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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Who needs Soap Operas when you have the Consular Section

An e-mail today from one of the staff. I've changed the names, not for any privacy sake, but so that the story is more understandable to a Western audience. Okay, maybe for privacy.

From: -----
Sent: Wednesday, August 31, 2005 4:01 PM
To: Vientiane, All Consular
Subject: An affair

Dear All,

A woman, Jane, called and reported that Ms. Susie, dob: unknown, residing at Ban St Louis, Missouri district, Vientiane, will probably apply for a visitor visa tomorrow or within this month and next month. Jane claimed that the Susie is a bad woman because Susie has had affairs with Jane's husband, Dick. Ms. Susie has been informed for many times to stop such a relationship with Janes's husband but Susie does not.

The point now is that Jane will not allow this Susie to receive a visa because Susie must resolve the problem with her husband first.

I thanked Jane for her information and I asked her that she can come here to report if she wants.


And Scene....

My question is, if Susie is sleeping with Dick, who is Jane's husband, and Jane is mad about it, why would Jane want to keep Susie from going to the United States? I would think that could help solve Jane's problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


For those of you who are coming into Laos for visits...


If you are getting visas on arrival at the airport OR the bridge, you need to have 2 passport photos with you. Don't forget or it's a hassle.

Laos has NO ATMs. We can write checks at the embassy to get cash, then shell that cash out to you at usurious rates, but you should bring a decent amount of cash. $ or Thai Baht work fine, so if you are coming in from Thailand you can load up at an ATM there.

Most places (including hotels we will stay at when traveling, most likely) do not take credit cards...please see above reminder about cash, checks at the embassy, and usurious interest rates.

Supposedly in November and especially December and maybe January, nights can get rather chilly, especially up north in the mountains, or in Luang Prabang. I have no independent verification of this bone-chilling weather, but I have it on good word that sometimes a fleece has come in handy in the evenings. I'll believe it when I see it.

I think that's about all I remember at this point. The sun really took it out of me today. That, and the air hockey.

Mekong Cuisine

And as a part of the story, you will learn that this is how you get things done around here...

"Before he headed out on May 1, one of the men who caught it, Thirayuth Panthayom, 29, made sure luck would be on his side. He said he prayed at the shrine of the God of Catfish and begged his boat to help him, "Please, Miss Boat, let me catch something today and I'll sacrifice a chicken for you.""

Katherine has safely arrived in the states. She's in Larchmont visiting for a few days until she goes up to Rensselaerville for more visiting, then on to DC for training.

I spent the day up North at Dansavanh, playing 18 holes with our friend Jon from Health Frontiers (you've heard about them before if you are at all dedicated to this site, which you should be). After that, we drove up to the Hotel and Casino on the Nam Ngum reservoir to check it out. They had an honest to goodness bar-size pool table AND air hockey there, so that provided some good entertainment.

Anyway, that was my Sunday. All in all, a pretty damn good day.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Single Life...

Katherine left yesterday after work, and should be arriving in NY tonight sometime (saturday) and meeting her dad at the airport.

So Jak and I are now hanging out on the couch, drinking beer, playing video games, talking about girls and doing other manly stuff in our bachelor pad.

Anyway, I've got very few plans over the next 3 weeks that Katherine will be gone, so I figure I'll be quite slothful.

That's about it. I've really got nothing to say. Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Katherine Nervig -- Graduate of the #1 school in the nation

And you wonder why I love her...

Survey Ranks Wis. School Tops in Drinking

By JR ROSSAssociated Press Writer

The University of Wisconsin-Madison topped a list of the nation's best party schools released Monday, despite a decade-long effort by the school to reduce its reputation for heavy drinking.
Meanwhile, Brigham Young University led "stone cold sober" schools for the eighth straight year.

The rankings are based on survey responses regarding alcohol and drug use, hours of study each day, and the number of students in fraternities and sororities.

Schools often criticize the list, while the American Medical Association has urged Princeton Review to stop putting it out, saying it legitimizes students' drinking.

UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley dismissed the report as "junk science that results in a day of national media coverage."

The chairman of the campus student government, though, said many students would take pride in the ranking considering the university's other reputation as a top academic institution.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UW-Madison No. 34 among national universities in its annual survey last week.

"It just shows that we work hard but we play hard also," said Eric Varney, chair of the Associated Students of Madison.

The list _ which is not affiliated with Princeton University _ is based on online surveys of more than 110,000 college students and is included in the Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges."
Robert Franek, who authored the report, said students are looking for more than just a classroom experience when they pick a college.

"The mission is very simple _ to provide information to make the college search palatable for a student and all of them to find a school that's the best fit for them," he said.

Other universities listed in the Top 10 party schools were Ohio University-Athens, Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, University of California-Santa Barbara, State University of New York at Albany, Indiana University-Bloomington, University of Mississippi, University of Iowa, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Loyola University New Orleans.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A rough Sunday afternoon for Jak and me.

Catering in Laos

News from Katherine

My relaxing life in Laos has drastically changed this month. I’ve been working two jobs at the Embassy this month. And I’ve learned a good lesson: I’m not doing this again -- I’ve been missing aerobics classes, lunches, tennis games… the horror!!!

My second job is working in the Public Affairs Section on the celebrations for the 50th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the U.S and Laos. So far we’ve had a reception and photographic exhibition, a free showing of Back to the Future at the Cultural Hall -- complete with free popcorn and soda (Michael J. Fox goes back in time to 1955 -- the year diplomatic relations began), a seminar (starring Vice Consul Phillip B. Nervig), a soccer game (starring left forward Phil Nervig and Coach Katherine), and in two weeks there will be two concerts (luckily not starring Phil Nervig).

Working with the caterer for the reception was the most memorable. Although I loved sitting in the theater and listening to the Lao laughing at the slapstick comedy during Back to the Future. Anyway, I thought I remembered everything for the reception at the Lao National Cultural Hall, tables, tablecloths, an extra corkscrew and bottle opener, garbage cans and bags. But the one thing I couldn’t have thought of was training the caterers. As we were setting up I ask which two waiters would be working the bar and got two reluctant volunteers. I quickly realized why: no one (of 10 waiters) knew how to use a cork screw. Not one, so I spent the rest of the time opening up as many bottles of wine as I could before the party started.

I also couldn’t have ever imagined that I should have told the wait staff not to re-use the already used wine glasses. That’s right, when we ran out of real wine glasses instead of the using the plastic glasses I had showed them earlier, they decided to just wipe the glasses with a paper towel and pour another glass of wine. You can imagine my surprise when I saw I large tray of wine glasses being offered to guests when I knew we had already used all the real glasses! Yikes!!!!!! When I asked them why they weren’t using the plastic glasses, they told them they were ugly. I couldn’t really argue with that….

The adventures with the Public Affairs section ends next week. Then, I’m off to training in Washington DC with a stop off in New York to see my Larchmont folks and then head up to Renselearville for Labor Day. I’ll be in training for my ‘real’ job at the Embassy: the Community Liasion Office Coordinator. It is two weeks of training and should be interesting and very helpful. It’ll be strange to be back in DC without Phil, our friends from A 100 (Phil’s training class) and not being able to see my stepbrother Kent and his lovely wife Meghan who are now in Texas.

We're back from our Sunday morning tennis lessons and now Phil is watching badmitton on TV -- I think he's trying to learn some strategy for his next game.

I hope everyone is back home is doing well and enjoying the end of summer!



Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Embassy soccer team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs team. It was a friendly game to mark the 50th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Laos.

The Team! The Falangs played for between 10-20 minutes, then the actual Embassy team came in. We only allowed one goal while we were on the field, but ended up losing the game 3-2, so I guess it was an important goal. Anyway, no soccer shoes + wet, slippery soccer pitch + absolutely NO soccer skills made for a fun 15 minutes for me. It was brutal.

Coach Nervig calling in the plays

About the closest I got to the goal, but unfortunately I didn't have the ball at the time.

Half-time show at the football match

These kids were in the stands doing chants and cheers throughout the game about our glorious 50 year diplomatic relationship and our two countries' friendship, etc. then at Halftime they went out and did some Lao dancing and some cheering, which was very cute.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Jak and our nieces, Emma and Leah.

Our friend and tennis instructor / torturer Tat and his wife just had a baby. We went to meet the new kid, who they are calling Donut (at least that's what it sounds like to us). Anyway, he seems pretty decent, although this picture doesn't do him justice, as it looks like he's screaming. Anyway, this is their first kid, the cute little girl on the side is their niece. They are basically our neighbors, as they live about 4 streets away . Of course, given the lack of road signs, etc. it took us 4 phone calls and 20 minutes to find the place, and even then he had to come out to the main road to lead us in. At one point we found ourselves back at the other end of our road, having gone in a full circle, drove past our house, and tried again.

I also represented the Embassy today in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs-sponsored badminton tournament. It was the MFA vs. representatives from the Embassy community. I was the only white guy there, but the Embassy community was well-represented by the Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesia and the Philippines. I was teamed up with a guy from the Chinese embassy. Our common language was Lao, which was kind of fun. We won one and lost one.

Oh yeah, Saturday, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Laos, we (the Embassy) are playing the MFA team in Soccer (after the war, we never closed our embassy in Laos, as we did in Vietnam and Cambodia). Of course, never having played soccer in my life, I'm playing Left Forward (not sure what that means). The good thing is, after 10 minutes, our entire side will be replaced with Lao employees who actually knwo what they are doing. Katherine has done most of the organizing.

Then Saturday afternoon we are going out to the Don Khoy center, which is an after-school / summer program for Lao kids. They are putting on a play and selling little trinkets they've made over the past few months. Pictures and a full report from the weekend to come.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

2005 Lao Tee Crisis...continued

I feel like Jerry Lewis watching the red line go over the top of our pledge board, but instead of helping kids with muscular dystrophy, I'm helping myself and my elitist sports fetish.

A small contribution from Mom and Dad Nervig was very well received, but was (sorry to all vertically challenged) dwarfed by Nick and Nancy Bogaerts' contribution to the cause. Something like 500 tees came our way today. Many thanks...If only I can straighten out my drive with these beautiful wood tees.

On to other Consular news, possibly beating out the shirtless elderly lady was a little boy (maybe 3-4 years old) who came running into view of my window from the waiting area on Friday. Nothing special about him, except that he was pantsless, and proceeded to pee all over the ground right in front of me. Again, thank god for the hard-line window between me and the waiting area. Then he ran away, only to return about 15 seconds later to finish the job.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Trying to publish pictures a different way, let's see if it works. Yesterday we went to our friends Tom and Goht's house (next door to ours) for their Baaci. Their baaci was a kind of welcome, good luck, good sprits in kind of thing for their house. They arrived in June, which I guess means that as people who arrived in March, we're full of bad luck and bad spirits in our house, since we haven't done a baaci yet.

Anyway, I had a bunch of comp time that was to expire this week, so I'm taking today off, which is nice.

Friday, August 12, 2005

They have the internet on computers now*

Amazing what you'll find on the internet these days.

For instance, I ran across this picture from our day of elephant hunting (figuratively, you hippie tree-huggers) back in late June.

Turns out, a colleague here thought a blog was a good idea, and posted a few pictures of our day in the forest himself. This one is pretty good, as it shows our intrepid group fording a deadly (okay, not so deadly, but I've always heard you can drown in as little as an inch of water, and this was much deeper than an inch, so it could have been deadly, had I passed out in it) stream. I think our guide is actually trying to cop a feel off my sexy wife. I might have to go back there and knock his hat right off his head.

Notice I'm keepin' it real (as the kids say these days) with my Blind Tiger t-shirt (for those from New York).

I've recently noticed that I really like to use parentheses. Maybe an overuse of parentheses is a sign of non-linear thought or something (or I'm just scattered). Hey, using parentheses in a sentence about how I like to use parentheses, now I'm blowing my mind. It's like seeing a perpetual motion machine or something similarly impressive.

*gratuitous bastardization of a Simpsons quote...oh how I miss my beloved Simpsons

A Growing Pains flashback, this time with gnashing teeth and a lake of fire

For those of you who remember the TV show Growing Pains and the troublesome, yet adorable, Mike Seaver, played admirably by Kirk's a little treat.

Anyway, Kirk has followed a somewhat different path from his days on Growing Pains. Now, I'm not anti-religion per se, but I am a bit anti religious nutcase, whatever said nutcase's religion is.

This then separates me from most religious nutcases, who are anti religous nutcase, provided that said religious nutcase they are against practices a religion different from their own....the 'my god is better than your god' kind of thing, which to me is a bit of a grown up version of the 'my dad could beat up your dad' argument from sandboxes past.

so I found this very funny....bonus that it is something written by Mike Seaver from Growing Pains.

Granted, it doesn't have much to do with living in Laos, but who cares...

If you don't find anything slightly off about 80's teen idol Kirk Cameron's point of view, then apologies all around....but not really, I still think it's funny.

...with some coconuts...

Katherine thought the first line of this e-mail was kind of funny, so I post it for your reading pleasure.

To: Vientiane All Americans
Subject: Solicitation of Reputable Auto Body Repair Shops

A motorbike pulling a cart with some coconuts banged into my car last Friday while it was parked near That Dam. Do any of you know of a good reliable and not too expensive shop to repair the dent and repaint the door? Thanks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Exhibit B, Jak lounging with his practice prey.

Exhibit A of Jak's decadent lifestyle

Okay, so we do have photographic evidence of our weekend in BKK, but this is really it; a drink at the Four Seasons garden bar with Tom and Goht. And for some reason, I'm particularly smiley. I swear this was my first beer.

I'm down with the flu or something today, so am spending a lovely afternoon on the couch with Jak, who seems to have a pretty good life here in our house.

Monday, August 08, 2005

And then there was the photo of the gathered officials, which included the Ambassador and DCM (center and 2nd from left, respectively) and the Deputy Foreign Minister and Lao Amb. to the US.

Followed by the 50 or so civvie-clad JFA team members...

And on to the C-130 they go. It was all very moving and interesting.

Then the coffin is taken back to the C-130. The commander of JPAC Detachment 3 (Laos detachment) is in the foreground saluting, with the flight crew behind him. Behind them is the Joint Field Activity crew, a group of 50 people (mostly soldiers and some anthropologists and /or archeologists) that go out and do the actual site surveys and digging. By local regulation, they aren't allowed to wear uniforms, so they are all in civvies (although you can't really see them here)

...and placed over the coffin.

The box is placed in a coffin, then the flag is retrieved (seen here)

...then the honor guard comes out of the C-130 that flew in. Each of the military branches are represented in the honor guard.

The Ambassador gave a short speech, and the Vice Minister of the MFA gave a speech too. By the way, this was on the tarmac of the Int'l airport in Vientiane, my second home during the Deputy Secretary's visit.

Last Monday there was a repatriation ceremony for some remains found in northern Laos. It was from the site of a crash of a C-47 in 1961 (and I think it was the first time Americans died in combat in Laos). They were flying support for the Lao Royalist Army (or the neutralists, I'm not sure) as they fought the Pathet Lao. 7 Americans died, and a few have been identified about 15 years ago, but the JPAC people (Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) went back and found a tooth, some bone fragments, and some pieces of a flight suit. So the pieces they found are sufficient to do an identification. As such, the remains get a full honor guard repatriation to Hawaii, where the forensic lab is located. You can see a small box in the foreground. That is the remains

Back from Bangkok

We don't have any pictures to show for it, but we had a great weekend in Bangkok. We went a little upscale, staying at the marginally fabulous Four Seasons Bangkok, and making the mistake of saying "oh, it's late, let's just meet some friends at the garden bar on Thursday night when we arrive" which pretty much doubled the cost of our weekend.

For those of you who know these people, we spent alot of our weekend hanging out with the following: Patrick Barta, of Wall Street Journal fame; Kate Besleme (of St. Olaf College fame) and her husband Orestes; and A.D. of 119th A-100 Foreign Service training fame. We also got to see some friends we made while at FSI learning Lao and spend some time with our neighbors in Vientiane, who were down for the weekend as well (Tom served as security officer in BKK previously, where he met his wife, Ghot, a Thai employee at the embassy at the time, so they are pretty wired into the neighborhood).

We didn't do a whole lot of culturally redeeming activities, but I did get new tennis rackets, Katherine got some stuff, we ate a lot of food, and saw a movie at a theater that had reserved seating in extra plush lazyboys, blankets and pillows, and table service for your popcorn and soda (or scotch and soda if you so desired), all for a reasonable $6.50.

Anyway, that was our weekend.

Katherine is yelling at me about something...gotta go.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Call To Action...has been answered

My friend Micheal, from Jakarta, gets the award for quickest response to the 2005 Lao Tee Crisis. Granted, he brought them here by hand, but he still wins.

BUT, in terms of committed response to the 2005 Lao Tee Crisis, Geoffrey Knoell is the clear front-runner. Just today I opened up a package and found, to my (and the entire country's, I'm sure) delight, 200 tees. And they are just the right size and color too.

Now, I don't want to say that I don't need any more tees, because god knows that I, and the Lao people, can never have enough wood tees, but if you haven't dropped them in the mail yet, you might as well forget it, and languish in the shame you have brought on your and your family's houses for not responding in such a grand fashion as Geoffrey and Michael to the 2005 Lao Tee Crisis. (that was a long sentence)

Okay, now we're REALLY going to Thailand.

Oh yeah, I called an elderly woman to my window this morning for a visa interview. Sometime during the interview she realized that her shirt was on inside out, so she promptly took it off, put it right-side in, and put it back on. And I learned that this woman doesn't go in for support so much. Not a bra to be seen. I was a little taken aback. Maybe she just thought that was a good way to get in good with the interviewer or something, give her a little edge.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

To Bangkok we go

Katherine and I are off to Bangkok tomorrow night for a long weekend of movies, sushi, poolside sloth, the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho (it was under scaffolding last time, so Katherine hasn't seen it) and the weekend market, where maybe we'll pick up a monkey butler.


This is Soukanh, and the bridge being built from Savannakhet to Thailand. It will open up an East/West corridor from Vietnam to Thailand, and hopefully provide some economic benefit to Laos. As you can see (a bit) in the distance, the crane collapsed last week. It killed 10 people, 9 of which have been recovered.

Piling in the car

I was down there to look at an adoption case, and was trying to find the father of the possible adoptees (not these kids). Anyway, we found his mother, who said she would show us where he was, but she was watching her grandkids, so they would go too. So we all piled in the car and were on our way.

Why yes, I do

But I did get to play with the monkey a little bit, which was fun.

Do you want this monkey?

So I went to Savannakhet for a quick 24 hour work trip with a local employee and a driver. As we arrived in town about sundown, we pulled up and stopped on the side of the road. I looked out and there was a guy sitting in a chair washing a monkey. Literally, monkey in his lap, being washed with a towel. I said, "look at that, a guy is washing a monkey" and the Lao employee said "he's my relative." Turns out, we were there to see the guy washing the monkey to ask him where we should stay. He said the monkey just ended up at his place one day, having lost his owner. Anyway, he offered me the monkey, but I figured that would be something I'd have to talk over with Katherine first. It would have been my chance to have an actual monkey butler though. In retrospect, I can't believe I turned it down.

Eva Air

Just when you thought it was getting easier to get to Vientiane...

I'm told Eva Air has discontinued its flights into Vientiane, thus returning you to the decision of flying through Bangkok, Bangkok, or Bangkok (or Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, of course).

Just back from Savannakhet for a quick 24 hour work trip. Tired, need food, need massage, but not in that order.