Life on the Mekong and Other Rivers

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog, including strong statements in support of weinerdog-riding monkeys, are our own, and not those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

New Phone Card Option --

If any of you have tried to call us in the past 2-3 weeks, be aware that EVERYONE seems to be having trouble calling Laos lately, not just you.

That said, I have no idea what the problem is.

But, a colleague told me that is a good place to get phone cards, because it doesn't cost more to call a cell # in Laos. The ecallchina cards seem to have separate billing for calls to cell phones that are in the $2 per minute range.

Anwyay, check out -- pick Laos as the call destination and peruse the options. I think 'mega clean and stable' is pretty good, if for the name alone. But it also doesn't have the maintenance fee and other strange fees that the $0.05 per minute card does.

Also, even though most people cannot call us at the present time because of some country-wide problem, we now have an answering machine at home, so that will allow us to at least know who has tried to call.

Found out today that Jak is officially a boy. We thought he was a boy, then our housekeeper said he was a she, our American doctor friends concurred, so we thought, fine, we have a girl cat named Jak. The vet disagreed today and pronounced him a healthy BOY (with worms).

Going to Ho Chi Minh City next week for a couple days for work. We're planning it on a Thursday/Friday so we can stay the weekend.

And Katherine got a part time job at the Embassy. She will be the community liaison officer, which means basically embassy community camp counselor/cheerleader. She helps new people get accustomed to the place, plans events and outings, and is an information resource for all things Vientiane for the embassy community. I'll let her tell you more about it (and her trip to London, which ended about 9 days ago, but she's been so damn busy figuring out if our cat is a boy or a girl that she hasn't had time to tell you all about it).

Sunday, June 26, 2005

we were the focus of intense interest among the kids of the village. They wouldn't talk to us, and seemed quite startled that Falangs were speaking Lao to them, but these are 4 of about 15-20 that were hanging around.

By the way, as you may remember that the elephants previously destroyed the entire previous tower...the elephants recently tore down the lower stairs of the new tower. You can see how the railing is all bent in this picture. Anyway, it seems the elephants REALLY don't like being gawked at, and will do anything to stop people from hanging around. So we had to drag the stairs over and prop them up so we could climb up.

So today we went about 80KM southeast of VTE to search for Elephants in the Phou Khao Khuay national park. There is a town called Baan Na that has an elephant observatory. Some of you may remember the Vientiane Times article about the new tower; the old tower having been destroyed by elephants.

Anyway, we arrived to find the path completely flooded, so forded some streams, road a tractor type thing, then walked another few kilometers to find...cows. No elephants this time. BUT, you can go out and stay overnight at the tower, and the elephants usually come around at dusk. We saw plenty of elephant evidence (broken trees, elephant shit, elephant tracks, etc.) but no elephants.

Anyway, it was alot of fun. More pictures below, including our alternative path around the flooded road through some water and around some rice paddies. We'll go back after the rainy season and stay overnight. The system is pretty good, it gives the local villagers financial buy in so they don't kill the elephants. so there's an entrance fee for the park, a fee for the village, and a fee for the required guide.

All in all a great day.

Jak is getting bigger and healthier. She's in for a trip to the vet this week, when we will know conclusively whether she is, in actuality, a girl.

Monday, June 20, 2005

=-----------------------uuuuuuuu]]g (this is from Jak walking on the keyboard. I did say she was a bothersome son of a bitch)

Granted, this is an unsigned editorial from the NY Daily News, but it is an issue that impacts the region in which we now live. Medical experts may not be so "chicken little" about it, but whatever. So far so good, and the reporting out of Laos is that bird flu has not yet gotten here. Of course, that could just be for lack of reporting, but who knows.

On more positive notes, Jak now has the run of the house. At first we were relegating him to one room at a time when we weren't around, but she now gets to roam the house, which has its own hazards. Saturday night, after returning from golf and an afternoon at a floating restaurant on a river North of here, I spent a long evening on our porch with some friends and some beers watching the rain. At some point, early in the evening, I decided to check on Jak, so I went in to the house to look for her. I stepped back, and literally just crushed her under foot. It's too bad in some instances that she likes me so damn much, because she likes to follow me very closely. She was stunned for a minute, but bounced back quite impressively. I haven't felt that bad in quite a while. Okay, I guess me stepping on a cat isn't really a positive story, but compared to bird flu pandemics, it's not THAT bad.

Tonight after work I went for a long bike ride "ba noake" (in the countryside). Basically, we live on the edge of a rice field; if you go past it, you can get to small, dirt (now much of it mud) roads that wind around rice fields on the outskirts of town. It's very cool. As I rode by, covered in mud, everyone I passed had something to say, whether it was "hello" or "hey Falang, you are dirty" or "you have a lot of mud on you" or "beautiful shirt" (said tongue in cheek I would say, given I was covered in mud)eeeeeeeeeeeUUUUU`YY''''''''''''';];;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;MMMMMM(Jak is back on the keyboard).

Anyway, I was biking with a co-worker, and we biked past another co-worker who invited us in for a beer, which was lovely, as she lives right along the river. So we sat with her and watched the sun go down over the Mekong, then continued back home. Katherine comes home Wednesday. I'm trying to schedule some consultations in Bangkok (consultations being meetings with people who do what I do but have much more experience, and can impart their wisdom to me) for July 5 and 6, which would give us a 5 day weekend in BKK, which would be nice.

Speaking of golf, the course I played (1 of 2 18 hole courses in the country, the other one being the place we went to last weekend) was an absolutely terrific surprise. It was about 90 minutes North of town, in the start of the mountains, and literally cut right out of the jungle. Absolutely beautiful place to play golf, in great shape, and a really tough course. For those of you coming to visit who fancy a round of expat golf (caddies included), Dansavanh is waiting for you. At one point, I was walking along looking into a stand of thick bamboo lining the fairway and was startled to see some people emerging from the thick jungle. Of course, I figured they were coming after us and we were goners, victims of some ruthless jungle tribe that preys on unwitting Falangs out for an afternoon of golf. As it turned out, about 9 teenagers emerged hawking golf balls they had collected from the bush, and at a reasonable price too.

Anyway, that was my weekend. Katherine is having a great time in London with Amanda and Blair, although I think she's had some sticker shock coming from Vientiane and having to pay London prices. I mean, how can you possibly charge more than $0.80 for a liter of beer? I don't get it.

Friday, June 17, 2005

So Katherine has our camera in London, and the camera I brought to Luang Prabang and used to take all the stunning pictures seems to have some problem, so i can't load them here. Anyway, suffice it to say I looked very rugged out in the bush blowing up unexploded ordinance.

Jak is a son of a bitch, who likes to wake up at 4:45 am and play, then cry until I feed her, then she goes back to sleep just about when I have to go to work. But she's cute, so she gets away with it.

Tomorrow I'm going golfing at Dansavanh Resort about 1 1/2 hours north of here. should be fun, but it means getting up at 6:30 on a saturday, which shouldn't be a problem , given my current early rising roommate.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Shooting the Rabbit

I'm back from Luang Prabang. A great place, by the way. But I was there for work, so I had to go out into the rural areas and small villages around LP to visit unexploded ordinace search and removal sites, visit with farmers who have been given recently cleared acres on which to farm, detonate a charge that blew up a pile of cluster bombs found about 2 feet from a foot path used by farmers and their families, and watch a community awareness program in a small, remote village with all the village children and most of the adults, including a very old woman who continually smiled at me with a huge mouth full of betel nut. A few pictures to come later, but all in all a very good trip.

It's also mind-boggling to think about the sheer number of deadly unexploded bombs, mortars, mines and (especially) cluster bombs, or bombies as they are called here, that still litter the country.

Oh, and I learned my new favorite Lao saying....Driving down a muddy road, after bouncing along for about an hour and drinking quite a bit of water, I had to go to the bathroom. So I asked if we could pull over. A Lao guy asked me if I 'had to go shoot the rabbit'. Turns out, I did have to shoot the rabbit. Anyway, he also let me know that when women go to the bathroom outdoors, they 'go water the flowers.' Also a lovely saying.

Katherine is back on Tuesday, but for the weekend, it's just me and Jak (we've shortened the name to Jak, even though it's a girl) She went to camp the past two days and had a wonderful reunion with her sister, who is now resident at a friend's house. She's now back and sleeping on my shoulder as I type. All in all, a pretty top-notch cat if you ask me.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

We went golfing yesterday for the first time since arriving. Katherine played 18, while I played 11, then had to go and collect the last of the 4 Americans who was released from jail yesterday. So at 11:00 am I went to the immigration police headquarters with another guy from work and we escorted Sia Cher Vang to Thailand. So they are all out of jail and out of the country (and probably not allowed to return). Anyway, $11 for a round of 18, including caddy. The course is 14km from town. Next saturday I'm going to a course about 90 km north of town. Alas, Katherine cannot join me because she'll be in London. she's very sad about that

I request three machines...

So we have a new addition to our little household here in Vientiane. We went out for dinner last night and came home with a malnourished, tiny, ugly, flea-infested kitten (katherine doesn't think it's ugly). We gave it a bath and some milk, and it seems to be doing okay.

It's about 3-4 weeks old, far too young to be weaned, but its mother abandoned it (and its sibling, which is now resident at a friend's house) at the restaurant, so I think by taking it home we are at least giving it a fighting chance.

The english translation of the name we gave it is roughly "I request three machines." There is some background to why... we were talking earlier in the night about babies, and I basically said that I thought all newborn babies looked a little bit like an uglier version of Kojak (no offense to those with newborns...they do usually get cuter as time goes on). Anyway, because this kitten is a bit ugly and rough around the edges from a short, but I'm sure eventful, life on the mean streets of VTE, I started calling him Kojak.

But little Kojak has 3 black spots on his back, so Katherine wanted to call him Saam (like bomb), it means 3 in Lao. So we compromised. Kojak Saam Jak is his name. Really, it's pronounced more like Khoe Jock Saam Jock, which means 'I request 3 machines.' So now everyone is happy, except Kojak of course, who will get teased in school because of his funny name.

We're hoping he's strong enough to survive, but we just don't know. However, he's eating milk, purring like a mo'fo', pooping, cleaning himself, and has even climbed up onto our bed from the floor, so he's pretty strong.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


A few days ago and this

Apart from all the goings on, my boss returns Monday after a month in the States. And not a day too soon either. Although I think I'll miss the unchecked power that I wielded for the past month. Once he returns, no more ruling by fiat.

Katherine is heading to London on Monday to visit her friend Amanda who moved there recently, and hopes to see others there too (Cob, Ford, Rick???).

Then I'm off to Luang Prabang on Tuesday for a UXO trip (unexploded ordinance). The US government funds a lot of the UXO removal programs in Laos (picking up after ourselves, I mom always told me to do that anyway), and I'm going up to see how things are going. It should be a really interesting trip, up into the hinterlands to see the detection and removal teams at work, be briefed on their progrss, and see them blow stuff up.

But for now, tomorrow is the last day of my short-lived power trip, I've got to go to bed and get a good night sleep so I can be ready to really let the staff have it tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

UPDATE: Here's the picture and article that was front page news. Thanks Ari.

If you didn't figure it out, the consular officer mentioned in the linked article was me. I was also on the front page (above the fold) of the Times...the Vientiane Times, that is. It's the english language daily newspaper, and I was in the background walking out of the immigration police headquarters with the 3 amcits who were released yesterday.

All in all, an interesting and stressful weekend. They were detained on Saturday afternoon so we were working most of the weekend. The end was good though, with 3 of 4 released yesterday into our custody, and one remaining in custody who should be released soon.

In other news, traffic was brought to a standstill today on a main street in Vientiane when two dogs decided to have sex in the middle of the road. The drivers were very kind, slowing WAY down to squeeze around the dogs, who didn't seem to care what was going on around them. It was just about the biggest traffic jam in Vientiane's recent history.

The rainy season has definitely begun. We were at the Sunset bar today having an after work beer, watching a huge thunderstorm slowly work it's way towards us from across the river in Thailand. We left in time, which was better, but less fun, than Monday, when we were caught at the Sunset bar by a huge rain/wind/thunder storm. It rained buckets for about an hour, so there was little else to do but hunker down behind some big, hastily-opened umbrellas, which didn't REALLY stop the rain. Additionally, I didn't know whether it was better to have the rain hit us or have the metal umbrella rods at our feet, ready to conduct the lightning right up to our table. All ended well, with a run to the car and a drive home.

We have plans for golf on Saturday, our first foray into the Lao golf scene. It should be good, although the tee time is set for 6:30 am to try to avoid the heat I guess. I mean, sure, I like golf, but 6:30 means leaving the house at 5:50, which means getting up at 5:47, which is pretty damn early if you ask me.

That's all for now. Adios


Read this

Friday, June 03, 2005

Terry and his wife, Ming, with Katherine, back in FSI Lao training.

Fresh Meat

So we've had two new officers arrive at post this week, so we've been busy entertaining them. Katherine and I were in language training with both of them (and their wives) so it's been good to reconnect.

Tonight was a night out with the consular staff and Terry (one of the new officers) who will be working part time in the section. We went to the Mekong Breeze, the same restaurant that Katherine and I went to our first night here, and the place I got my famous hot towel bathroom massage. I knew enough to request to not get a massage first thing before I tried to go to the bathroom this time.

And, with the recent rains (and China letting some water through their many dams) the river is up quite a bit, so some pretty big boats (okay, not big, but bigger than a longtail boat) were plying the river, which is cool to watch go by as you are enjoying some Lao food and drink.

Tomorrow we're around...morning squash for me, afternoon massage, then a night of culture at the home of some friend of Katherine's. I think it's a piano concert or something.

Sunday is more my speed. We're having some people over for pancakes, then heading south about 50 KM to another rocket festival. Should be fun.

Clarification....for those few that need one

I figure most people don't need this, but I had a conversation last night with someone that made me think some of you

The series of pictures are from two parts of the same park. The area that we were told to get back in our car was the drive through part, and we were not supposed to get out (or roll our windows down in certain sections with big cats, etc.).

The second area was where, for a nominal fee, you could hold and play with certain animals, and take pictures of same. So it wasn't like we were walking around the big cat cage trying to hold the leapords and lion cubs and tigers.

I'll leave that to this guy. I guess he wasn't as tight with God as Daniel

Besides, whose to say that Lions haven't found Jesus already anyway. Maybe they are just keeping it a secret.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Few More Pictures from Indonesia

On the road to the Taman Safari Park. We rented a van and a relatively competent driver and headed out for a day of fun. Additionally, Bintang was pretty good, but it's no Beer Lao...

After the park, we stopped off for some roadside Satay. It was very good, even if it wasn't the cleanliest operation in town...

Me and my new friend

Katherine wasn't so sure about the lion, but once we all got seated and ready for pictures, the lion behaved itself, for the most part. But then again...

Seconds after this picture was taken, Marybeth's hand was in the lion cub's mouth. Luckily it was just 'playing'

Feeding the elephants...soon after this we were told to get the hell back in our car...

The Zebras weren't shy about asking for food. We stocked up on carrots, corn and bananas on the way to the safari park, and the zebras weren't discriminating in their tastes

This guy wasn't nearly as friendly as the lion cub or the tiger. A full grown leopard, he didn't take kindly to being awakened and dumped on my lap, so he let his unhappiness be known by growling and taking a swipe, or bite, or both at my leg/arm just after this picture was taken. But damn, how cool is holding a leopard and playing with tigers, lions and orangutans?

Michael and his buddy