Monday, 23 January 2006

re-integration, take one

We're off to Canberra this evening, after a few days in Sydney mostly spent at the beach, eating vegan yum cha, trying hopelessly to reintegrate into Australian society, and the Royal North Shore Hospital's emergency ward.
The latter was due to C's father having a run in with their normally placid house cat, Freya, and coming off much the worse for it. I'll let C fill you in on that particular disaster in due time.
Getting home was easy enough, though we were rather stupidly over the baggage limit for both Thai and Qantas. Still some sweet talking and a little pleading went a long way to minimising the cost...
Bangkok airport was, as usual, one of our least favourite places to waste time. This particular time wasting exercise was made so much the easier, however, by Thai's insistence of giving us a day room free of charge. Actually insistence may be too strong a word since they didn't actually bother to tell us one was available, even when we asked, and we had to find out from a more savvy and frequent traveller in a suit.
Still, the day room made all the difference, especially for C's insanely long lay over.
Upon arrival, Australian customs, ever vigilant in their mission to protect our shores from evil microbes, took a 30 second look at the box full of mountain bike and shoes that could have potentially posed a threat to national security (but didn't as I had spent what seemed like hours scrubbing the lot with soapy water in a vain attempt to remove tenacious Lao dust) before waving me through. They might as well have said "You know, we couldn't be screwed actually checking to see if you are bringing in any really dangerous pathogens attached to those shoes that have been immersed in Lao dust for 10 months. Frankly, you could have a dozens live chickens just crawling with avian influenza and itching to mate with as many Aussie rosters as possible stuffed in that box and we still wouldn't care. Good day to you sir."
Perhaps it wasn't that bad, but the whole thing seemed somewhat lax. Not that I'm complaining as I had nothing remotely dodgy in may baggage and it certainly meant I got home more speedily, but still...
Okay, I'm off to rack up some more debt on things I don't really need, bar for the fact they are on sale. It's the capitalist dream, and I fell I have some catching up to do after spending close to a year in a communist country.
C's at the office today, so I'm sure she'll use her time wisely and post at least once.

Friday, 20 January 2006

Home Safe

Just quickly.
We both arrived home safe on our respective flights, despite being horribly over baggage limits and somewhat hungover for the last night revels.
Falling asleep at the keyboard so will post more coherently in a couple of days.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Disaster Zone

The house looks like a bomb hit it and we only have a few more hours till we need to be not here any more.

We're lushing out for our last night in the country and have booked ourselves into a beautiful new hotel downtown. Why not go out in style?

The baci is at 3 and I have no idea how we'll get everything packed by then.

We certainly won't get it done if I don't get offline...

We found out yesterday that Thai airways has decided to revise its schedule and C's flight from Bangkok to Sydney has been changed from 5pm to 11.30pm, meaning she now has a 12 hour wait in Bangkok airport, possibly our least favourite airport on earth.

Lucky me, flying Qantas, only has a 6 hour wait.

Okay, packing now.

Monday, 16 January 2006

I'm being naughty

Bloggiing while C is packinng.

Oops, gotta go, here she comes...

Friday, 13 January 2006

Some good news for a change

[Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo]

This makes me happy: according to the Guardian, Chilean presidential candidate Michelle Bachelet looks likely to become the first female head of state in Latin America. On top of being female, she is also a lefty and sounds tops.
"I am a woman, a socialist, separated and agnostic - all the sins together."
Latin American politics having been getting really interesting lately with Bolivian President Evo Morales joining Chavez in rejecting the old (failed) Washington Consensus model of development. Along with Brazil's Lula, they are really starting to fundamentally change the Latin American political scene. With the election of a women, things would get even more interesting (and I would get even more jealous).

I love this quote from a guy on the streets of Santiago, Chile:
"She is going to take the reins of this country as if it were a big house. She is going to manage us well," said Juan Ángel Gaete, a real estate broker in Santiago who said only a woman was capable of solving Chile's problems. "Look at us men, we do one thing at a time, while the mom is cooking, talking on the phone, feeding the children and listening to the radio!"

The fat lady has sung

To quote a rather crude saying.

Today has been my last day of work, officially, though I haven't really been doing much for the last couple of days as Sally has been wanting to see how much work she'll be in for once I depart. She's managing just fine and so I've been twiddling my thumbs mostly, as well as surfing the web, emailing and photoshoping lots of picys that we are going to get printed here as it's quite a bit cheaper than at home.

My 10 months at KPL have been very interesting on reflection. There has been much banging of my head against the various walls in the office and plenty of unrequited frustration, but on the whole I think I have made some impact in my time here.

The paper is certainly looking much better (thanks mainly to an Australian Business Volunteer graphic designer I instigated to have come over) and while the content hasn't changed much, since it's a fairly tightly controlled government propaganda vehicle, the propaganda is certainly written to a much higher standard.

The staff have also gotten a little more adventurous too, particularly those that contribute to the features section I instituted.

But probably most importantly all the staff have greatly improved the level of their written and spoken English, meaning they are better placed to find more fulfilling work with organisations in the aid or private sector that might actually pay them a decent wage for their hard work.

C and I have become very reflective in the last week or so and are starting to realise just how much we'll actually miss Laos when we get on the plane home in five days.

Now that I'm done at the office I'm planning on trying to distract her from her thesis, no easy task as she is incredibly focused at the moment, for at least a little part of each of our remaining days so we can wander around and soak up the atmosphere (as well as make all those last minute purchases) before leaving.

I'll be back in the office the day before we head off for another round of drunken baci delights as a final farewell from the office and to wish us "long life, much wealth, good health..."

It's considered unlucky, not to mention very bad form, to remove the baci strings that get tied around your wrists during the ceremony for three days. This is all well and good, the only problem is that at a farewell baci you tend to get dozens of them shackled to you. I wonder what Australian customs will make of us?

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Africa: '2006 must be year of action'

Jeffery Sachs, director of the UN's Millennium Project and celebrity development economist, recently called 2005 "the year of promises", referring to rich nations' promise to double aid to Africa, but said that 2006 must be the year of action or "donors will condemn millions to death if they again fail to deliver on their aid pledges".

While I don't agree with everything Sachs advocates and have a few issues with the conclusions of his latest book, The End of Poverty, I think that his methods really resonate with a particular, and sadly dominant, mindset, and therefore play an important role in the fight against poverty.

The book is worth the read, but a little fat, so if you'd like the abridged version as it was published in Time, you can download it from the Millennium Project site.

When he says things like:

"If we take a proper, hard-headed and businesslike approach to the issues of disease, poverty and hunger, there are practical solutions," Sachs said. "They don't involve blank cheques coming from donor countries to poor countries; they don't involve the other side haranguing poor countries about their poverty."

People who might not normally credit the idea that their "hard earned tax dollars" should be spent on development, tend to actually sit up and listen.

So, maybe, with Sachs teaming up with Bono and the Gateses (Time's Persons of the Year for 2005), development might become a sexy topic at last.

It might already be heading that way, at least in the eyes of the Hollywood machine. There have been a raft of films in the last year or so with development themes as either the central or a side plot line. I'm thinking of last year's Beyond Borders (a less than satisfactory love story set in multiple development contexts and dodging tons of ethical dilemmas along the way) and The Constant Gardner (which we watched the other night and is well worth seeing). I'm sure there have been others, but I just had lunch by the Mekong and my brain is a little droopy.

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

New Orleans: still devastated

A good friend from the States, Tara, spent her holiday season working in a soup kitchen in New Orleans, which, several months after Katrina is still stuck in the mire.

The devastation wrecked by Katrina has faded from the news as more recent scandals and disasters have overshadowed it, but the massive destruction is still a day-to-day reality for the people of the area.

Interestingly, New Orleans has also faded off the US news radar, despite the fact that the clean up is proceeding very slowly and the poorest and most in need are still being left to fend for themselves for the most part.

Anyway, Tara took a whole bunch of sensational photos that are incredibly evocative of the destruction that happened and the fact that it seems not much has been done to sort it out.

I highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch the slide show, which you can access here.

* I have no idea why the photo has such a massive border, but that's totally beside the larger point.

Tuesday, 10 January 2006


Well it has been a while since I last posted. This is basically because I spent the month of December traveling and didn't get near a computer very frequently.

So, I thought that for now I would just share some of my photos with you.

The first lot are from the streets of Hong Kong and the anti-WTO protests that I attended while I was in town attending the NGO section of the Ministerial (more on that later).

Me and Gael García Bernal:

The students from the Hong Kong Baptist University WTO Concern Unit (my favourite club of all time):

A Cambodian activist from the Women's Agenda for Change organisation:

And a woman at the anti-WTO women's protest carrying a banner that basically sums up my PhD topic:

The next lot are from our trip through Southern Lao and Cambodia post-WTO.

Me with three munchkins on Don Det (southern lao):

Two Cambodian munchkins in Kep:

And the fishing boats in the morning light in Kep:

Finally, this is from our trip up North in November - P and I walking through the Akha village at sunrise. Beautiful!

Sunday, 8 January 2006

Photos in lieu of an effort

The last few days have been fairly eventful and I thought in loo of actually telling you all about them I would post some photos and be done with it. Sally arrived, as you know and work held a combined, farewell P, hello Sally, happy birthday KPL party, including a baci. For a vivid description of what a baci entails you can read C's post on one of the other's we've attended this year, here.

The first one is of C and I on NYE in Cambodia, post spewing and uber-expensive medical treatment. We look pretty chipper in spite of everything, don't we.

The next one is a shot of the lanterns haning in the trees at the bar where we almost made it to midnight. In the end though post-sickness tiredness and the knowledge we had to get up at 5.30 the next morning to catch the only available flight to Bangkok sent us packing at about 11.15. We're are such party animals...

Next is a shot of Sal looking very cosy in out favourite Indian restaurant in Vientiane, Taj Mahal.

Then Sal again, this time getting baci-ed by KPL's Director General, while everyone else goes baci-crazy in the background.

The aftermath of a baci, along with the hangover, generally include a whole bunch of white strings tied around both wrists. The strings are for good luck and everyone at the baci wants to tie a string around your wrist if you are the reason the baci is happening in the first place. Consequently, you end up looking like this...

...which is all well and good, until you discover that it is considered very bad luck and very poor form to remove the strings for three days. And even then you aren't suposed to cut them off so you are left to either wait for them to rot off (usually assisted by a swim in the nearest chlorinated pool) or to tear the buggers off after a few days have passed. I'm all for the tearing.

Next to last, I said in the last post that I had a headache and now you can see why. Just look at that head...

(Thanks for making me look beautiful, C).

The last one is of a crumbling French-era villa downtown. There are a few of them left and they are all slowly disentegrating, except for the one that's been restored and is now being used as the Asian Development Bank's headquarters.

PS - C promises she will post one of these days.

Friday, 6 January 2006

My head hurts

Today has been my last real day of work. Sally starts on Monday and it's all down hill from there.

Today was also KPL's 36th birthday, so there was a party atmosphere pervading. The office decided to throw a baci ceremony (I can't fill you in on this now as I'm too drunk to type, but will later, promise) in my honour.

I was presented with a beautiful, if somewhat gaudy, certificate thanking me for my service and had a bunch of white strings tied around my wrists for good luck (seriously, I'll fill in the blanks when I sober up).

The baci was also to welcome Sally, but as no one really knows her yet, she was spared most of the drinking punishment - though it may be that she can just hold her liquor better than I can, which wouldn't be a surprise at all, actually.

Anyway, the last 9 months have added up to this one drunken, dancing party. I guess it could have been worse.

I'm going to stop typing now and get some work done, though I have no idea how the paper will read tomorrow as I'm a little too drunk to be editing anything, still I'm sure it will make interesting reading...

Photos to follow.

Thursday, 5 January 2006

Sally's here!

Sally, an old friend of C's arrived today. She's going to be replacing me at KPL and whipping the paper into a much better shape than I've been able to I'm sure.

Seeing the slightly dazed and confused look in her eyes this morning reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived back in April. 9 months later and I'm feeling torn about our immanent departure.

The past year has certainly had its ups and downs and on the whole I think I'm ready to head home and get into some work that I hope to find more worthwhile, but at the same time it will be sad to leave Laos.

Still, Canberra is bound to be interesting and it will be good to be close to family again for a while.

Most importantly C will be much closer to her supervisor, which will make the whole PhD thing a much more rewarding process.

Okay, going to edit a lengthy article on the history of media in Laos - tomorrow is the 36th birthday of the Lao News Agency (my present employer) and they are throwing a rather large party. Since Sally has just arrived and I'm about to leave they have decided to roll everything into one big bash. Should be interesting, just one huge baci ceremony followed by loads of drinking and dancing... Oh and publishing the next day's paper too of course.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Oh, and since it's a new year...

...let's take a minute to review the last one.

Tom Burka, over at Opinions You Should Have, posted this wrap up of 2005. It's very US focused, but worth the read for the hilarity of the linked posts - particularly the one about god slapping Pat Robertson.

CNN has a handy interactive 2005 time line, which, for not discernible reason, stops on November 9. Still, it's interactive...

Time has selected its 50 coolest websites of 2005, mostly not particularly interesting, but worth a look if you are bored.

The New York Times Review of Books has published its top 10 books of 2005, of which I am ashamed to say I have only read one. Still, new books have been less than accessible this past year.

In there 100 notable books of 2005 list I did little better. I've managed to read only two and have a third awaiting on my bedside table. It's been a sad year for me and new books.

The Independent Movie Database has published the results of the best movies and actors poll of 2005, with Harry Potter and Brokeback Mountain coming up trumps, while in the Worst of 2005 poll, War of the World deservedly came last (or is that first?)

Wired released its best and worst gadgets of 2005 list, which contained no surprises and actually not much of interest - I can't believe I just wrote that. Still, iPods are cool and getting cooler (though everyone I know who's bought one since the first release in 2002 has had all sorts of problems, while my clunky 5 gig brick first generation just keeps kicking) and computers got faster (again) and slightly more affordable, which is nice. In fact more interesting than anything on the Wired list was the $100 laptop announced at the World Summit on the Information Society late last year, which aims to revolutionise the availability of computers in poor countries.

In what has to be one of the kookiest news stories of the last 12 months an American vegan activist has legally changed his name to (seriously) in order to highlight the horrible things that KFC does to chickens. There's also a website of the same name run by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the organisation he works for. Now that's commitment to a cause.

Oh, and the G8 leaders made feeble promises to end poverty that they have no intention of keeping, the UN Global Summit was a shambles and got nowhere, while at the WTO meeting in Hong Kong rich countries worked overtime to screw poor countries in every way possible - so much for a "development" round.

Added to that more journalists were killed while doing their jobs last year than in any of the proceeding 10.

I'm sure other things happened too, some of them good, but I'm at work and should be doing anything by this.

Let's hope 2006 proves to be no worse (sorry that's the most enthusiasm I can muster right now).

Home safe, sad news

We arrived safely home in Vientiane after our holiday (if you could call throwing up constantly and getting stuck with needles a holiday), but were greeted with some sad news. Our neighbour's dog passed away.

Our neighbours run a fer shop (a Lao style noodle soup stand) and they had a lovely dog named Gee. Gee was very old at 15 and he had a broken hip. He was a very friendly and inquisitive pup and would always greet us at our gate whenever we were coming or going.

We noticed that he was getting very needy before we left town and were a little worried, and it was sad to learn that our worries were well founded. Still, he had a long life and was very pampered (though not often washed and quite stinky, in a cute way). There's no photo of him, though I had wanted to take one for some time, so you can't see how cute he was.

When we asked our neighbour where he was this morning all she said was "xia laew" which means he lived already. It's actually a really subtle way of talking about someone, or something that has died. She looked sad, but was smiling, as people here almost always do.

R.I.P Gee and I hope your next incarnation is just as chilled.


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