Uncategorized14 Oct 2011 05:33 am

Wednesday, October 12th marked the end of Buddhist lent and what better way to celebrate than with boats, booze, burning, and bottle rockets. I decided to attend the boat racing portion of the festivities in town. After crossing the river by foot, I had to pass a concert where the guy sang Lao rock n’ roll while four girls dressed as daffodils/sunflowers danced on stage. Everyone was passing around the ubiquitous Beer Lao. A lady holding a sleeping baby in her arm gave me a shot of Beer Lao – party on momma, party on… I proceeded to the section where people were watching the boat race. They race with “dragon boats” which are long wooden boats that hold about 10 to 14 rowers. To me the most interesting part of the race wasn’t so much the boat racing itself but the audience standing in the river dancing, screaming, and splashing while kids swam right near the path of the boat race. The racers would just row around the kids. Unfortunately no kids were harmed but I only caught the very end of the boat race so my exposure to the festival was rather minimal.

Party like a rock star

This team came in last place.

 

After the boat racing I forged on to explore the land behind the festival and stumbled upon this little gem: bamboo bungalows in the middle of a rice field and Japanese tourists hamming it up for their own photo session.

Beautiful bungalows

Japanese tourists taking pictures

I biked home before dusk to prepare a “katong” – a small floating banana leaf bowl decorated with flowers, candle, incense, and sparklers (which I would not recommend for reasons you will soon find out). Here’s a snap shot of my katong sans candle, incense, and sparklers (which I would soon regret).

The katong I dec'ed out

 

At around 8 pm people from the surrounding villages paraded down to the river, screaming and drumming. Everyone had a katong in tow. Almost all the kids had black cats and bottle rockets which they would happily throw near throngs of people. One landed near my feet and I managed to run away and scream like a little school girl before it exploded. It may all seem like fun and games, but it was very very unpleasant. Once people got to the river, they lit up the katong, made a wish, and floated their katong down the river. The Buddhist monks made a big bamboo framed boat with several candles and flowers, and sailed it down the river. Unfortunately I was unable to take the mother shot of all shots (the lit up boat and all the katongs floating down the river) because when I lit up my katong, the silly sparkler sparks were burning my dainty hands which caused me to drop my katong and my camera. I managed to rescue my camera but was unable to rescue my katong in order to make a wish for my mom. Instead I stood in the river, dripping wet, with a broken camera watching my katong keel over to its side taking out the candles and the sparkly sparklers. And that my friends is why sparklers are evil.

Bringing the boat down to the river before lighting it up with candles

People getting ready to light their katong.

Uncategorized21 Sep 2011 10:14 pm

I had just successfully navigated Vientiane, the Capital City, and picked up our Chinese visas.  We had applied for them the week before and the Missus had not come with me to pick them up.  I had to catch a bus back to Vang Vieng so I could get back to working.  I took the usual route of heading to the Morning Market and looking for the next bus.  This was apparently my mistake, because the next bus was Doomed, “Temple of”-style.  It wasn’t until a few hours into the trip that this became readily apparent however.

I got my ticket, which they tend to sell only to falang – foreigners.  Everybody else pays at some point during the trip, seemingly whenever the bus manager decides is appropriate.  Each bus has both a driver, who will stand around yelling the destination prior to departure every two or three minutes, and a manager, who handles fares and also yells the destination while in transit.  This makes more sense if you think of the bus more of like a public taxi slash delivery service.  People jump on and off at whatever point they can manage, and sometimes even just throw on packages with a phone number attached so that the manager can call the recipient whenever the bus is getting close to the package’s destination.

With my ticket firmly in hand, I sauntered back to the fifth row of the bus and sat down.  After two minutes of this, I glanced at my watch, realized we still had 35 minutes until departure, and decided it was way too frackin’ hot to sit on a non-moving bus.  I stood outside the bus while kids repeatedly passed by and tried to sell me packages of gum out of plastic bags they carried around.  After thwarting several attempts to elicit 2000 kip (about 25 cents) for said gum, I meandered back onto the bus to wait the remaining ten minutes.

Finally the engine was started and the bus was in motion.  After three quick honks of the horn though, we were stopped again so another two families could hop on the bus as we left the station.

Now we come to the relatively boring part – three hours filled with package pickups, package drop offs, passenger loading and passenger unloading.  After this relatively boring part though, we came to a small intersection in one of the many villages that the single highway (Route 13) passes through heading North from Vientiane to Vang Vieng.  On hopped a man who initially had some questions for the manager who looked down, shrugged, and allowed him to board.

He sat on the stairs for a few minutes until some of the passengers in the front got curious about what he was doing, stood up, peered over his shoulder, and excitedly asked him to come on up (I assume, since all this was in Lao, and I didn’t catch much if any of it).  He stood up, turned slightly, and walked up the stairs carrying some kind of cylindrical, homemade, wicker-looking cage with a long piece of wired tied to both ends that served as a handle.  Inside?  The sinuous shape of a snake coiled around itself at one end of the cage!  A SNAKE!

Snake on busSomeone had brought a MOTHERFRACKIN SNAKE ON MY MOTHERFRACKIN BUS! If only Samuel L Jackson had been available I might have felt more comfortable. Instead we had a guy sitting near the front who thought it was the most hilarious thing to pick up the cage by the wire handle, shake vigorously until the snake got pissed off, FLARED ITS NECK WINGS – thus demonstrating the cobra-ness of said snake – and tried to bite through the cage to get at this harasser. This happened repeatedly.

I had already unconsciously lifted my feet off the floor of the bus and was curled in a most fetal like position as far back as I could get on the tiny bus seat.  I did manage to snap one hazy picture of the snake in the cage, but that was all that I was willing to attempt with what I can only assume was a poisonous, pissed off, super cobra from the Laotian jungle.

I cannot adequately relate how I managed to survive the last hour of the bus ride, only to say that I was comforted by the thought of Indiana Jones surviving free roaming snakes, so how could I not survive a single caged snake, however pissed off it was.

From now on I think I will try to sit as far back as possible, regardless of the massive bouncing involved due to the terrible road conditions and general bounciness of the back of a school-type bus as every kindergartener who ever rode a school bus knows.  In this way I may stay blissfully unaware of any death dealing animals that happen to board my bus in the future.

Uncategorized01 Sep 2011 03:31 am

Tour of the MemorialOn our way from Los Angeles, USA to Vientiane, Laos we had a chance to stop in Taipei, Taiwan and visit with Poukhan’s grad school friend Hannah.  Hannah and her husband were kind enough to pick us up at the airport at 6:30 in the morning and drive us to their house where we could shower and eat some delicious Taiwanese food.  After this bit of hospitality they then took us to see the Chiang Kai Shek memorial.  Hannah gave us a short tour of the grounds before bringing us to see the memorial building itself.

Main Memorial Building

 

When we saw how many stairs it took to get to the top we had to step back and take a view of the rest of the scenery (while prepping our airplane sore muscles for a climb).

Hannah and Chiang Kai-shekUpon climbing the stairs we were greeted by the man himself, Chiang Kai Shek, in memorial statue form.

We also stopped to take a quick picture of one of the guards at the memorial, Poukhan guards the Guard who we were told are not even allowed to blink, and to be honest I never once saw them do so.

 

 

Memorial Boulevard last lookAs we returned to the car I snapped one more photo of the incredibly impressive entry gate and then we were back off to the airport to resume our journey, much refreshed and grateful for the hospitality of Hannah.

Uncategorized14 May 2010 03:14 pm

It began with me searching for a couple old Gallery albums I had posted up awhile back after a friend requested some pictures from one of them.  I got those up in pretty good time, since I already had a gallery installation set up on this new server and the importing wasn’t too bad, though it did import all the thumbnails and resizes of every picture, so I had to go in and delete 2 out of every 3 pictures.

Now I’m noticing that I have my old Movable Type blog archived here too.  Do I dare try to import these blog posts from 2003-2004 into this blog?  I had no recollection that I actually blogged 74 times there, but I see all the archives.  Now, 74 is not a whole lot, but it is a lot of good memories for me, so maybe I’ll get them up there so that I can again look back on them a long time from now and remember some good ol’ days.

I guess the search for an MT (file system backup, not even active) to WordPress importer starts now.

Uncategorized10 May 2010 08:23 am

The National Journal published a post regarding red states, blue states and ‘family values’.  I particularly like this quote:

Six of the seven states with the lowest divorce rates in 2007, and all seven with the lowest teen birthrates in 2006, voted blue in both elections. Six of the seven states with the highest divorce rates in 2007, and five of the seven with the highest teen birthrates, voted red. It’s as if family strictures undermine family structures.

Reading that last line just recalled a little scene with some Imperial Overlords of a long time ago:

Princess Leia: The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Chalk that up for another lesson we could all learn from Star Wars.

Uncategorized02 Dec 2008 10:18 pm

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