Thursday, 27 October 2005

Bird Flu - A perspective from Lao PDR

I wasn’t really thinking about bird flu very much, until Kate (in Australia) wrote a post about it last month. That got my mind on to the topic, and I decided that I should at least pay a little more attention. Now today Phil at LP has also written about bird flu, this time prompting me to write something about the situation here in Laos.

We went to a briefing the other night here in Laos about the risk of a possible bird flu pandemic. (Well, actually, we got the time wrong and showed up just as it was finishing, and had to be brought up to speed by some friends who got the time right). While bird flu has not been recorded in Laos, it has been recorded in every country surrounding Laos - Vietnam, Cambodia, Southern China and Thailand (not sure about Burma, actually)... and considering the health care available in this country, if people were dying of bird flu there is a pretty strong possibility that no one would actually know. Additionally, according to the WHO, Laos has the perfect environment for increased risk of bird flu:
To date, most human cases have occurred in rural or periurban areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of virus in their faeces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions.*
In my neighbourhood, for example, birds (mostly chickens) roam around between the houses - including right in front of our house. I used to just worry about them getting in the way of the motorbike, now I am starting to see them in a whole new light...

Anyway, according to the embassy officials here, the risk of a pandemic is apparently pretty low (about a 10% chance in the next 5 years - although some have disputed their ability to come up with such a figure), but they have still put Laos on Level 3 alert.

Apparently if we get to Level 4 the Australian Embassy Clinic (the ONLY clinic in the country with hygiene standards and access to a good range of medicine) will close and all non-essential personnel from the Embassy will be evacuated.

They told us that we should self-evacuate when we start seeing small clumps of people coming down with the virus, because this is a strong sign that it has mutated and can now pass from human to human. According to the briefing, from the time that this happens and a full pandemic will be 2 to 3 days.

Really, when you think about it, that wouldn't give us a lot of time to evacuate, especially since our ability to do so will apparently depend on airline staff being willing to volunteer to still fly - and why would they? However, since there are over 200,000 Australians in SE Asia, the government says that it will not be able to assist us. Instead, they advised us to stockpile food, gloves and masks and to stay inside our houses if a pandemic breaks out...

After the (missed) briefing, we spent the rest of the evening working out what food to stockpile, and where would be a good spot (outside of Vientiane) to go to wait out the pandemic (somewhere isolated and not on the way to anywhere else). The guys in the group also turned the conversation towards the need for weapons and fuel...

Its weird, it really all seems quite surreal, and yet every now and then it suddenly feels quite real and just a little bit scary...

Update: Apologoies are in order to P. who had no part in the conversation on weapons. I hadn't intended to lump him in with the other two males present, or forgotten that he was there. I just kind of assumed that everyone would know that such a topic wasn't really his thing.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Bush seeks CIA exemption from ban on cruelty to terror suspects

I'm too mad and tired to write about this now, but rest assured vitriol with be forthcoming directly.

A little more on the "F" word

I've been somewhat absent from the blog of late (apart from a highly unappreciated appearance earlier today in a frivolous moment better forgotten) and C has been single handily steering it toward stardom. She wrote a post on feminism the other day and we've had more discussion in the comments field (and more hits in a single day) then we've ever had before.

Since I didn't weigh in on the comment fest I fell like I should say something here. I appreciate that feminism is no longer a female preserve (in fact it never was solely about women, but more about the ways in which women and men relate and the systemic repression women around the world have suffered [and still suffer] due to the power imbalances in these relations), but it's often, as a male, difficult to identify oneself as a feminist without causing consternation among ones peers.

A story.

When I was living in the US a few years ago I was out with some friends (a mixed group) one evening when someone made a comment that resulted in someone else at the table saying that the original commenter (a female) was a feminist. She recoiled as if she'd been hit and swiftly denied the charge. I was shocked by the comment and the reaction. I've never been very good at holding my tongue at the best of times, but least of all when someone steps on my sensibilities. I immediately asked the friend in denial (who is most certainly a feminist) why she reacted like she'd been called a bad name and she told me that she didn't like what "feminists" stood for. I told her that I was a feminist and that I thought that perhaps she was mistaken in her understanding of feminism. A discussion followed in which I discovered that among people of my generation, in the US at least, feminism is a dirty word. Not one of the people in that room looked at me the same way again after my feminist declaration (or maybe I'm just paranoid).

Either way I think that we could all do with some re-education and while the label is far from perfect, the bigger picture principles underlying the feminist movement can only make the world a more equitable and humane place for is all to live.

Speaking of equity and humanity, you'll be grieved, I'm sure, to hear the the Iranian government has just banned all "Western" movies from the country, again. That's right it's back to the bad old days of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his nasty cohorts. Still, when you're forced to stay up past midnight every night, deprived of your soundly sleeping wife's company, too tired to think and watching TV in the vain hope of keeping yourself distracted to stay awake till bedtime, the "western" movies you get to watching give you an iota of sympathy for the Iranian hardliners. Hell, if I owned a country I'd think seriously about banning most of the tripe that the hollywood system churns out.

But, standing behind my principle of freedom of speech (and since as soon as the movies are banned the press will follow - not that Iran has a free press to ban, but you get the point), I personally, for what it's worth, condemn the censor's move. I can understand the fear of Americanisation, heck I live with it myself, but an outright ban doesn't get anyone anywhere. The days are long gone when government's had the ability to control what people in their countries choose to consume (informationally at least), and a knee-jerk reaction like this one merely feeds an already thriving black market in the products of the "free" world.

The Iranian government's attempt to "wipe out corrupt Western culture" included a few more unsightly "Western" too, including alcohol and drugs, secularists, liberals, anarchists and (and here's the reason I'm including this particular rant in this particular post) feminists.

Looks like Iran and the US have more in common than I thought.

Okay, it's 11.33 and I'm allowed to go to bed in 27 minutes. Better get to cleaning my teeth.

Singing in the rain

I know that this is likely to backfire and shortly P. will post an embarrassing photo of me online. However, I still couldn't resist, because this photo made me laugh all morning.

Isn't he cute?

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

World Vegan Day - Sunday 30 October

So I just found out through kblog that it will be World Vegan Day this Sunday 30 October. Unfortunately, I don't think that there will be much of a celebration here is Laos... (unless we decide to host one, which is a little unlikely at this point).

However, coincidently (perhaps?) the guys at our favourite vegetarian restaurant here (we call it Honda Veg, because it is next door to a large Honda shop, they call it Food for Health) invited us to go with them to a large Chinese temple in Udon Thani (which is couple of hours across the border into Thailand) this Saturday to attend the celebrations for the Ghost Festival - also called the Hungry Ghost Festival. I am not really sure what to expect, but it should be interesting and it was extremely sweet of them to invite us to go with them.

I'll post photos afterwards, if it is appropriate to take them. Otherwise a full verbal report will be forthcoming.


So, according to the Guardian, Nepal's "King" has decided to take his madness another step further and ban any news from the radio that "causes hatred or disrespect" to the royal family, in addition to changing media ownership laws and further restricting access to foreign publications. Things in Nepal are getting pretty bad.

I wonder, though, how much worse is this (at least on paper) to the new anti-terrorism laws in Australia? Don't they similarly restrict media that involves an "an intention [...] to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt; [or to] to urge disaffection against the [...] the Constitution; the Government of the Commonwealth; [or] either House of the Parliament."

News from Nowhere, LP, Barista, and Troppo have all had interesting posts on the potential impact of the proposed laws. Several things really stand out to me. First, the whole issue of preventative detention is just so wrong and against the most basic principle of rule of law. Let us be clear about this; locking people up is a serious punishment. Punishing people because you believe they may do something illegal rather than because you have proven before a court of law that they actually have (or have charged them and are in the process of preparing such a case) turns basic principles of justice on their head. It is down right scary and, considering the abuse of police power that already happens, I can almost guarantee that these new ones will be abused.

Next there is the strengthening of the old sedition laws, which were bad and outdated already. As MediaWatch apparently pointed out last night, under these laws John Pilger could be found guilty of sedition and locked up for up to seven years, for saying that when an army (i.e. troops from Australia, UK, USA) are illegally occupying your country then they become legitimate targets in any independence movement. So too, apparently, could the media personnel who interviewed him and those who arranged for him to come on to the program (if they could reasonably foresee that he would espouse these kinds of opinions). Now I don't agree that violence can be justified - which means that I think that that the 'insurgents' and the troops are both in the wrong (and almost equally so) - but I believe that John Pilger and others (such as Tariq Ali) should be entitled to raise these perspectives, since the government is apparently entitled to not only talk about illegally invading and occupying another country, but has actually done so without penalty.

The argument that I keep hearing is that 'you have nothing to fear unless you are breaking the law' (at least when it is not some racist nut who, instead, is arguing that you have nothing to fear unless you are part of the "Muslim horde"). Well the problem is that sometimes the law is wrong and should be broken - hence the value of civil disobedience (which Dworkin, for example, is all about). Now if you have broken the law, then you can expect to be held accountable, but only through a system that abides by the rule of law - i.e. you are charged with an offence, the process is transparent and accountable, you are given a public trial, and you have access to legal counsel in order to put your case forward with a clear understanding of the charges and your available defences.

The system that the government is seeking to impose bares little resemblance to this model of justice. It is more similar to the disappearances in Chile under Pinochet (except that, hopefully, after 14 days they might release you). There is something deeply sinister and frightening about a government that wants to walk down this path.

Monday, 24 October 2005

"I'm not a feminist, but..."

I have always been frustrated by people who start a sentence with the phrase "I'm not a feminist, but...” However, lately I have been trying to be a little more understanding and to make an attempt to understand why so many women feel the need to preface their remarks with such a qualifier.

I used to feel that claiming not to be a feminist was like saying: "I don't believe in equal rights, but..." or "I'm not against racism, but..." Surely, at its most basic level, most women (and even a sizable proportion of men) these days are feminists? By this I mean that surely most women do believe in equality, or in the right not to be discriminated against for the sole reason that they are female?

However, to be fair, I think so many women shy away from the idea of being 'labelled' a 'feminist', for the same reason that many people are reluctant to accept any kind of label these days: because it means that you are surrendering part of your identity to others for them to essentialise and define on your behalf. Considering all of the negative stereotypes associated with feminism, it is, therefore, not surprising (if still very disappointing) that many people reject the label. These negative stereotypes include the idea that feminism necessarily involves:
  • hating men
  • adopting a 'victim mentality'
  • not taking any responsibility for your own actions
  • not wanting to have children
  • being unattractive
  • being aggressive
Other stereotypes associated with feminism, which are not negative, but simply do not apply to all people who consider themselves to be feminism include:
  • being a lesbian
  • not particularly caring about your appearance
  • being butch
  • having hairy legs or arm-pits
However, the issue is even more complicated than that, because beyond the idea that women would like equality with men, what exactly do we mean by feminism? I.e. what do we mean by 'equality' and how to we propose attaining such a status?

To answer this question, it is probably necessary to go into a little more depth. On a theoretical level, feminism is often classified into various categories - such as "liberal feminism", "cultural feminism" and "postmodern feminism" and to oversimplify for the sake of brevity these classifications have a lot to do with the way in which each variety of feminism defines "equality".

Liberal feminists tend to define equality in terms of attaining the same (civil) rights as men. These might include:
  • the right to education
  • the right to work
  • the right to vote and to run for political office

Cultural feminism subjected this approach to a new kind of analysis by asking whether or not this was simply demanding the right to behave like men in a world that was still structured for men. Cultural feminists tend to celebrate those qualities that are associated with femininity and to ask why the world cannot be better structure to recognise and value those qualities. Therefore, cultural feminists might instead define equality in terms of:
  • having the workplace restructured in a way that values 'feminine qualities' and better accommodates people's need to care for children or other family members.
  • having society recognise the value of work performed in the so-called private sphere and to allow people the choice to work in either sphere and to have either contribution recognised as equally valuable and valid.
  • having politics restructured in a way that corresponds more to the way in which females tend to negotiate and settle differences (i.e. less adversarial and less competitive).
However, cultural feminists have also been criticised for contributing to the problem of stereotyping women and defining them as having a kind of essentialised 'caring, emotional, soft, nurturing' nature that many women do not identify with.

Postmodern feminism, instead, seeks to look at the issue in a more nuanced way. Postmodern feminism sees gender as a social construct from which we cannot escape and which impacts on us and our environment in a variety of ways. It is also believes that this construct is constantly evolving and thus cannot be essentialised or pinned down with a static definition.

Feminism is also often broken down into "waves":
  • The First Wave Feminists were originally the suffragettes. This movement then expanded to include claims for other liberal rights such as the right to an education, to work and to run for office.
  • The Second Wave Feminists, or 'Radical Feminists' focused on the structural impact of patriarchy (as the dominant source of oppression) and sought to challenge and dismantle it.
Both of these 'waves' can also be loosely lumped together under the 'liberal feminism' category.
  • Third Wave Feminism is a kind of combination of postmodern and cultural (while being mostly postmodern). It is cultural in that it does seek to celebrate the concept of femininity and say that it is the world (or the work place, the political sphere, etc.), and not women, who need to change. However, it is postmodern in that it ultimately rejects the idea that you can actually define what it means to be female, and the idea that the root causes of inequality can be blamed on just one structure (such as patriarchy). Third Wave Feminism, therefore, seeks to simultaneously analyse issues of oppression or inequality from a whole range of perspectives - race, sexuality, age, class, etc.
Sometimes I think that many people (particularly women) who do not consider themselves to be 'feminists' are actually disagreeing with a particular type of feminism.

Many women disagree with cultural feminism, because they do not relate to the kind of essentialised 'woman' that some of its proponents seek to promote. Others disagree with liberal feminism, because they do not want the "right to work", without the workplace changing to be more accommodating to women, or society changing to be more supportive of people who seek to both work and raise children. Others disagree with radical feminism because they do not see gender as the only relevant tool of social analysis. They believe that sometimes, class, race, ethnicity, age or geographic location can be a far more relevant factor and feel that this is often ignored by radical feminism.

These people may, in fact, better identify with third wave feminism, while still others would disagree with them. They might feel that postmodern or third wave feminists were ignoring the history of the feminist struggle and the dominant role that (they believe) patriarchy continues to play in our societies...

It really does get a little complicated doesn't it?

My last idea (for this post): Maybe some people reject the label of 'feminist' because they don't want to get into a complicated discussion of trying to define exactly what they mean (or, more importantly, what they don't mean) by it...

[NB: Inspired by the first Carnival of Feminists, and, particularly, by this post by Mind the Gap - thank you!]

Friday, 21 October 2005

"Lack of sleep makes you tired, clumsy, stupid and dead"

That's a quote from a book called "Sleep Thieves". I've been thinking
about that a lot as I have watched, sleepily, my life descend into

I've calculated that I've had about 30 hours sleep in the last seven
days. That's clearly not enough sleep for me and I think that I
already knew that.

The good news is that tonight I get to add a whole extra half hour to
my prone time. I'm actually going to slip into the goodness that is
bed in about 25 minutes and I'm allowed to stay right there until


So let's count them down.

1. Tired - check
2. Clumsy - check
3. Stupid - check
4. Dead...

Well three out of four ain't bad, as they say. Let's just hope that
the extra half hour staves of number 4 for a little while longer.

Last lot

Photos of the festival

The amount of colour and sound around the river front was pretty amazing during the boat racing festival. Here are a few photos to give you a bit of a feel for it. All available space (including the grounds of the Wats) was used for stalls and people. The stuff in the sticks is sticky rice and coconut milk in bamboo, while the stuff on sticks is eggs and chicken. The chicken looks exactly the same (to me) as the fried rats on sticks, which is more popular down south. Others might disagree with me on that point though...

Boat racing photos

OK, so I am a little late, but here are the photos of the dragon boat races. Wednesday was hot and the river front was crowded in a way that I never thought possible in traditionally sleepy Vientiane, so to be honest, I didn't spend a lot of time watching the races. However, thanks to the local newspapers, in case you haven't already heard, I can tell you that the team from Ban That Luang won the competition. I am not sure if a team from my neighbourhood (Ban Hongke) actually entered, but since we are right next to Ban That Luang I think that we deserve some reflected glory.

Carnival of Feminists

I just came across this site and thought that it was so worthwhile that I should draw it to the attention of those of you who might be interested (and didn't already know about it). It is called "Carnival of Feminists" and it showcases feminist posts from around the blogosphere. I got there through Philobiblon who also does a weekly round up of female blogs, which showcases the blogs of women from all over the world.

The reason that I think that these initiatives are worthwhile is because the blogosphere often seems so saturated with men. I don't think that this is because more guys actually post, although this may be the case, but rather that they get more air time - possibly because they are far better at drawing attention to themselves... Anyway, this means that many online discussions and debates tend to be dominated by a male perspective and initiatives like this may just help to even out the balance a little.

However, since I am on the subject, I must add that a lot of male bloggers are actually refreshingly well informed and sympathetic on many gender issues. Mark from LP and David from Barista stand out as clear examples, but there are many more. I wonder if they are reflective of the changing nature of male attitudes generally, or (more likely) their attitudes are a strong factor in why I end up reading their blogs in the first place.

Anyway, consider checking out the carnival of feminists and nominating your favourite feminist post from the last week or so.

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

Boat Racing!

I was just browsing the Internet, when I was brought back to this world by the sound of fireworks going off across the road. Not only are the celebrations from last night still continuing, but today is also boat-racing day. In fact, I believe, the races have already started.

Fun fun fun!

To give you some context; boat races have been going on in villages all across Laos for the last couple of months. Villages hold their own races, which are events in their own right. Then the winners compete with the winners of nearby villages - big events... and THEN today the winners (at least of Vientiane Province) compete in the finals in Vientiane.

It is going to be a big day.

The area of land along the Mekong has been a site of madness ever since we got back from Vietnam. There are stalls all the way along and lots of rides, like a big Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, dodgem cars, etc. and tons of people. The most full-on aspect, however, is the music. You see, in Laos when there is a celebration (which people in this country do very well, by the way), people tend to find the largest speakers that they possibly can (which is often very very large) and then turn up the volume to full blast. The result is incredibly loud, distorted sound that makes the ground vibrate and leaves you partially deaf for a few hours (at best). Down at the river, this practice has been taken to the extreme and the music is pumping.

P.'s theory is that because people here have grown up with the music, they are mostly partially deaf by this point and do not notice. How the practice started in the first place, however, is totally beyond me. Was the American bombing responsible for the first wave of deafness? I just don't know...

Anyway, I'd best be off. We have been invited to lots of parties today and should make an appearance at each of them. I'm almost tempted to pack earplugs, but that would be just a little extreme.

(Photos to follow)

Hypocritical bastards

Israel gives an inch and takes 5 miles. But then else what would you expect from an expansionist regime? Bells are ringing, I'm thinking of China in Tibet, the US frontier days, The British empire, Iraq (in Kuwait), Australia (British empire, I know, but worth singling out).

When Israel has policies like its recent behaviour makes evident it gets more and more easy to understand the Palestinian resistance. The other day there was an interview on BBC World in which a well known Jewish/British journalist, Jonathan Freedland, who said that  anyone who  said that people who criticise Israel is actually saying that  "these people (the Jews) don't deserve a homeland, while everyone else does." While I can see how one would arrive at this position, I'm curious as to whether people like Freedland believe that the Jews deserve a homeland more than the Palestinians.

The debate is so polarised that no one seems able to see a workable solution. I get so mad whenever I read about Israel's atrocities in the West Bank that it's hard for me to think of any reason why they should be allowed to stay there, but on my saner days I think that a two state solution might just be workable.

Maybe if the US came to its senses and stopped providing military aid to a state that has illegally occupied another people's territory since 1967 things might even out a little.

I'm so mad I can't write any more. Tired too, but let;s not get into that right now.

The end of Buddhist Lent

Tonight was the last night of Buddhist Lent. A time when people in Laos don't do too much. Lent runs for three months, right through the wet season, which means the wet season has officially ended too.

Traditionally people here make small boats out of banana tree trunks and fill them with candles. They also light candles and place them all over their houses and make offerings to their spirit houses. Oh, and they let of about a million fireworks.

We weren't going to bother getting too involved in the whole process but our lovely neighbour (pictured left) came over at dusk and presented us with a boat she'd made for us. It was very touching. She then proceeded to light dozens of candles and stick them all over the house and then she showed us how to set of all manner of fireworks right there in our front yard. I especially liked the one that looked like a peach but exploded in a mass of flames.

After playing in the village for a while we headed to the riverside where everyone else already was, or so it seemed. There must have been 10,000 people, at bare minimum strolling along the road and sampling goods from the makeshift stalls that appeared a few days ago.

We bought a small woven banana leaf floaty thing complete with incense and candles and headed to the river to let it float downstream along with the thousands of others already on their way to Cambodia. At the riverbank there were tons of people letting their offerings float downstream (if it floats away you'll have good year, if it sinks not so much). There were a bunch of kids who were taking the offerings out into the deeper waters to let them go, thereby ensuring they had a better chance of making it a ways downstream and at least out of sight before sinking and taking your year with them.

A young boy, who can't have been more than 10, took our offering and swam it out, letting it catch the current and away it went. Look slike we'll be having a good year.

Tuesday, 18 October 2005

That's it, I'm not doing it

I just spent half an hour agonising over that whole 7 things thing and then, when it was almost finished, I deleted it with one wrong click of the mouse.

I hate my new stupid, clumsy, dark ringed eyes, too tired to speak self. And I still have to stay up for another 26 minutes.

Monday, 17 October 2005

7 Things

Meme via Moment to Moment. After this I am going to work SO hard.

7 things I want to do before I die:
  1. Travel in Patagonia
  2. Visit the Mountain Gorillas
  3. Have a book (of mine) published, and read
  4. Learn to swing dance (well)
  5. Have a child (or children) and adopt a dog
  6. Swim with dolphins
  7. Work in human rights policy for the UN, HRW, or Oxfam
7 things I cannot do:
  1. Remember names
  2. Program a VCR or computer
  3. Watch Dubya or Howard speak without getting mad
  4. See small children without gushing
  5. Fly unassisted (most unfortunately)
  6. Walk unassisted in high heels
  7. Give myself a fancy hair-do.
7 things that attract me to a member of the opposite sex:
  1. Passion & Compassion
  2. Curiosity
  3. Ethical world-view
  4. Beautiful eyes
  5. Gentle hands
  6. Nice butt
  7. Intelligence
7 things that I say most often:
  1. Sabaidee (hello)
  2. Kotoh khoy bor kao chai (Sorry, I don’t understand)
  3. That’s crazy talk!
  4. I’m hungry
  5. I’m sleepy
  6. Bugger
  7. It’s hot
7 celebrity crushes:
I’m really bad at this, because I cannot remember anyone’s name or who they are, and so I don’t remember enough about them to develop a crush. I did have a massive crush on River Phoenix in year 7 though. Jude Law, Scarlette Johanssen and Orlando Bloom are also very attractive beings.

7 people I want to do this:
  1. Paul
  2. Jono
  3. Nat
  4. Brooke
  5. Mr Z.
  6. Priya (although your blog seems to have disapeared)
  7. Chris (ditto)

Just enough time to clean my teeth

and tell you that Radiohead have a blog! Bit slow on the uptake I know.


No sleep till Brooklyn

Now I really wish I was in bed. The Daily Nice was nice today, but it'll probably be different by the time you see it.

18 minutes to go...

I wish I was in bed

I've never been a very good sleeper (despite what my dad might say about all those Saturday mornings when I was supposed to be mowing the lawn...) I've always had a great deal of trouble getting to sleep and tend to wake up a few times during the night, don't often feel totally refreshed in the morning, and have felt at a loss as to what to do about it for years.

C, on the other hand, falls asleep instantly (including on any kind of public transport - planes, trains, buses, you name it) and sleeps well. Since we have been together I have become less and less enamoured with my inability to get a good night's rest, particularly when I compare my tossing and turning with her restful and refreshing slumber.

C, being the loving and wonderful human being that she is, brought me a copy of the Good Sleep Guide on a recent trip home and I've been flicking through it and pondering finally doing something about my insomnia.

The book recommends a form of treatment that you can try at home and which involves a significant amount of sleep deprivation. Getting less sleep, that's exactly what I need, or maybe it is. The basic gist of the treatment is to figure out roughly how much sleep you actually get each night (I'm currently getting about 5.5 to 6 hours - or I was until recently) and then you only get into bed for that exact time period. Normally I'd go to bed and toss and turn for a good while and then fall asleep only to wake later and go through the whole thing again. It's actually not as bad as it sounds, but it could certainly be a lot better.

The point here is that out of the 8 or so hours I'm physically in bed I'm only asleep for 5.5 to 6. The treatment means that I am only allowed to be physically in bed for 5.5 to 6 hours each night (for a couple weeks). The upshot is that I'm staying up till around 1am and dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 7am. Combine the less time spent in bed with the aforementioned tossing and turning and you have one very tired expatriate.

It's been two nights so far and I'm already a total wreck. It's almost midnight (of the third night) and I'm already dreading work tomorrow.

The program is designed to basically make me so exhausted that as soon as I get into bed I pass out and sleep right through till I'm rudely awakened by my alarm clock. At this rate I'll be better in no time.

I a couple of weeks I'm allowed to increase my nightly allotment of mattress time by half an hour, then another half a week or two later and so on until I reach my "natural sleep requirement" or something.

Anyway, lots of late nights to surf the net and I apologise in advance for the crap I'm bound to post as my waking life spins more and more out of control. Don't blame my blame my sleep doctor.

Saturday, 15 October 2005

Umm, and then there's this

Action god (to some, though not yours truly) Steven Segal has released his very own energy drink - Steven Segal's Lightning Bolt - and you have to see it to believe it.

I want one, where can I get one in Laos?

Be sure to read his impressive bio too...

Again, via the Poor Man Institute

bubble slapping bush

If you have a fast net connection and an equally speedy dislike of the spearhead of the war on terror, you might just enjoy watching this. Via the The Poor Man Institute.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Ban Hongke

As we mentioned earlier, P. and I recently moved house into a new neighbourhood - Ban Hongke. Literally translated we are told that it means 'corner drain', so you can tell that we are in the upmarket end of Vientiane.

Unlike our last village, where there were quite a few foreigners, we appear to be the only ones living in Ban Hongke and are, thus, the object of much fascination in the area.

While P.'s parents were here, we got a tuk tuk from a house down the road and around the corner. Rather than asking us where we were from, he asked us which city we were from in Australia. At the time, I figured he must be good at recognising accents, but this notion was disabused when on our return home he needed no directions to take us to our front door. He clearly knew who we were.

The other day, I was walking to the main road to pick up a tuk tuk into town to meet P. for dinner. The women across the road asked me (in Lao) "where are you going?". "Namphu" I replied, indicating the fountain in the centre of downtown. Stopped again by the same question a couple of houses down (where our neighbours run one of many small cafe/minimarts out of the front of their house - and there are always people sitting out front watching the street), I tried to give a little more information in my dodgy Lao. "Khoy si pai, namphu. Phua khoy hiet viek gay namphu. Puak khoy kin khoa." - "I am going to the fountain. My husband works near the fountain. We will eat."

A few steps later I can hear chatter behind me. "Namphu." "Gnang Namphu!?" (Walk to the fountain? - it is a few kms away). Then a child ran across the street. "Lao si pai namphu." (She's going to the fountain). "Hiet viek namphu." (Works fountain). As I continued I could hear these words passing from person to person... Who knew that my life was so interesting?

News from Pakistan

P. and I have a friend from Pakistan who we met during our development masters. He is back living in Islamabad at the moment and so we were naturally concerned about his safety after the quake.

We heard from him today and, thank goodness, he and his family are all safe. However, what he also told us was quite disturbing.
You must have witnessed the devastation on the T.V. Believe me things are much worse and every day brings in more stories of death and destruction. We are experiencing after shocks even now (6 days after the quake).

Our organization (ISLAMIC RELIEF) is one of the leading NGO's to carry out relief activities in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani controlled Kashmir. All employees in the Country Office, Islamabad are working round the clock. None of us is having more than 3-4 hours sleep. The task is enormous and every second is vital.

There is so much to write but unfortunately i dont have much time. Even now i am in the office.
It seems that individuals and countries have not responded to this disaster in the same way that they did to the tsunami. It may be because the area is so inaccessible, and so pictures are not making their way onto our tv screens, or, perhaps, people are still experiencing 'donor fatigue' after last boxing day (26 Dec). Either way, I hope that money and support does start flowing in to help the people who are trapped, injured, exposed and dying.

My thoughts are also with the aid workers, like our friend, who are working around the clock in a fight against time. [Here is a guardian blog by another such aid worker that is worth a read]

If you want to donate, here are a few agencies that accept online donations:
Islamic Relief
World Food Programme

Thursday, 13 October 2005


test post for the craul entity

Photos from Hoi An

As P. mentioned, Hue flooded the day after we left and Hoi An was well on its way when we headed back to Hanoi to fly home. The river had already breached its banks and was covering the street. It looked quite amazing so I thought that I would post a couple of photos.


I'm still digesting what I think of Vietnam before saying too much (although I could say the same thing about China and it has been almost 2 years...). However, I wanted to tell a story about something that we overheard on our last day.

We were walking around Marble Mountain, which is a group of mountains in Central Vietnam that contain a substantial amount of marble: hence the name, and went down into a cave for a look around. I was staring up at the large holes in the roof of the cave, watching the rain drops fall and head slowly towards the ground when an American tourist entered the cave with his Vietnamese guide.

He pointed to the holes in the roof of the cave and said "So that is where the Americans bombed the cave?"

"Yes" his guide replied.

"Bullseye!" He responded, clearly excited. "So this place was used as a hospital? How many people died?"

Charming, just charming.

A similar 'ugly tourist' event happened again here today. I was sitting in a cafe downtown, doing some PhD reading when a couple of guys came up with a young child and sat down. Shortly afterwards, an older woman who may have been their mother came up.

"Its so hot." She complained. "I've seen some things today. I should be Prime Minister of this place. I'd clean this place up. I'd show them how to landscape. They need to fix up this place."

I turned around at glared at them and her son gave me a nervous glance.

"What? Don't you think that's a good idea?" She asked him.

"They're working on it." He replied quietly.

I wanted to shout at her. "You arrogant American. Why do think that you can do everything better than everyone else? Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world and you come from one of the richest and look at the poverty in your own country! You guys were so brillant at dealing with New Orleans, weren't you?"

Instead, I just closed my book and left. I was too angry to speak rationally (besides the fact that she wasn't actually speaking to me and it would have been very impolite to just interupt them).

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Just call me Emelda

I have three pairs of new shoes. Three! AND they all fit.

For those of you who are unimpressed; let me explain a couple of things. I am quite small - in fact, my father said at my wedding that one of my virtues was that I don't take up a lot of space (and he certainly wasn't speaking metaphorically).* However, my feet are particularly small, and the shoes shops in Australia don't seem to feel that there is a market for shoes that are my size. Needless to say, acquiring three new pairs at once is simply unprecedented.

For this unexpected blessing, I must thank the cobblers in Hoi An, and P. who endured many a fitting (plus his parents who significantly subsidised our trip).

These photos include the three pairs that P. had made, and I'd like to mention that my new boots are a lovely shade of deep brown (sorry about the poor photo).

In addition to shoes, we also got clothes tailor made. P. got office-y clothes, while I got a jacket (for the upcoming Canberra winter), a silk robe (so that I look more elegant when I spend the day in pyjamas), a dress, and had my favourite pair of jeans copied (for when I am not wearing pyjamas).

*If you know my father, you will know that this was a humorous aside and not remotely insulting. If you don't, well, you'll just have to take my word on that.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

no cd drive!

We're in Hoi An, the town of many old buildings and many more tailors.

The rain lets up temporarily now and again and we venture out to stroll and soak up the atmosphere (and the humidity) before retreating into the relative safety of our favourite tailor shop where we are currently having an entire new wardrobe made.

It might all sound a bit frivolous, and it might just be, but upon reflection it seems to be a good way to make a contribution, rather directly, to some of the people who live here.

The tailor we are using is a local family owned business that has been growing for a few years. They have a couple of shops and employ 70 people. So, since we both need new clothes for next year (particularly me as I'll be having to wear suits and other office type attire most days [weird I know]) we figured we had the choice to either wait till we got back to Australia and buy, for example, a couple of suits without knowing where they were made and in what conditions, or we could buy one here knowing exactly who was making it and how they are

Seems to make more sense to choose the latter.

In a double bonus, it also means we can have much nicer clothes then we'll be able to afford next year and they are tailored to fit perfectly, rather than not-so-good off-the-rack numbers.

Look out for the dashing, well dressed couple in a town near you (if that town is Canberra) next year.

We're actually going to see some of the gorgeous local architecture today, as soon as the rain lets up for five minutes...

Update on the weather: We left Hue a few days ago and now have heard that the majority of the city is about two feet under water. Passing back through in a couple of days, so will be interesting to see.

I was going to put up another embarrassing photo of the parental units, but there are no cd drives on these computers so they are spared the torment.

Home on Wednesday. Will post more then for sure.

Friday, 7 October 2005

Damp in Hue

Just thought I'd post quickly and wet your appetites for the stories to come when we're safely back in the sanity of Vientiane (never thought I'd say that!)

The trip got off to a rough start. The beautiful weather that we'd had in Vientiane while m&d were in town absented itself briefly the morning we departed to Hanoi. Waiting for a tuk tuk in the pouring rain is no ones idea of fun, least of all D's.

The photo is of the aftermath. Wet parental units in the back of a speeding tuk tuk. Quite photogenic aren't they.

Hanoi was, in a word, interesting. A bit full on to say the least, especially after spending so long in sleepy Laos. The frenetic pace of the first couple of days was slowed down a few knots when we went cruising around Ha Long Bay for a couple of days. We saw a surprising cave (more on what was surprising about it later) and generally relaxed.

We're in Hue at the moment where it's pouring with rain again.

Heading off to Hoi An this morning to shop ourselves stupid for a few days before heading home.

Saturday, 1 October 2005


We're off to Vietnam with my parents. Leaving on Monday and back the following Wednesday. That's a week and a half with, most likely, no blogging. Hmmm, might have to pop into an internet cafe or two along the way.

No promises though.

We're flying into Hanoi Monday morning and then making our way slowly south as far as Hoi An, where we'll split up with the parental units and head back north to fly home while they continue south to HCM city and continue their life of leisure.

It's nice to be on holiday though. The feeling of having a whole week and a bit away from the office is exactly what I need right now. I've always wanted to go to Vietnam too. Not sure why, just have for as long as I can remember. I've actually tried to go twice before and been thwarted on both occasions. Looks like third time lucky. Fingers crossed.


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin