September 24, 2011


Me: You are dressed nicely today.
Wide eyed Chinese beauty: You means usually I dressed ugly?
Me: Umm... I mean even better than usual. Is it because you want to have dinner with me tonight?
Wide eyed Chinese beauty: No. Misunderstand.

September 17, 2011

Landslide in Laos

The people of Laos take the definition of laid back to a whole new level. The old joke is that the "PDR" in Lao PDR stands for "Please Don't Rush" rather than "People's Democratic Republic". To prove this point, my ten hour bus trip from Luang Prabang to Vientiane expanded into a 36 hour ordeal. It involved sleeping on a parked bus, leaving my stool samples in the jungle, and buying food from hill tribes. The Lao seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience, treating the bus ride as an extended holiday.

I was supposed to leave Luang Prabang in the morning for Phansavon, home to the mysterious Plain of Jars. The once daily minibus headed there never showed up. I did not want to wait until the day after, so I recalibrated my plans and decided to head to the capital city of Vientiane directly from Luang Prabang. We departed on time at two in the afternoon. My seat neighbour was a lightweight Lao with a heavyweight odor. He regarded me as an extension of the internal furnishings of the bus and used my shoulder as his headrest. When he tried to rest his left thigh on top of my right thigh, I would have none of it. Our relationship soured.

In the first few hours there were only minor delays, including helping one family move all their material goods from one village to another by using the bus roof as a storage device. The first major stoppage came three hours into the journey. As the bus slowed down, I saw the heads of all the passengers in front of me pop out from their seats like badgers from their holes. When the bus came to a halt, most of the passengers immediately rushed out.

An hour later the bus started moving again, passing all the Lao who had started to walk down the road in the meantime. When one man mentioned that half the passengers were missing from the bus, the driver gave a sadistic smile and stopped at the top of a hill. Everyone boarded the bus with big grins on their faces. Some ran, but most strolled with leisure, so that was another half an hour gone.

As night approached, the traffic on the winding partially paved roads began to increase until we were no longer progressing to our destination. The driver turned off the engine, followed by the lights and air conditioning a few minutes later. A long procession of cars, trucks, and buses were ensnared in a traffic jam as far as the eye could see. A landslide had taken out a large section of the road ahead. Bulldozers were needed to clear away enough debris so that vehicles could pass, but that would have to wait till daylight came.

No one complained, even when the driver suddenly decided to turn the bus into a disco for half an hour. He cranked up the rather impressive sound system and busted out a three song rotation featuring two soothing Lao melodies and an English song about "Having the Time of My Life". I drifted asleep after the music stopped, if only to avoid smelling the construction worker-like aroma of the man beside me.

I awoke at dawn the following day at nature's behest. I got off the bus and noticed that the nearby villagers had set up a food stall directly in front of it. I would return there to eat a healthy breakfast of chicken liver and feet, but first I had more important matters to attend to. I went to look for a private spot in the nearby jungle. The road was extremely muddy, and my shoes had become caked in dirt. This was a blessing in disguise, as I could no longer differentiate the mud from any other similarly hued filth that I would soon step on.

Like a mother bird building a protective nest for her young ones, I snapped some branches and twigs to clear an area where no eyes could see me. Five minutes later I emerged a happy man. My stomach now had room for breakfast. Eight hours later the bus was on the move again as the bulldozers had completed their duty. Ten hours later, and a full day past my initial forecast, I reached the capital city.


Now I've had the time of my life
No I never felt like this before
Yes, I swear it's the truth
And I owe it all to you
'Cause I've had the time of my life
And I owe it all to you...
I've been waiting for so long.
~ Time of My Life lyrics

September 14, 2011

Southeast Asia Circuit

This year's edition of the epic forty day trip focused on some classic backpacker destinations in Southeast Asia. With so many tourists around, this oft visited region of Asia is not as challenging to navigate as India or China, but still offers a splendid assortment of temples, museums, and natural attractions to explore. English, although not well spoken, is usually comprehended. Unfortunately the locals involved in the tourist industry have become quite aggressive, particularly in Vietnam. As advertised, Laos was the most relaxed nation of the bunch.

  • Bangkok
  • Penang
  • Kuala Lumpur
    • Putrajaya
  • Siem Reap
    • Angkor Wat
  • Phnom Penh
  • Saigon
    • Mekong Delta
    • Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Hoi An
    • Danang
    • My Son
  • Hue
  • Ninh Binh
  • Hanoi
    • Halong Bay
  • Luang Prabang
  • Vientiane


“One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.” – Alfred North Whitehead

September 12, 2011

Belly Beer

While traveling through Southeast Asia, I met an Indonesian girl at a bus stop. It turned out she had also lived in Beijing in the past.

"Did you gain weight while you were in China?" she asked me. "How did you know!" I bristled. She giggled and pointed at my stomach. "You have a belly beer!"