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.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Is ongoing.

6 guys descended on our house with box cutters, tape, bubble wrap, etc. and are currently spread out in our living room working like people who work really hard (nice simile, eh?)

They are fast, and good. So much so that I will probably go to work tomorrow even though I am given 2 days for packout.

The current state of the kitchen.

And the living room.

And the son.

Tomorrow we'll be in an empty house.

So sad.

16 days to go.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Our Boy

Rolling over at a 4 month level. He's so advanced!

Friday, February 23, 2007

I knew we cut him for a good reason...

Studies: Circumcision Reduces HIV Risk

Remind me to talk about Chinese new year, tuk tuks, and Jack (as if...)

But for now it's far too late.

Suffice it to say that riding a tuk-tuk home after a night out is fun.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Not very interesting, but there was a request for more video

In other news, I may have to rescind my membership in the leche league. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for breastfeeding. Jack seems to like it, anyway. But I was reminded again today that there is a time and a place, or at least a way, to breastfeed.

For example, if you are in the middle of a visa interview, and your child starts to fuss, I think you should think twice before hiking up your shirt, fiddling around with your boob, then latching the kid on.

It's probably the 8th or 9th time I've been flashed now, not counting the pantsless kid who ran in front of my window and peed on the ground. Today was the second time that the flasher actually qualified for a visa, though. And I can honestly say her little show didn't have any impact on the decision, but it was nice of her to go to the effort.

A day of firsts, and possible lasts

Put one in Katherine's column.

We've now each killed an innocent member of the animal kingdom with our car.

You may remember my incident with the dog on the highway near Surin, Thailand. Well, yesterday Katherine and Jack were driving to pick me up from work. Right in front of Wat Si Muang, a temple cat darted out into the street. Katherine couldn't stop, couldn't swerve. I got the call as I waited outside the embassy to be picked up. The phone rang, for some reason I thought, oh no, Katherine's been in a car accident. I picked it up.

She's sobbing, I can't make out what she's saying, then I hear the words 'hit' and 'cat' and, honestly, felt much better. Katherine, thinking about our previous Jak, the possibility that he had the same fate, thinking about her mom's cats Basil and the late Simon, who look just like the little guy she hit, was in no condition to drive. So I jumped into a tuk-tuk and headed over.

By the time I got there, the tuk-tuk drivers that hang around the temple had come to Katherine's aid, and were preparing a proper burial in the dirt next to the temple wall. She wanted me to make sure the cat was dead before it was buried. It was.

So very sad.

In tuk-tuk driver hierarchy, it appears that the guy in white is labor, and the guy in blue is management. They probably thought the white woman a bit strange to get so emotional over a temple cat, but were very nice and helpful.

Later that night I was downstairs and Katherine and Jack were up. Then Katherine screamed for me. I dashed up to find her and Jack (and the bed) covered in chalky white puke. Jack's. He's never done it before, never really even spit up. So she freaked.

Jack was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. Katherine thought we should call a doctor, and repeatedly asked me if I was ABSOLUTELY SURE I had mixed the formula correctly. I was.

But, it was Jack's first time with the formula with Iron, so that probably had something to do with it. He's fine, by the way, and was so about 2 minutes after throwing up all over. I talked Katherine into calling her friend Dana, mother of three, rather than a doctor. Dana's diagnosis was that babies sometimes throw up.

Then Jack slept 7 hours straight. I think I would like him to throw up every night if a good night's sleep is the result.

Today I went to my favorite Indian place for lunch. We are short-timers now, so it may be the last time. I had to capture the moment.

Ah, Taj Mahal. Looks just like a miniature version of the real thing.

Tomorrow night we are going to the first of a few going away events planned between now and departure. This one demonstrates quite well just how our lives have changed since November. The guest list reads: 13 adults, 6 kids, 3 babies.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stuff...lots and lots of stuff

I guess it takes a big move to really realize just how much stuff you really have.

We've been going through things in advance of our packout. We've four choices for stuff; send to Ukraine, send to Washington, take with us for home leave, or give away.

Yesterday was clothes, and it is amazing the amount of clothes we have. A disgusting amount, actually. We're all talk right now about remembering this moment, about realizing that we don't really NEED that new shirt, pair of shoes, purse, etc. We'll see how that actually plays out.

Whatever. Who needs like 35 pairs of socks and 20+ t-shirts anyway? It's sick. Granted, I never throw stuff out, but still. I think I've worn about 25% of my clothes in the past two years. I blame Vone. She does the laundry far too often.

Next up. Books.

Packout is scheduled for Feb. 26 and 27.

The heat has arrived in Vientiane

Tennis this morning was draining. Our fancy schmancy stroller told me that it was 98 degrees at 10:00 am as I was walking with Jack to play tennis (Katherine was already there). It can tell us all sorts of things in addition to the temperature, like the time, the distance travelled, and the current price of corn on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. At least I assume it can tell us that. It is a very smart stroller.

I came home in the car after tennis and Katherine and Jack walked. Katherine had the keys. So I cleaned out the car and started washing the outside. Our guard was having none of it...that's his job. Not really, but the guards generally do things like wash the car, water the lawn, etc. to pass the time and stay awake, especially at night.

Katherine and Jack arrived and Jack was sleeping, so he got his fingernails cut. About a week ago, Katherine cut a little to short and Jack's thumb bled for a while. Katherine felt very bad. Jack didn't seem to care at all.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Yes, we're fine. Yes, it's far away. Yes, it's unfortunate and sad

Public Announcement
Laos – Warden Message

Reported Fighting and Troop Movement Near Vang Vieng
February 17, 2007

Multiple sources, including other embassies in Laos, report one or more incidents of fighting involving Lao Government forces, as well as sightings of increased movements underway by Lao Government forces, in the area of Vang Vieng in northern Vientiane Province on or about February 7, 2007.

At the present time, the Embassy urges U.S. citizens to use caution when traveling in and around the area of Vang Vieng and recommends against travel by any form of ground transportation north from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang.

U.S. Embassy personnel are currently prohibited from undertaking personal travel by ground transportation north of Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, along Route 13 and contiguous roadways.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

His father's son

Jack, working hard to see the hilarious episode of Scrubs on the TV behind him.

Katherine has now instituted a no TV rule when Jack is in the room. Both Jack and I are now in mourning.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Updates and such

So I got a very helpful response to my question regarding pictures on the blog from Michela, friend of a friend of the butcher's housekeeper's nephew who lives next door to our friends Amanda and Blair in London (or something like that) and loyal reader.

So now pictures should open into a more manageable size when you click on them, provided I remember to click on the HTML and edit the size from 1600 to 800, which I will probably forget much of the time.

Anyway, thanks Michela.

She also went to the trouble of going to (where we upload the videos) and sending me a message through that as we don't have comments on this here blog. She suggested we have comments.

So okay. You can now make comments. Keep it clean. My mom reads this blog.

On a different note, I am starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with everything that I (we) have to accomplish before we leave. A newly-added UXO visit at the beginning of March has just added to that general drowning feeling I have and necessitated moving our packout from March 6 and 7 to February 26 and 27. And new things raise their ugly heads on a daily basis. Like today I received my W-2. Oh, taxes. Due while we are on home leave. Argh!

So I have made a heartwrenching decision. It's actually one Katherine has tried to talk me out of. I will not, afterall, be visiting Khammouane and Bolikhamsay this weekend on my fabulous visit to the Kong Lor cave and the Wildlife Conservation Society's research station in the middle of a rarely visited Lao national park. Instead, I'll work and prepare for packout. Just as fun, really...

On a more positive note, I saw a sign in Luang Prabang that made me feel, just for a moment, that maybe I'd died and gone to heaven.

(you might have to click the picture to see it in all its glory)

Turns out that it was just a massage parlor owned by the same people who owned a pizza place next door, so they were trying out a little advertising synergy. The strange thing is, though, earlier in the day we were talking about aromatherapy massage and I had said I would be interested in a pizza aroma.

Anyway, I can always dream...

Finally, 28 days and counting. It's going fast.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Travel with babies

We've had fun traveling with Jack, first to Xieng Khuang with Tom, Goht and Mali, and now to Luang Prabang with the Parrs clan.

It certainly does change the dynamic, though. Everything takes a bit longer, and you need to take breaks now and then to nap, feed, play with, or otherwise engage the little poop machines.

But we persevere, and we have fun, and we stroll down the street with...well...strollers.

Eva and Jack didn't really get into the whole forced interaction thing. Mostly willful indifference, even when we threw them on top of each other.

Eva and Alex enjoy the Nam Khan river out front of the Apsara. Oh, the Apsara. I pined for it all weekend.

What we have learned in our short 2.5 months with Jack is that 1) he is very cute, but, maybe more importantly 2) we can continue to travel, to explore, to live our lives as we did, with some slight modifications (read: diaper bags, trips to the hotel kitchen to sterilize things, and downtime). Regarding point number 1, Katherine has decided that she can look at Jack in an unbiased way and still find him the cutest baby around. No offense to Eva, of course.

Breakfast this morning at JOMA. Jack slept through it, Eva was a bit more awake.

In her time exploring Luang Prabang and its markets, Vone made some good purchases. She came home with some uniquely LP treats, including river weed (actually an algae that is harvested from the Nam Ou river, pounded out, dried, and roasted with some sort of oil and sesame seeds...very tasty), jaew bong (a sort of spicy sauce that includes buffalo tendon as its special ingredient...also tasty), and Luang Prabang sausages. She also made a small purchase for Jack.

Can you guess what it is?

Next up, a 24 hour trip to New York with Jack. Wonder if that will make me change my tune about the whole traveling with babies theme?

Luang Prabang

In addition to the temples, the palace, and other traditional Lao architecture, Luang Prabang is filled with interesting old French colonial buildings. Some have been kept up and/or rebuilt.

While others are still waiting their turn.

This is the other face of Luang Prabang for years to come, as old buildings are rebuilt and new buildings go up, mostly in response to the demands of the growing number of visitors. It also will follow that one of the things that has made the UNESCO part of Luang Prabang interesting (to me anyway), the goings on of the local Luang Prabang residents outside of the tourism service industry, will slowly but surely fade as they are pushed out of the old city to make space for another guesthouse, the next cafe, the new internet shop.

But, at least for now, this guy is still around to guard his owners' rice store.

And these scenes are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

All in all a good spot to spend some time. Not my favorite place in Laos, but a nice spot.

I will likely be back for one more visit to LP in three weeks. My last UXO field visit. UXO Lao is doing some good work in risk and information management and survey techniques based on the results of a pilot project we supported last year.

My night out with Walter

Saturday night we went to L'Elephant for dinner. Excellent, as always. The buffalo steak just as I remember it.

Before dinner, Alex and Walter left Eva with Vone for a few hours and took a boat up the Mekong to the Buddha Cave. Katherine and I have been 2 and 3 times, respectively, so we decided to stick around town and relax. So while I got my massage Katherine napped with Jack, and when she got hers I went for a long walk through town with Jack.

After dinner, Katherine and Alex called it a night. Walter and I decided our night was not quite over, so we ambled over to the backside of Mt. Phousi and grabbed a table at the Lao Lao Garden. The beer was cold and the christmas cheer in full effect.

Last call means that the town is closing down. Midnight rolls around and the sidewalks are rolled up. There is a spot that stays open, however. A bowling alley just outside of town. There used to be another after hours place called Vietnam Bar, but that has closed for some reason.

Walter and I decided to go, then decided to just buy a few beers and go sit by the river. Beers purchased, we changed our minds again and headed to 'boe-ling' with a bag of beers. We distributed the beer to the tuk-tuk drivers hanging around outside and headed in. The young Lao and tourist folk were out in force.

Walter had skills, but I beat him quite handily. Easy to do when he bowled a 56. Although the woman next to him was pretty psyched about her 8. 8!!! That calls for a fist pump.

Our night of bowling done, we headed back to the hotel, getting a good price from a driver who was an earlier beneficiary of our Beer Lao diplomacy. We decided, okay Walter decided, we needed to head to the riverbank for a bit before calling it a night. Problem was, we picked a staircase to the river that ended after six stairs. Beers in hand, first Walter, then I, tumbled into the abyss. We emerged later with a sore elbow (Walter) and ripped pants (me) and a healthier respect for darkness and steep riverbanks.

While not exactly the same as our night out in Seoul way back when, it was similar in spirit. Two guys a bit past their prime (well, partying prime, anyway) acting like the kids that they aren't anymore.

We paid for it the next day.

And I have to throw away my favorite pair of pants.

Luang Prabang

So off to Luang Prabang we went. Walter, Alex and Eva getting us there one last time to meet up with them. As is probably often the case when coming up on the end of something and transition to another, I remarked more than once that we should have spent more time in LP during our two years here. Granted, this was my 4th visit to LP, but it is a nice weekend away from Vientiane.

Vone has never been to Luang Prabang. We asked if she would want to go, and spend part of her weekend taking care of Jack and Eva. She readily agreed, spending her mornings and afternoons exploring what could be considered the center of Lao culture, her evenings taking care of two babies while their parents enjoyed long, luxurious meals at some really great restaurants.

Our friend John Dingley was in LP for work, so we met up the first night for dinner at the Blue Lagoon. Great food, lovely setting, good company, all that. John was even kind enough to pick us up at the airport. The Parrs arrived earlier in the day and were all moved in to the Sala Prabang, a nice hotel, but for the price, I would stay at the Apsara every time. Too bad it was full.

After dinner, Katherine went to tend to Jack (Eva sleeps from about 7:30 pm on, so is an easy baby in that respect) and we headed to a wine bar on the main strip. I ran into our friend Pino, the owner of La Opera in Vientiane, and met the owner of the wine bar, Keo. He also owns a guesthouse, and tried to talk us into moving, or at least staying with him next time. Keo sat down with us for a while to talk about his love of America and wine. Then he gave us a discount on our bill. Nice guy.

Saturday morning we went for a walk around town, introducing Jack to the temples and old architecture of the town.

Lunch on the river, with the obligatory Beer Lao.

Jack introduced to Jimi, the 2 month old next door to our hotel. They didn't really seem to care. I wonder what little babies think about all these forced interactions where parents force feelings and thoughts onto their kids about other kids? Not much, I bet.

Back from Luang Prabang

So, Jack has a favorite song.

Sorry to subject you to it again, but his response was pretty wonderful.

Of course, Katherine's camera work could use

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Picture size

For some reason, lately the pictures we post, when clicked, open up into a huge size that is too large for a computer screen.

I don't know why? Is it a camera setting? A blog setting?

Can someone send me an e-mail and explain how to fix this problem?

And we're off...

Not quite yet, but we will be tomorrow. 1800 flight to Luang Prabang. Walter, Alex and Eva will be there to welcome us, having arrived from Rangoon earlier in the day.

And our friend John Dingley, UXO guy, adventurer, gentleman, boat owner, will be there too, so we all have a racaous good time at dinner Friday night.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


It's cold out.

Doing a pretty good Mr. Burns impression....Exxccellllent.

Just happy to be here and drooling.

I don't even know. A sloth? A manatee?

Our friends Josh and Amy have set Jack on a course of a lifetime of scarification.

Vientiane Weekend

Saturday morning I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am to go golfing. The guys I golf with on occassion are insane about early starts. Oh, how I miss my old golf buddy Jon White, who was content to golf at normal times of day.

Anyway, it was likely my last visit to Dansavanh, and I made the most of it by hitting the ball as many times as I possibly could (i.e. playing like crap). But my partner, Jiro, and I won in our little game against Rick and Martin, which means that we are now the proud holders of the Baku, a statue of a golfer made out of nuts and bolts. So long as I don't play again, I can leave Laos a champion. The only problem is that the Baku can't leave the country.

The peanut gallery was out in full force trying to sell golf balls.

Groups of kids position themselves strategically around the course. They spend their time scouring the jungle that eats so many balls, then package them and sell them. A bag of 9 balls runs anywhere from 10,000 kip to 30,000 kip ($1-3) depending on quality. So you can get, say, 7 Titleist Pro-Vs and a few Nike balls for $3, or 9 bad-quality balls for $1.

Marty, presciently guessing he'd need a large supply of balls, loads up on the 2nd hole.

The clubhouse, etc. at Dansavanh. It is a huge, completely empty collection of meeting rooms, banquet halls, porches, etc. Given that they probably get about 15 golfers a day, on a good day, it seems odd to me that the construction to expand the clubhouse is ongoing. I think they are building condos as well. Someone, it seems, needs to wash some money. I can't think of any other reason for the monstrosity.

This morning, Katherine played tennis while Jack and I slept in until about 9:30. Then we went for a walk to the Australian club for breakfast. It's a cool 74 degrees today, so jackets were required.

Breakfast at the Aussie Club. The Club is closing down at the end of the year. The Australian government has been kind enough to subsidize our (and other members') enjoyment of the pool, the river views, the food, the squash and aerobics. They've decided they don't want to be in the social club business anymore. Sad news for those people who will be here long term and are members. Fine by us, as we are leaving anyway, and in closing they are also returning the joining fee to all members.

I'm playing tennis at 2:00, then Vone is coming over at 3:00 and Katherine and I are going out for massages and dinner.

39 days until departure.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


More video of Jack. As I've said before, he seems to be happiest on our impromptu changing table in the TV room.

If you think there is too much Jack video, too bad, it's our blog. Plus, I have it on good authority that the grandparents dig it.

Things I will miss about Vientiane...selfish things

In no particular order, and not an exhaustive list...

Our magic fridge.

No matter how little Katherine and I shop or cook, there is always food in it. Freshly made salad. Plates of cut fruit (my favorite, pomelo, on the right. Pomelo is like a big grapefruit, but with a much thicker skin that really sucks to cut and peel, not that I would know).

Our guards. They are always there to open our gate when we drive home (and, of course, ensure that we are not robbed, like our neighbors across the street who have been hit two times in the past year). This guy feels it is a bit cold tonight. I think it's about 68 degrees out.

Badminton. With only six weeks left, I've decided it's time to get all the badminton I can get, so I'm heading back to the badminton club with some of the embassy guards and drivers.

The times, they are a changin'

Thadeua road is getting all gussied up. It's the main road into town from the bridge to Thailand. The Japanese government is funding a big road project to improve and expand the road from the bridge to the airport. It is making for some serious traffic, given that it is the main road through Vientiane. The other problem is that the new traffic lights that are being put up around town actually impedes traffic rather than improves the flow.

Anyway, fancy new lines and lanes are going in now. Exciting times...

The line making machine. I'm not sure of the technology, but it includes two...yes, two, open flames.

Another recent change is the dramatic increase in motorbike riders that are wearing helmets. There was a law passed over a year ago that requires motorbike riders to wear them. Then all stores that sold helmets jacked up helmet prices, so the government backed off on enforcing the law and instead clamped down on helmet price gouging. They have now gotten back to the point where they are fining people who aren't following the helmet law. That said, the law doesn't specify what type of helmet one must wear. As such, you see all sorts. Such as baseball helmets, and this, and the guy probably doesn't work construction, but even if he does, the hard hat won't likely protect him in a collision. But at least he's complying with the law.

Tonight was dinner with our friends Mike and Arlyne. Mike's huge hands provided a perfect sling for Jack. Mike and Arlyne are the co-directors of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Laos. They do cool stuff like track and count tiger populations in Huaphan Province and elephant populations in Khammouane. Plus, they and their colleagues have discovered new species, that, while on dinner tables throughout Laos for centuries, had not been catalogued by scientists before. They also have a research center in Bolikhamsay Province that I am going to try to visit for a night during my upcoming trip (finally!) to the Kong Lor cave in Khammouane.

Jack and his bunny. I was going to make some sort of joke about a Jackrabbit but I thought that would be stupid.