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.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Saying goodbye this morning on our porch.

Further photographic evidence of Michael's presence in Vientiane. Saturday after the delegation had left, Michael and I hit Dansavanh for a round of golf.

Our friends Micheal (Jakarta, pictured here) and Walter (Rangoon, no photographic evidence of his presence in Vientiane) came in TDY to help out with the Deputy Secretary's visit. Michael was here Monday through Sunday, and spent 3 nights with us at our lovely abode. Walter was here Tuesday through Saturday. Anyway, notwithstanding the long hours associated with the visit (e.g 2:00 am quit time for me on Thursday, 4:30 am start time on Friday for Katherine) we had plenty of chance to hang out with them, eat and drink on the Mekong, and generally catch up with all their goings on. And there's talk of a possible meet up over New Year's on Koh Chang, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. Anyway, that's about it from here

It's over

Gala Dinner, complete with VIPs doing Skits on Thursday night, a busy Friday culmitating in a Press conference, then out to Hong Kong Friday at about 6:30 pm.

The rest of the delegation and TDY people from around the region have now all left as well. As of 10:30 am Sunday, it's back to the normal number of Americans at post.

It's 11:36 am, and I think I'm heading home to go back to bed, then waking up to go get a massage, then going back to bed.

On the upside, I now know much more about US Milair flight regulations, ground and flight operations at an airport, and how to get an airport authority to move a Chinese government plane on short notice so our two planes can land and park where they are supposed to.

And I've learned that running around on the tarmac for an hour wearing a suit in 100 degree heat with high humidity is not a good idea, and should only be attempted by those that a) don't care about their suits, and b) have immediate access to a shower.

Katherine had an interesting few (long) days running the embassy (okay, being the exec. assistant to the Ambassador and DCM)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

And for those of you with an appetite....

....for a serious helping of heavy policy pronouncements, influenced by equal parts legalese and diplomatese....

ASEAN in Laos

Here's what's going on.

Burma Out for next ASEAN chair

No Shows Secretary Rice's decision is not news, but China, India and Japan were all very recent.



MIAs ... There is a repatriation ceremony for remains found just this month at a different site as well. It's on Monday, after the ASEAN Summit. It will be my first repat ceremony. I think it will be very interesting.

I've got some downtime right now, as the delegation is otherwise engaged at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), and my responsibilities do not extend to the meeting site.

The delegation leaves tomorrow evening, and our friend Michael, who is posted in Jakarta (and who we visited over Memorial Day) is here TDY to help out and will be here through the weekend, so we'll get to spend some time hanging out and decompressing on the golf course on Saturday.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

A big swing and a miss by Jak on this one. He's on the left, by the way.

We went for dinner at our friends' house tonight, and took Jak along to visit his sister, who was taken in by our friends. They had a lovely time, and I'm glad to say Jak kicked her ass all over the house.

We ran into a few other people from the Embassy. A truly international crew. From left to right, Thai, Dietrich, Indonesian, Colombian.

Ready to do our part to make sure the monks were well fed.

Katherine passing out bananas. Each monk has an alms bowl that they take out every morning to get food from the regular folk. On this day, the regular folk come to them, and put a bit of food into each bowl. Then the food is all collected and the monks eat later that morning. Any left over food is given away later in the day. Judging by the number of people giving food, I think there must have been plenty of leftovers.

Thursday was the beginning of what I guess you call Buddhist lent. It's the 3 month (or so) time when all the monks kind of retreat into the temples for serious study and meditation time. It also happens to be the height of the rainy season, so their planning for 3 months indoors is not so bad. Anyway, Thursday morning is a day for everyone to go to the temple to give food, flowers, money, etc. for the monks. You can see everyone lined up here to give food and such.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

By the way, the APO address I posted is a US mailing address, so don't let a fear of foreign postal services keep you from sending me golf tees.

And there's this, which I got from one of my staff. I made the mistake of sharing it with Katherine. She thinks it's the best e-mail ever written...

From: -----------
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2005 5:07 PM
To: Phil
Subject: RE: Payday Fun

Tanh Phil,
I love bowling and I'd like to join but I'll check with my wife if she authorizes me to go.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Random shot of lush hills with mountains in the background. Very much what most of Laos is about.

Worse than new parents with baby pictures, aren't we?

Katherine's been working on getting this picture for a while. And she told me I had to call it Jak in the Box. So there you have it. By the way, Jak does really like playing in the box; I don't think Katherine TOTALLY set the shot up.

Hello friends and Family,

I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to give you all a break from Phil’s ranting and ravings, pleas for golf tees (wood ones only, please), and re-enactment of Jak’s fall (one of the more horrifying things I’ve witnessed here in Laos).

Last week I started a part time job at the US Embassy working as the Community Liaison Office Coordinator which is part Camp counselor, part human resource. I’ll be working with the Washington office reporting on living conditions, schools, and resources here in Laos, welcome new American families to the embassy, coordinating Embassy parties and events, assisting spouses of American embassy employees in finding work, etc. It should be interesting, and, since I’m only working Thursdays and Fridays, the job won’t effect my tennis games, aerobics classes, or WIG events!

I know Phil related a little bit of my trip to London to hang with my mates Amanda and Blair, but I’ll add some too. First off, I’m so distressed and disturbed about the recent bombings. Not only is the event terrible but now I imagine people in London are stressed and exhausted every day. But luckily, Amanda and Blair are very cool and can handle this. Plus, they got much better things to concentrate on: the birth of their first child due August 2!

The trip was a wonderful and it was so terrific to see the Jacobson’s in their lovely, lovely new home. We did lots of walking and wandering in the neighborhood. Highlights: a picnic lunch in Kensington garden, dinner out in Notting Hill at a fantastic Indian restaurant (my mouth is watering thinking about it), watching British birthing shows, lunch at a local pub, the knitting section of John Lewis, lunch at the British museum (oh yes, and the museum too), the knitting section of John Lewis (I mention this twice because I really liked it), dinner at my cousin Lucas’ house with his boys Mason, Emile, Avery and lovely wife Phyllis, and seeing Cob and Ford. All and all a wonderful trip and I’m already saving up for my next trip to meet Baby Jacobson!

Back in Laos, life is good! Next week will be busy with the ASEAN meeting but we will get to party with our friends Michael and Walter (from Phil’s training class) when it is all over on Friday night. Beer Lao on the Mekong!

Monday, July 18, 2005

SUPPORT OUR FSOs (or be branded a me)

So as many of you know, the Mrs. and I (isn't that a strange phrase? Even stranger, and less grammatically correct, would be the more commonly used 'Me and the Mrs.') have gone out golfing a few times, and I've slowly but surely come to the realization that I am about to run out of tees. I think I have about four left.

NO!!!!!! you gasp...anything but that. How you suffer for your country, you say.

Alas, it is true.

And the only tees I've found here are plastic...the horror...

So I am requesting that any golfers out there with a heart of gold and an extra dollar or two buy an extra bag or two of REAL wood tees next time your at the course and drop them in the mail to this humble public servant. Not those extra long tees that the cheaters with the oversized drivers use nowadays, though; I'm talking about an honest-to-goodness regular-sized golf tee.

Colors? I don't care. Logos or funny sayings on the sides? Sure, whatever.

I just want to be able to represent my country to the best of my ability, and I can't do that without an influx of golf tees.

Please send tees to me at:

Amembassy Vientiane
Unit 8165, Box V
APO AP 96546-0001

God Bless You!

And God Bless America!

And God Bless Wood Tees; but not the aforementioned extra long wooden tees used by cheaters with super-oversized drivers. Those tees should burn in hell!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

This afternoon after our morning tennis, we went up to the floating restaurant on the Nam Ngum river, where we floated and feasted on a little boat like the one you see here. It was a very nice day, and this day seems to be typical of the "rainy" season thus far. The downside, however, is that the rain generally cools things down. Without it, this place is boiling hot and muggy. Nothing a float down the river won't cure though.

The Lao like their line dancing. It brought back lovely memories of Billy Ray Cyrus and the Macarena.

The lao REALLY like line dancing

So Saturday was our first wedding here in Laos. It was a Lao-Falang bride and groom, but a Lao wedding through and through. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the wedding ceremony itself, but rather went to the reception only (which is fine in Lao culture; most people don't go to the ceremony, which is held in the bride's home). Anyway, for whatever reason whiskey is also part of the lao wedding reception. We each got a shot to take upon arrival, then there were bottles of Johnny Walker Black on every table. I went to the bar for a luck....only whiskey. Later on I saw the groom with a beer, but I guess I didn't have the same pull with the bartenders as he did.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Mini A-100 Reunion

Because we are such a small post, we need to import bodies for the upcoming Deputy Secretary's visit to help out.

So I've got three friends from FS training coming in the week of July 26. Michael from Jakarta, Walter from Rangoon and Marybeth K. from Chengdu, China.

Should be fun (during those time that we aren't all completely busy making sure that everything runs like clockwork and that absolutely nothing goes wrong).

Katherine's first day of work is today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Eating in Laos

you may need an account with to read...

To Eat in Laos

Laos and the US in the news....

In Asia, Rice Is Criticized For Plan to Skip SummitDeputy to Attend Regional Meeting

By Glenn KesslerWashington Post Staff WriterTuesday, July 12, 2005; A16

BAN BANG SAK, Thailand, July 11 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, making a goodwill visit here Monday to inspect reconstruction efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami, was dogged with questions about her decision to skip an annual gathering of Southeast Asian nations this month that had been a regular diplomatic stop for her predecessors.
For more than two decades, every secretary of state has attended important meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and Rice's choice -- which she officially confirmed Monday -- has been interpreted in the region as a major diplomatic snub. Her deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, will go instead, she said.
Before flying by helicopter to this tiny village to visit a school and dormitories being built for tsunami orphans, Rice told reporters in Thailand's Phuket resort area that she had "other essential travel elsewhere that I have to do in roughly the same time frame" when the 10-member group holds a ministerial meeting July 24-29 in Vientiane, Laos.
"I am really sorry I am not able to go," Rice added, describing ASEAN as a "vital organization that I want to engage more."
Rice is planning a trip to Africa later this month, aides said. She has made no secret of her desire to cut down on the routine summitry that clogs the calendar of top diplomats, having already passed up a U.S.-European Union meeting that was considered de rigueur.
After touring the reconstruction site and joining about 50 fresh-scrubbed students for a rendition of the "ABC" song in English, Rice again was asked why she was passing up the ASEAN event. Her host, Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, curtly told the reporter to keep the question limited to the tsunami before Rice answered: "I'm here to show how much the United States cares about Southeast Asia."
The United States has pledged nearly $1 billion in aid -- and private contributions have topped that -- to help rebuild areas devastated by the earthquake-driven tsunami that struck 11 countries on Dec. 26, killing more than 220,000 people. Many of the more than 5,000 dead in Thailand were foreign tourists vacationing along the pristine beaches of Phuket.
U.S. secretaries of state have generally arrived at the tail end of ASEAN ministerial meetings, attending discussions between ASEAN and its major trading partners as well as an Asia-Pacific security meeting, which this year will be held July 28-29. Rice's predecessor, Colin L. Powell, twice used the venue to hold talks with his North Korean counterpart.
Foreign ministers attending the meeting are also expected to partake in humorous song-and-dance performances poking fun at themselves and their colleagues.
As word leaked out in recent weeks that Rice would not attend, many commentators interpreted the move as a sign that the United States was ceding the region to China, which is rapidly building trade and diplomatic links with ASEAN's members. Later this month, for instance, China and Indonesia will sign a strategic partnership between their defense industries.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, the editor of the Nation, an English-language daily in Thailand, wrote in a commentary Monday that Rice's absence "will be criticized as a sign of disinterest in the region" and "will not resonate well."
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, that "the absence is sending an uneasy signal" and he hoped it did not indicate the United States was downgrading its interest in Southeast Asia.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, on an official visit to Washington to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the United States, said that Rice's absence from the ASEAN summit might mean the United States will miss an opportunity to strengthen its ties to the region at a time when China is making inroads.
"We are disappointed, of course," Lee said in an interview at his Georgetown hotel. "We understand that she's preoccupied with North Korea and she's meeting some other important persons in China."
"The Chinese are working very hard to cultivate the ASEAN countries, very intelligently and effectively," Lee said. "And I think the right response for America is similarly intelligently and effectively to develop your links with the ASEAN countries, because actually all of the countries want to have good links in all directions."
U.S. officials dismissed the uproar over Rice's plans not to attend the conference as silly and unproductive. They said Zoellick was a powerful deputy with vast experience in the region who already knows many key officials from his tenure as U.S. trade representative.
Complicating matters is that Burma -- earlier labeled by Rice as an "outpost of tyranny" -- is due to take over the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN next year. Some human rights activists said Rice might have been able to make a better case for withholding the chairmanship from Burma by attending this year's meeting and threatening not to show up if Burma hosted next year's gathering.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More on Cob

I guess 3 near death experiences makes one a minor celebrity in Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Soon-to-be parents Amanda and Blair outside their house in London on lovely Portobello road in Notting Hill -- okay, so Katherine did have some time to dictate.

Katherine also got the chance to hang out with Ford and Cob while in London. It seems maybe those dirty terrorists don't hate our freedom, they just hate Cob: Apart from being downtown in Manhattan on 9/11, he was in the Edgeware Road tube station when the bomb hit there, then was on the bus ahead of the one that blew up just after that. Reports from Ford are that he's fine, though.

Since she's to busy, I thought I'd put a couple pics of Katherine in London up. Here she is with Amanda (outside her house, perhaps?). Unfortunately, she's too busy to tell me

Lazy Saturday afternoon. Note the pajamas. I think this picture was taken at 3 pm.

Jak has made his choice, and he's not a Katie Couric fan.

So a couple of cat pictures. He's pretty damn cute, you have to admit

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Confirmation of a good thing

So someone finally got through on our home phone. It took 4 tries, but it worked. What happens on our end many times is our phone rings once, then we pick it up and there's noone there. Anyway, my sister Sarah finally got through, and our new cell phone is like butter, works like a charm.

But the kicker is, at the end of the conversation, I asked her to call back to my cell phone. Sarah was a first mover on the idea. AND, she got through on the first try and the call was very clear. No echo, no delay, $0.08 per minute. Check it out if you want.

So I'm going to send out our cell numbers via e-mail. If you don't get the e-mail because I forget to include you, or I don't have your e-mail address (and you actually want our cell phone numbers) please let one of us know. I just don't really want to put our phone numbers on the internet is all.

Sure, the Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese governments probably know the numbers, but I don't want just ANYONE to know them.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Laos in the news

Here's some speculation on the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum, and our participation, or lack thereof, in an important regional security and development organization for SE Asia.

We passed this guy today. He had about 40 live ducks on the back of his motorbike... ducks.

Very interesting.

4th of July Fun...

Katherine's off playing tennis now and I thought I'd show you what the rest of my 4th of July afternoon will include.

That, and a massage.

Just the way our founding fathers would have wanted us to celebrate: Golf, a half-dead cat (read on), beer, and a massage.

Katherine had a little project this afternoon. Saran wrap around the bannister. Cutting edge interior design idea straight from Vientiane, you say?

Sadly, no.

Our new boarder Jak took a header about 15 feet from the top of the stairs to the bottom...straight down. He fits nicely through the slats and was on the dangerous side this morning when Katherine started down the stairs. He lost his footing somehow and plummeted down. All I heard was a thud, followed by a scream. He was in pretty bad shape. I figured he'd broken his back. He wasn't walking, or making noise, but then kind of shuffled a few steps then stopped.

So we woke up our vet and brought Jak over to see him. No broken bones, no internal bleeding, but a damn sore paw. He got a shot (of some sort, not really sure what it was) and was pronounced semi-healthy and given a 100% chance of survival.

Anyway, so we've saran wrapped the top of the bannister as a temporary fix, and I think we're going to get some plexiglass to put up there for a while until he's too big to fit through. Dumb cat. Doubly dumb because as Katherine was putting the saran wrap up he was trying get through to get a look.

Because he got such a good bill of health, we went golfing anyway. Re-enactment, a la America's Most Wanted, to follow. Rest assured that Jak is fine, and is currently asleep on my shoulder.

So a re-creation, with a stuffed monkey standing in for Jak.

Jak has spent considerable time hanging out in the wrong side of the slats, and I've been a bit worried he'd fall. Then, when I heard the thump and the scream, I figured we had a dead cat on our hands. He's resilient, that's for sure.

The Fall

The end result, along with the real cat who is ambulatory enough to climb stairs. So I guess that's two lives down.

We spent a few hours at the Dansavanh golf course and we were literally the only group on the course.

So I kind of feel like it's our personal course. It's very nice, but was pretty muggy, as evidenced by my soaked shirt.

Katherine felt a bit guilty leaving Jak so soon after his traumatic experience, but she (and he) was a trooper.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Flight options

So Eva Air out of Taiwan is now offering flights to vientiane. The nice thing is there's not a long layover like most flights into BKK (except the direct flight from NY).

So if you are planning a trip here and not planning any time in BKK, check out Eva Air. It's supposed to be a pretty good airline I guess, although I haven't flown it.

I don't know the schedules or anything, but you can check it out at

Our HCMC trip has been delayed. We don't have enough time to get visas before we go. Because I was to spend some time at the Consulate there, I needed a diplomatic visa, which means a huge process involving the Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Relations Office giving permission, then sending that permission on to their embassy here before I can get a visa. Lesson learned...last minute work trips to Vietnam are out.