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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Front page headline!

From KPL Lao's front page:

Yesterday (Thursday), the Lao Brewery Company officially launched three new beers it is bringing to the Lao market. The new beers are all licensed products of the company are a Carlsberg, a dark and a light beer. The dark and light beers are new varieties of beer Lao.

Surprisingly, this is a post update from back to work...

Things that HCMC has that Laos doesn't...

Good pool tables...

Grey Goose Vodka...

Really tall buildings with bars on top...

I'm back in Vientiane tomorrow and will give a full rundown of our time in Vietnam. But for now, I'm off with a consular officer from HCMC to bust into people's homes ala COPS to try to prove immigration fraud. Should be fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Great city so far, although all I've seen of it is the central market for a street food dinner, a country/western themed bar with a too-loud Philippino top-40 cover band, my hotel room (on the club floor again with free drinks, but alas, no Presidential Suite or butler service), the consulate, and another street food vendor for lunch. And I've seen alot of the downtown pass by in a blur from the window of a cab.

Tonight I'll hopefully explore a little bit, then probably head to a charity auction or some such thing that a bunch of people are going to from the consulate.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Checking in...

Katherine is now safely back in Laos, Stephen and Bonnie are on their way to Hong Kong, and I've just finished breakfast at the Sheraton Hanoi.

Unfortunately, the hotel was very full last night, so we couldn't get our Superior Room that we booked. Instead, they had to put us in the Presidential Suite. It was nicer, I think. Probably double the square footage of our apartment in Brooklyn, and a special floor for drinks (and breakfast) so we didn't have to mix with the Hoi Palloi.

Anyway, we had a great time in Hoi An, Hue and (briefly) Hanoi. More later when I get back to Vientiane this weekend.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

She's baaaack...

Katherine arrived yesterday morning, sans digital camera, which is still being fixed, but with Parents in tow. Stephen and Bonnie arrived safe and sound with Katherine yesterday morning. They'll head to Hanoi tomorrow, and we'll join them there on Friday.

For now, daughter and parents are out on a Wat tour and generally enjoying life while I work.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Trendsetters? I think so

Now, god knows noone had heard of weblogs, blogs, bloggers, etc. until Katherine and I set up this little piece of cyberspace we call home, so in that respect we truly are ahead of the curve.

But, even more important, is the genre that we have created (in homage to the hilarious, and true, stories that can only be found in the incomparable 'Life in These United States' section of the best damn monthly magazine for people who don't want to read more than 500 words about a subject, Reader's Digest.

But, as all trendsetters do, we have our followers.

Please meet - My sister Maren and her family's blog about all things Nelson family

and - Katherine's step-brother Kent and his wife Megan's tales of adventure and newly-wedded bliss in San Antonio, TX, where they are serving in the Air Force as clinical psychology residents (or something else similar that I don't understand).

Going to play tennis.

See? The Lao are quick to help out a friend in need...

Don't think that $25K isn't generous either.

LAO GDP: $11.28BN

$25K as a % of Lao GDP = 0.000222%

US GDP: $11,750BN

Annual US aid to Laos = $10MM

$10MM as a % of US GDP = 0.000085%

# of times greater Lao Aid to the US as a % of GDP is to US vs. US Aid to Laos as a % of GDP in 2005...


So in 2005, Laos is giving 2.6 times more aid to the US than it receives as measured by a % of each country's GDP.

Of course, this doesn't take into consideration all the years the US has NOT gotten aid from Laos and given aid to Laos, but whatever, it's still a very nice gesture on the part of the GOL, even if they do sometimes still refer to us as the Imperial Aggressors.

Friday, September 16, 2005


The potential effects of Avian Flu in America.

So we're ground zero here, but it sounds like being in the US is no better if Avian Flu hits, so y'all come on over. At least we don't have subways and a high population density over here. And, we've got extra room.

Secretary of Health Leavitt is coming for a visit next month, although he'll not be staying with Katherine and me.

Rubbing Shoulders with the big boys

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia-Pacific Christopher Hill.

He was in Laos in June for some ASEAN meetings (and I got to sit behind him and take notes)


"okay, I'm now free"

From: -------------
Sent: Friday, September 16, 2005 10:03 AM
To: Nervig, Phillip B (CONS)
Subject: RE: MTG with MLSW is confirmed

Hi Phil,

I am glad to inform you that I will be available for Sept. 23 to interpret for Ed and the Ministry as proposed. I have asked the driving school to delay my examination to Oct. 21 as my final request to them as I check with Greg on that day I will not be busy. On the same day Sept. 23 I will also serve as the interpreter for Mr. Scot and Mr. Phongsavat and perhaps and Mr. Souban as well.

Please reconsider my offer to serve Mr. Ed as the interpreter once again.


From: Nervig, Phillip B (CONS)
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 4:12 PM
To: ----------------
RE: MTG with MLSW is confirmed

Okay, thanks.

We’ll find someone else.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Laos in the News...

The GOL Vice Foreign Minister presented a check to the Ambassaodor for $25K for Hurricane Katrina relief today, besting Cambodia's $20K contribution by 25%.

and also, there's this...

Laos...Golf Mecca...

Koreans offer US$3m golf course

Sisay Vilaysack

Two companies from the Republic of Korea, World Link Co and Blueplan Co, yesterday signed a joint venture agreement with the Lao National Sports Committee to build a new golf course in Vientiane . The companies agreed to invest US$3 million to build an 18-hole golf course, which Laos will use for competitions during the SEA Games to be hosted in 2009 . The entire cost of construction will be borne by the Korean companies on land provided by the sports committee. The investors will enjoy a lease on the course for a 35-year duration. The golf course is to be located at Km 16 in Xaythany district close to the area allotted for a new stadium to seat 20,000 to be used in the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2009 SEA Games. The investors will begin to survey the golf course site in the second week of October; construction work will begin in January next year. World Link Company chairman, In Koo Shin, said “We expect the international standard golf course to take 18 months to complete for use at the SEA Games in 2009.” “We will not only build a course of international standard but also set up world class facilities on a par with other golf courses in the region.” However, many facilities to be used during the Games in 2009 have not been completed or even begun in some cases. But Laos is confident it can get the Games up and running on time, as the government has already factored the event into its plans. Otherwise, the organising committee has discussed a possible reduction in hosting costs from US$ 100 to US$ 60 million, because it will be extremely difficult for Laos to raise this kind of money.Initially Laos had asked the governments of Japan , China and Vietnam for assistance in building the stadium for the Games. Malaysia is also looking to assist Laos in the stadium's construction. Delegates from Malaysia will meet the Lao National Sports Committee president, Dr Phouthong Seng-akhom, this morning. The two sides will discuss the availability of funds for the project. Laos is planning to hold 22 sports events in the 2009 SEA Games, focusing on sports traditionally held in the Olympic Games.

Lao version of "Sorry, I can't. I'm busy"

From: --------------
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 4:08 PM
To: Nervig, Phillip B (CONS)
Subject: RE: MTG with MLSW is confirmed

Hi Phil,

Thanks for having the honor to offer me this opportunity to serve him as the translator one more time. However, I am sorry this time I will not be available due to my engagement with my fourth postponement due for my appointment for me to take a driving license examination on that day. (the first attempt was when the USAID visit occurred, the second was when the ARF event occurred, and this attempt cannot be postponed any further). Plus on that day is will be also my first day of my annual leave for about two weeks for this year as indicated in my email sent to Greg and Terry a week ago.

Please understand my situation.

Thanks for your cooperation.

One wonders whether the above e-mail should disqualify said individual as translator anyway, regardless of whether he was free to do it or not.

Abortion rights, New Orleans, the President's intelligence...this joke's got it all

Q: What is George W. Bush's position on Roe vs. Wade?

A: He really doesn't care how people got out of New Orleans.

Look what our friends made...

It seems to be baby season, with alot of our friends either birthin' a baby or getting ready to birth a baby. The latest in the long line of baby-makers (who I won't list for fear of forgetting someone that is with child, thus permanently scarring the friendship) are our friends Greg and Claudine (with little Mortimer Hutton being held by Greg).

Good job guys. Way to have a baby. Although from the photo it looks to me like Greg did most of the work and deserves most of the credit. Way to go Greg!

Okay, so the baby's name isn't Mortimer. It's Matthew, but I think I'll call him Mortimer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Goings on...

So the former Wadena high school vice-principal faction has been heard from, to the tune of a couple hundred golf tees. Thanks Mr. Adams. I'll use a few this weekend when I go across the river to Thailand to try out a new course.

There's a group of consultants in Laos doing a review/needs assessment for the Lao UXO sector (unexploded ordinance, left over from the war) for the State Department for possible future funding programs. Anyway, I went out for a couple beers with them. Nothing like hanging out with a few mine action experts to let you know that you really haven't been anywhere. Their work (removing mines/UXO) means that their conversations are peppered with "I think I met him in Eritrea, or was it Angola. Then we met up again in Chechnya before I went to Afghanistan, but after I was in Abkhazia. He had just come from Sri Lanka, and was on his way to Baghdad, with a stopover in Sarajevo." Very interesting stories.

It reminds me of when I was studying in Russia, and spent a few days in Moscow staying with a woman who was the former Russian bureau chief of AP Russia. Dinner with her and her friends, journalists all, was an education in the previous 15 years of world events, from a grounds-eye view.

Time for dinner. There's a delicious-looking red curry waiting for me in the fridge.

Monday, September 12, 2005

And, today I was knighted, via e-mail no less

Sent: Monday, September 12, 2005 1:58 PM
To: Nervig, Phillip B (CONS)
Subject: Boxes at another room

Afternoon sir Phillip B Nervig.

I have gotten three boxes from Dietrich, could you be able to take them from my mailroom, and has leaving on another room.

Thank you sir Phillip


Lao News fun...

"Drains to Reduce Flooding"

Vientiane Times

Construction of the third section of a citywide drainage system to prevent flooding in the rainy season has been suspended because of heavy rainfall...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thank you for being sick with us...please come again

So I had my first experience with Thai health care today, and I have to say it was quite pleasant (and I got a clean bill of health, by the way).

I wasn't feeling well on Thursday so went home early from work, and took Friday off too. Still not feeling great today, so I headed over to Udon Thani to get it checked out. Our friend Erin was kind enough to go along. In case I keeled over on the way, she could finish the drive.

Anyway, I got there at about 2:15 pm. Was in with a nurse getting vitals checked at 2:17, in with the doctor at 2:20. She checked me out and ordered a battery of tests. Test #1 commenced at about 2:28, was finished about 2:32, blood drawn at 2:33, urine collected at 2:36, X-ray at 2:40, out the door at 2:50, to return in 1 hour for all the results. Honestly, I didn't sit down for more than 2 minutes TOTAL between all the tests. Returned 1 hour later, in with the doc within 4 minutes to go over results (all normal), then off to pay the bill. $60 total.

I was wondering why there weren't magazines and such around the waiting room. Turns out, they don't have them, because they don't need them.

Now THAT's healthcare.

Oh, and a lovely young lady brought water to Erin twice as she was waiting.

Now THAT'S REALLY healthcare.

Friday, September 09, 2005

So Lonely....

Katherine's been gone about two weeks now. I'm home sick today, which just reinforces the fact that we live in a huge house when you spend 36 hours in it without your wife.

I have, however, watched a few episodes of the Sopranos (we have the series on DVD) which I promised I wouldn't do with Katherine away, but I figure sick on the couch with nothing else on TV is extenuating circumstances.

Anyway, the week has been an okay one work-wise, but I've been dealing with some things that make the whole thing not so fun.

A) I've been working with an old Lao-American for a while. He had a stroke a while back, and was better, but still had health problems, and his family was hoping the US embassy could help out with bills. They were basically sick of supporting him. Well, the US government will pay to send someone back to the US if they are destitute, which this guy technically is. Anyway, he's about 80, and his wife is a Lao citizen, who had spent over 10 years in the US illegally, making her return pretty much impossible, even if she could afford it, which she couldn't.

This guy's family (daughter) in the states doesn't want to support him either, so he's basically being sent back to be met by social services.

So on Tuesday, I had to go to his house, pick him up, and take him to the airport. It was his decision to return, we don't force anyone to take the government's money and return to the US. When I went to his house I watched his goodbyes to his wife, and equally old, sweet, Lao woman. What it must have been like to know that they were saying goodbye for the last time, most likely, and that it was basically unnecessary, if his family would step up and take care of the guy. It was heartbreaking to see them say goodbye to each other.

B) About a week or 10 days ago, a distraught young woman comes into the embassy with her family. She's Hmong, speaks no English or Lao, so I get her story through one of our Hmong-speaking employees. She's married to an AMCIT, having gone to the States in 2003. 2 kids, 3 months and 16 months old. She and her husband returned to Laos to visit her sick father. Well, about 4 days into the trip, he took off with her passport and all her other documents and returned to the US. So she's stuck in Laos because the type of visa she went to the US on requires you to adjust your status with Immigration once you get there, which she never did, and her husband never did for her. We're looking to see what we can do, but at this point, she's stuck in Laos. Anyway, she keeps saying, through an interpreter of course, that she's relying on me to get her back to her kids, and if she can't see them soon she might kill herself. I've advised against suicide, but other than that, there's not much I can do at the moment until we hear back from Immigration. It sucks.

What a week.

And it's still 9 days until Katherine comes back.


Friday, September 02, 2005

I'm a little bit country...

So, as a part of the ongoing celebration of 50 years of glorious relations between the USA and Laos, the Embassy brought in a real, authentic, American band to play a concert in Vientiane. Yes, boys and girls, the Jesse Dayton Band were here....LIVE!

It was actually pretty great. Last night they played to a select crowd of Vientiane movers and shakers at the Ambassador's house (a bit of MTV unplugged-style music I guess), then made their Vientiane debut tonight at the Don Chan Palace (pictures to come, but probably not until Tuesday, once I get back to work).

Last night they went out to the Win West bar after their gig at the Ambassador's (who knew there was a country/western bar in town (okay, I did, but I hadn't been there...and still haven't)). Anyway, they liked the bar band, and decided they should open up for them tonight. SO...there we all are at the convention center at the world famous Don Chan convention center and the lights go down. The Lao band comes out and starts playing....Desperado, by the Eagles. And if you closed your eyes, you might not have thought it was the Eagles, but it could have been Joe Cocker, which is strange when you open your eyes and see a Lao guy singing.

To complicate matters, there was an electric cord (y'all got that...CORD) snaking up to the front of the stage. So tons of Lao and Falang kids were running back and forth over the cord (yes, a raucous show, I know), so, in addition to enjoying the show, I also was in charge of making sure no kids unplugged the mixing board by tripping over the cord. All the while listening to a Lao band play Desperado. ROCK N' ROLL!!!!!!!!

But, all in all, the Jesse Dayton band was pretty damn good. I would say they remind me of Donny Osmond, in that they were a little bit country....and a little bit rock and roll. And, where else are you going to be able to spend a few hours listening to some good ol' American country music? I guess at the Win West bar from now on. Every night from 10:00 to 12:00.

Anyway, it's now 12:40 am, and I've got to psyche myself up for another 3 hours at the travel agent tomorrow. Not that I don't love our travel agent (he finds good fares after all), but I spent about 2 1/2 hours there last Saturday buying tickets for various trips, and I have to go back tomorrow for more. But it's all done with love, so I've got that going for me.