand. Rick bought some land close to Da's sister's house (some 400 square meters for $1,500 or so), but had not seen it yet. It is a pretty little piece that will hold a nice bungalow, situated back a quiet lane off the main highway.

About a mile down the road, we arrived at Da's sister's house, had some soda. Some duck was put on the grill, and while we were waiting for it to cook, Rick, Toom, myself, Da's brother, and Da's older daughter decided to drive yet another mile down the road to Buddha park... which is basically an opportunity for Lao artists to show off their cement-working skills. It's a big park-like place with lots of sculptures, foremost of which is this giant pumpkin that you climb inside and work your way up through, eventually arriving at the top for a vertiginous view over the gardens. (The climb is no picnic either.)

After getting down from the pumpkin, I had pretty much shot my walking-climbing-wandering energy load and we wandered over to the pavilion along the Mekong and had beer and sodas.

After that, it was back to the sister's house for duck. After that, at about 7:00 in the evening, it was off to Toom's daughter's birthday party. (I thought it rather strange that Toom decided to spend the day with Da, Rick, and myself, instead of overseeing her daughter's party preparations, but whatever.)

Lao Handicrafts

Toom's daughter's birthday was today, so after the usual crap Southeast Asian hotel breakfast, we went out to buy presents. Rick and I settled on stuffed animals. I found a dog as round and big as a bowling ball. Rick settled for a monkey, I think. The one thing that impressed me was the 30-cent wrapping job that the shop girls did for us. If they were working in Macy's, they would be pulling down 30-grand in one Christmas season doing wrapping. (That is not a pre-formed bow in that photo... but completely hand-made.)