May 2003 Archives

Nightlife / Dayclean

Through this website, which is of course publically available all over the world, I have met several people online. Last night, for the first time, I met one of those people in person: an American who is voluntering with the Peace Corps in rural Thailand. Since he just happened to be in Bangkok for the weekend, we met up for drinks.

Today I have been a bit tired from being out on the town last night, but I had promised myself that I would spend the day cleaning house. Exciting isn't it? I have lived in the house since April (two months now -- wow, that has gone by fast!) but haven't yet really cleaned it. And by cleaning I mean getting down on my knees and scrubbing. Woohoo what fun! Luckily my friend Ton came over and helped me and we finished in half the time. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I am glad he was willing to help.

Freshman Orientation

I spent all day today at Freshman Orientation. The morning started by loading all of the freshman from our campus into big busses and transporting them to the Rangsit campus of Thamassat University. The orientation was held in the big indoor stadium there.

The festivities included speeches by various high-ranking officials of the school, an hour long lecture/sermon by an apparently famous monk, and performances by the school chorus, individual singers, modern and traditional dance teams, cheerleaders, and bagpipe (!) band (but not all at the same time).

Then they held a string tying ceremony. I don't really know how to describe this, since it was all performed in Thai, but I think the main gist of it was a blessing of the incoming freshman. After the blessing, the students came up to the sitting teachers (including me), knelt, wai'ed, and held out their arm. The teachers then tied the string around the student's wrist and gave them a word of advice or a blessing. (Good luck. Don't fail. Study hard. Stay out of jail...)

We finished the night with a concert by "Silly Fools", a well-known Thai rock band. The kids loved it and showed their appreciation by jumping around and screaming the lyrics to every song. I stood in the back and felt very old all of a sudden.

Son of a Dragon


mdf282930.jpg"SIT TBOW, Cambodia (Reuters) - Cambodians are flocking to see a three-year-old boy they believe was the son of a dragon in a former life because his best friend is a four-meter-long python."

It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live a life where I would actually believe that a 3-year-old kid was the son of a dragon in a former life.

On the other hand, you have to admit that it is a little strange why the kid likes the snake so much, and why the snake hasn't eaten him yet. "Son of a dragon" is a fun explanation.

I also wonder what this kid's life will be like. It looks like a path has been selected for him already, as the article states: "His special powers will probably make him a traditional healer at the age of seven."

One of the re-occuring threads in my mind these days concerns the issue of choice. Many lives in Thailand are pre-decided. To grow up with incredibly close family ties and work in the family business for the rest of your life is the most common example. I, on the other hand, have almost infinite choice, and well into my fourth decade of life I have no idea what I am doing or where I am going.

Not that I am really complaining, just observing (as usual).

The Pianist

Ok, so my trip to Pattaya wasn't completely unproductive. I did start and finish The Pianist. It was such a great book, I had to see the movie right away, before it left Bangkok.

So a friend from the office, Jet, accompanied me to the theatre tonight. And wow, what a movie. The music during the closing credits alone were worth the price of admission. And we even had to pay the (relatively) outrageous sum of 300 baht (US$7) because it was only showing in the VIP theatre. But what a great movie to see in a huge comfy lazy-boy recliner!

Of course, no movie is as good as the book, and this one was no exception. I thought that the book was written beautifully, but there were a few small cases where the movie strayed. For example, some scenes were glossed over, while some were extended. Other scenes combined several ideas into one big scene. Sometimes the approach worked, sometimes it didn't.

In any case, it was a beautiful, albeit extrememely depressing film. I'm sure that if I hadn't read the book, I would have no compaints of the video version. It was one of those rare movies where the cinematography, the story, the dialogue, the acting, and the special effects all combine to make a moving film that I will always remember.

First Math Class


Today was the first day of class for the summer semseter. I am teaching
Prepratory Math and I must admit I have been dreading the task a bit. The students are incoming Freshmen who are in the class because they failed the math entrance test. I was expecting a classroom full of kids who hate math and will be very difficult to teach.

It seems to be true that most of the kids hate math, but my two sections today went fairly smoothly. Granted I was teaching extrememly elementary topics such as how to add fractions, but the students seemed to be engaged and seemed to respond to my encouragement. I am hoping the rest of the short summer semester goes the same way.

Beach Chair Service


I left Kho and his sleeping "commune" this morning and struck out on my own. After an American breakfast on the beach, I sat in one of the beach chairs under a big umbrella to rest from yesterday's stressful day of... sitting in one of the beach chairs under a big umbrella.

There are two ways to look at the Jomtien Beach experience. In negative terms, you are never left alone for more than five minutes. "Hello Sir, would you like some ice cream... silk cloth... fresh fruit... water..."

The postive way to look at it is that you can sit in your chair all day without moving. You can eat all kinds of food (fruit, grilled shrimp, BBQ chicken, spicy papaya salad...) in your chair, have a manicure and a pedicure in your chair, shop for sunglasses in your chair, have a Thai, English, or German newspaper delivered to you to read in your chair, get a massage in your chair, watch kids play what looks like professional volleyball from your chair. Eating, sleeping, reading, resting, chatting with new friends -- all without moving an inch.

This weekend, I am choosing the positive approach. Learning to relax and learning to not worry whether or not I am being productive or not is not such a bad thing, is it?

Beach Commune

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It is not in my nature to sit around all day and do nothing. I have always known this, but I was still surprised today to find out just how hard I have to fight to stay still and enjoy it.

Doing "not much of anything" sums up my time in Pattaya so far. My friend Kho picked me up at the Pattaya bus station on his friend's motorbike last night. We rode into town, had dinner, and went to his apartment where I took a nap. After an hour or so I was woken, told to shower, and taken out on the town with friends for some beers and billiards.

This morning Kho and his friends slept in. I, of course, was wide awake by 7 AM, so I stayed in bed and finished reading The Pianist which I started on the bus last night. Eventually everyone woke up and we shared delicious rice porridge on the floor of one of his friends' apartments.

Let me stop here to describe the living arrangements. Kho and his friends live in a hotel about 1/2 KM from Jomtien Beach. It is perhaps the most communal setup I have ever seen. About 6 small rooms (big enough for a queen-size bed and not much more) on one floor of the hotel are shared by at least 10 young people. None of the rooms have air con, so the windows and doors stay open all the time. It's almost as if they live in a big 6-bedroom house.

The daily schedule goes like this: Wake up around noon, order breakfast from the restaurant downstairs and eat together. Then, walk to the beach (together) and sit under big umbrellas (together) until the sun starts to go down and the volleyball net appears. 3-on-3 beach volleyball is played for hours until dark, when it is time to go back to the apartment (together) to have dinner (together). Some nights are spent out on the town (together) while some are spent in one of the rooms playing cards and watching TV (together, of course).

And that is the description of my weekend so far.

Jomtien Bound

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In a somewhat spur of the moment decision (ok, so I made it yesterday) I am heading to the beach at Jomtien, Chonburi for the weekend. I'll be visiting a friend there who I met in Sydney last November.

Work is over for this week, so now it's time to make the 10 minute walk to the bus station for the 2-hour 90 baht (US$2.20) bus ride to the beach.



A couple of years ago, Kenley and I were on a weekend getaway in Napa Valley when we sat in on a Yoga class at the resort where we were staying. It was there that I realized then that flexibility is not one of my strong points.

Last night, I took my second Yoga class, and apparently I haven't become any more flexible in the past couple of years. Luckily, it was a beginner class, so I wasn't the only one straining and huffing and wincing.

The class was taught in a big aerobics room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors at my gym. I was especially chagrined when I compared the way I looked in the mirror to the fluid movements of the instructor. He was a short and stocky Thai man, but wow was he flexible! Reminded me of Olympic gymnasts or world-class male ballet dancers: tight, muscular, masculine bodies but somehow very elegant and graceful. Then I would see myself... stocky, rigid white man with a pained expression on his face. What a contrast!

Although the hour-long session was a bit uncomfortable for me (not to mention a bit hard to follow because it was all in Thai) it was still surprisingly refreshing. After it was over I felt like I had just had a Thai massage; feeling very relaxed and mellow. I think Yoga just found its way onto my Thursday night schedule.

Dream World

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Seven busses full of tired Thai students and their teachers just arrived at the school campus. We have spent the day at a "Walk Rally" for Freshman Orientation at Dream World, Bangkok's answer to Disney World. The walk rally consisted of the freshmen breaking into 15 teams. Each was given a map of the theme park with 15 stations where they had to do team building exercises. After finishing, they had an hour or so to ride the rides.

The ajarn (teachers), on the other hand, all spent the entire day sampling the rides. By the end of the day, not only was I exhausted, but I was also a bit nauseous from being turned upside down and thrown around. Or was my stomach ache from the huge cotton candy I woolfed down? In either case, I had a fun time getting to know both fellow teachers as well as new students.

Birthday Dinner Cruise


Whenever I take the 10 baht boat taxi at night up the Chao Phayo River, we always pass by several dinner cruises on the way. I have always thought that having dinner on a boat on the river would be a fun night out, but I have always heard that they were very expensive (in the range of thousands of bahts).

But one of the staff members in my office, Jet, suggested that we go celebrate his birthday on one of the boats. The price was only 400 baht ($US10) for a 3-hour cruise and buffet. Not too bad.

But we soon realized why it was so cheap. Screaming kids, mediocre food, loud cheesy Musak, and a broken aircon.

But I have to say it was an enjoyable evening in any case. Especially after dinner was finished and we went out to sit on the bow of the boat to watch beautiful-at-night-Bangkok glide by.

Matrix (Again)

I can't believe I've done it, but I have now seen Matrix twice in the same week. And I didn't even like it that much!

My good friend Nat has been a bit sick the past few days so after I spent the afternoon lounging at the gym pool I went by his apartment to visit. I convinced him to leave his apartment for the first time in a few days. We walked around a bit and eventually ended up at the Discovery Center movie theatre. As luck would have it, the only movie showing was Matrix, so I allowed myself to sit through it again.

The movie was actually a little better this time, but I still could have done without the rave/sex scene. Ugh. A lot of the special effects were still very fake and the dialogue was still a bit laborious. But there were also a lot of small details that I picked up this time around.

This is not the first time I have just shown up at the movie theatre and been disappointed with my choices. Apparently no one in Bangkok ever checks the newspaper or calls for show times. But I am very excited because one of my fellow teachers just gave me the URL to a website that supposedly has updated movie times for Thailand. Yay!

Farm Boy


"When I go back Isaan, my mother want to know why I so black. She say, 'When people go Bangkok, they become white, but you black now.' I drive motocy every day for my boss and so I very black. But that ok. I have job. I send half my money to mother and father and baby brother one year old. I love him very much."

The conversation I had last night was full of little gems like that. I was chatting with a friend of a friend and he gave me a little window into his world. He now lives and works in Bangkok (as a motorcycle driver delivering Catholic newspapers written in English, of all things) but grew up on a farm in Isaan and was plowing the rice fields with buffalo by age seven.

"My farm we have rice and rambutan and banana. I have 10 buffalo. I love my buffalo. We go walk every day. But my mother and father sell them when I go Bangkok."

Bangkok is just a temporary place for him. He will start night school next month and when he finishes that he hopes to get a job so that he can make enough money to return home. "My dream is to find someone to love. We can work in the fields together and take care of each other somewhere quiet." (I assume that is translated as "somewhere other than Bangkok"!)

I couldn't help of being reminded of the book (Founding Brothers) I just finished reading. It talked about how the Virginia aristocracy (Washington, Jefferson, etc) always dreamed of retiring to their plantations where they could grow old peacefully as they tended their fields. All my life I have lived in cities and so I have never really entertained that thought.

But now the more I think about it, the more I can see the appeal of living your life in accordance with the cycles of the earth. In bed at sundown, up at sunrise, take a nap when it gets hot. Now you plant, now you tend, now you harvest. Has this been ingrained into our culture after thousands of years or is it just human nature?

Matrix Reloaded


The Matrix opened in Thailand last night and so of course I had to go see it. I'll give it a "Just OK". The effects were good at times, but other times it all seemed like I was watching a friend play Nitendo.

I was wondering how the movie was received by the Thai audience. There were Thai subtittles of course, but I would think that this movie would be much more fun to watch, rather than read. I did notice that the audience got a little restless during the long monologues.

The best part of the movie was, by far, only paying 180 baht (US$4.20) for the movie ticket, and a large popcorn and coke. The days of getting robbed at the Sony Metreon in San Francisco seem very far away.

Wisakha Bucha Day

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Today is Wisakha Bucha Day in Thailand. It is a very important Buddhist holiday, similar to Makha Bucha Day three months ago.

I celebrated by joining four new friends that I made in Ko Samet last weekend on a trip to a temple in Nonthaburi, just outside of Bangkok. They chose to go to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat, a very famous temple located on the western bank of the Chao Praya River and built by Rama III almost 200 years ago.

We had hoped to give a little food "care package" to the monks there, but they were busy praying, so we drove a bit to find another temple and handed over the food there. The ceremony that I watched my four friends go through consisted of putting 100 baht each into an envelope, which had their names written on it. The monk took the money and instructed my friends to burn the envelope in a small ceramic bowl. The monk and my friends then started what we called a "responsive reading" chanting something in Thai and paying respects to Buddha.

I had to leave before participating in the evening's activities, which I was told includes walking around the Chedi at the temple three times while holding lotus flowers and incense.

But I had other things on the agenda... namely seeing Matrix Reloaded on opening night...

Back to Work

I am back in the office today after a nice weekend on the island. It ended up raining or at least being cloudy most if the time we were there, but that's ok with me. I would have tried to stay out of the sun in any case, if it dared to show up.

It was actually a productive weekend for me. I graded the 30 10-page papers I took with me, and read several articles from the net as research for a paper I am trying to write. Mark and I made several new Thai friends, including a very nice family from a tiny Karen hilltribe village in Chiang Rai. I promised them that I would do my best to visit them someday. Hopefully it is a promise I can keep!

In any case, today I am going back and posting details from my trip. Ko Samet was the first place in SE Asia that I have been where there was limited internet access. I finally found a shop after a 30 minute walk down the beach, but by that point I was enjoying the fact that I had no contact with the outside world. (My mobile phone battery had also died, and there were no electrical outlets in my guesthouse room to recharge.)

I highly recommend the island and I think I will be going back soon. In my opinion, it is the perfect get-away from Bangkok -- only three+ hours away and very affordable at about 1200 baht (US$30) for a 2-day weekend. Can't beat it!



I started the day at sunrise with a walk along the Ko Samet shoreline, alternating between scampering over rocky boulders and strolls along smooth white sand beaches. As the sun rose and the light changed from blue to yellow to white, I was thinking about my favorite recent topic: What the heck am I doing with my life?

I was alone except for two small black dogs who amazed me with their ability to climb over the huge rock outcrops. I would stretch and reach and climb and jump and when I turned around they would be standing there on their short little legs and looking up at me with puppy dog eyes that said, "I will follow you to the ends of the earth."

When I returned to the guesthouse I had breakfast and tackled the stack of papers I brought along with me to grade. After finishing those, I turned to a few articles I brought along as research for an article my boss wants me to write for the school magazine.

Halfway through one article about how entreprenurialism is the key to help developing countries break out of their cycle of poverty and how teaching technology skills is the key to making small businesses successful, the epiphany struck. As I said, I have been thinking about where my life is heading. So far I have been thinking about starting my own business. There is certainly a lot of opportunity here in Thailand for something like that.

But lately I have been realizing that I am really enjoying teaching. Perhaps a permanent move to academia is in my future? Perhaps my approach to business has been from the wrong direction? If I had to chose between starting a business and making lots of money and helping 10 people in a developing country start their own business and make lots of money, I think I will chose the latter.

And there you have it. Where will it lead?

Adventures to Samet

A few days ago I was praying for cool island breezes. Last night, I got more than I bargained for.

It rained almost the entire 3 hour bus ride from Bangkok to Ban Pae. But we finally arrived at the Ban Pae docks, bought our ticket, and walked out onto the pier to take the boat to Ko Samet. In the direction of the island (which is clearly seen from the Thai mainland), very dark clouds were beginning to form. Within minutes the sky above us turned black and the wind began to blow.

We were escorted off the pier and told to wait out the coming storm. And storm it did! I was reminded of the few hurricanes I lived through in Florida as a boy. We sat down at a nearby open-air restaurant for some dinner and the wind was blowing so hard that part of the roof next door was ripped off and landed with a huge crash on our roof. It was actually a little bit scary. In any case, we were very happy we weren't on the boat through all of this.

After about an hour the storm passed and we boarded the boat to the island. It was still raining and so we were quite wet by the end of the 40 minute boat ride. Once we reached the island we had to ride in the back of a taxi-truck to the guesthouse.

Needless to say, by this time it was quite late and we were very wet. The adventure didn't end there, for apparently the word "reservation" doesn't mean anything and we found out our guesthouse gave away our room.

Eventually (after walking to 6 other guesthouses in the rain) we found a place to stay. We checked in, dropped off our wet stuff, didn't bother changing into dry clothes, and headed out for a beer. But the night ended up being a lot of fun. We found a small restaurant/bar nearby on the beach and had fun time hanging out and chatting with other visitors -- both Thai and foreign -- as the rain continued to pour and the cool breezes I requested made for a comfortable evening.


Part of the application process to my school is sitting down with a teacher for a 10 minute interview in order to insure that the student can converse in English. If they can't, they have to take a Preparatory English class during the summer.

All of my interviewees passed with flying colors. A few things I learned from the process: 1) students get very nervous very easily, 2) parents have a lot of control over their kids, 3) most kids are planning to work in their family's business after graduation even though they do not like the business and do not know anything about it, and 4) Phuket is everyone's favorite holiday destination (whether or not they have actually been there).

Of course this is not a scientific study, as my sample size was very small. But it does back up a few cultural trends that I am starting to notice...

Growing Up


From Yahoo News today: "Most Americans believe someone isn't grown up until age 26, probably with a completed education, a full-time job, a family to support and financial independence, a survey said on Thursday.

"The poll found the following ages at which people expect the transitions to grown-up status to be completed: Age 20.9 self-supporting; 21.1 no longer living with parents; 21.2 full-time job; 22.3 education complete; 24.5 being able to support a family financially; 25.7 married; and 26.2 having a child."

Let's see how I stack up: I am slower on every single issue (except "no longer living with parents") by as much as 6 years. For example, the survey suggests that the proper ages to finish education and get a full-time job is 22.3 and 21.2. I was 28 for both. And of course married and having a child is no where in sight.

Does that mean that I am not "grown up"? :)

Too Many Temples

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Thailand has too many temples.

At least that is the gist of the article I read on yesterday.

The point is a good one, I think. Thai people believe that building a temple or donating to the construction of one will gain them religious merit (basically bonus points in Buddha's eyes). So this means that there is always a lot of money around to build new temples. Unfortunately, the old ones don't get taken care of. Many times in my travels I have seen abandoned temples that were once beautiful and ornate but have now fallen into disrepair. A sad sight for sure.

So hopefully someone in power (for example, the head of the Thai Monks) will say that it is just as important to restore old temples as it is to build new ones. It seems that the Thai people respect those in power, and so a change in behavior like this one may be easy to impliment. We'll see...

Africa Hot


Could it please be a little hotter this week? Ever since I returned from my trip where I sweated for 8 hours in the sun on a cramped speedboat ride down the Mekong, I have been doing nothing but. (Sweating, that is, not riding in tiny boats).

This morning had to be the worst. I was sweating just waiting for the elevator at my apartment. By the time I reached the SkyTrain 5 minutes later I was visably wet. Thank goodness the SkyTrain cars (albeit completely packed in the morning rush hour) are usually ice-cold. But, once I left the freezer and completed the 15 minute walk to school, I was soaked by the time I reached my office.

On the way to Chiang Mai last weekend, a tourist from San Jose asked me how I can stand the heat. "I have just gotten used to being damp all the time," was my reply. I am definitely living that today.

In any case, the trip to the beach with Mark this weekend is a definite go. You know I'm praying for cool breezes!

Final Exam Week

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I have made it home safely yet again. This time, I am returning from Chiang Mai healthy. Yay! Maybe now I can return again soon because I do love it there.

This week is Final Exam week at the University. That means I will be spending some time proctoring exams and the rest of my time grading tests and homeworks from the semester.

Of course I am already plotting where to go next. Maybe a trip to the islands is in order?

Fears of Chiang Mai


Today I tried to put my fears of Chiang Mai behind me and I am very glad I did. I arrived late last night by mini-van from the Thai-Lao border near the Golden Triangle. My favorite cheap guesthouse, Souvenier, was closed by the time I arrived, and since I was so tired after travelling for 15 hours I decided to "splurge" and stay at my favorite mid-range guesthouse, called Galare.

This morning, after a great night of sleep, I woke early, rented a motorbike, went to buy my train ticket back to Bangkok for tonight, and hit the road out of Chiang Mai towards Doi Suptep. I drove up the mountain just outside of the city limits and visted a touristy Hmong hilltribe village, the King's Winter Palace, and of course, the beautiful Doi Sutep temple.

I have now turned in my motorbike and I am waiting for the train to take me home. Hopefully the air conditioner will actually work this time, as opposed to my most recent train trip from Ko Samui

By the way, why would I fear Chiang Mai? I have been there two times and two times I have gotten food poisoning. The streets are full of tourists all year long in Chiang Mai, so apparently it is just my bad luck to have gotten sick both times. So far though, I am still healthy. Hopefully I can make it back to Bangkok tonight with no problems.

Mekong Cruise

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Sone and I arrived at the Luang Prabang boat dock this morning at 7 AM. The plan was to take the "fast boat" down the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to Houai Sai near the Golden Triangle. I pictured the eight-hour trip to be a nice comfortable ride on a big boat for with plenty of room to move around and maybe even a toilet. When I saw what I was actually going to ride in, I was in for a big surprise.

It's hard to describe the boat, other than to say it was completely packed with eight passengers, our bags, and a driver. We sat in four rows, shoulder to shoulder, with just enough leg room to sit with my knees against my chest.

The only thing that made the ride bearable was the amazingly beautiful scenery along the river. Huge limestone jungle-covered cliffs rose on each side. Water buffalos lounged in the mud along the shore. Small villages appeared every now and then, with their inhabitants sitting, eating, fishing, and swimming in the river.

At times, the ride was exciting (speeding past huge rocks in the low dry-season river). Sometimes it was excrutiatingly boring (I actually feel asleep at one in the sitting fetal position). Sometimes it was downright painful and annoyingly uncomfortable (the loud motor combined with the hot sun and the inability to move at all).

But, it was "adventure" and that is all I wanted in the first place.

Luang Prabang

Sone and I flew from Vietianne to Luang Prabang this morning. This afternoon we rented a truck to take us to the nearby Kraiangsi waterfall. Sone and I climbed to the top of the falls and then back down half-way to a very nice, very cold pool. There was a big crowd there with the main attraction being a rope swing, which of course, I had to try. The falls were beautiful and the water was cold and refreshing.

I haven't been doing much today other than walk around town and enjoy the lack of tourists. I am a bit sad that I wasn't here for Songkran last month, but perhaps I can come back next year.

Tomorrow I will take the boat down the Mekong back to Thailand. I am in the middle of a long-distance, yet short-time trip, most of which will be spent travelling, but I am having a wonderful time in any case.

Quick Trip to Lao

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The overnight bus ride to Nong Khai turned out to be not so bad. I took the "VIP" bus: fully air conditioned and only has 24 seats which reclined to almost 100% and was therefore quite comfortable.

After getting Jui safely across the border, we headed into Vientianne for a visit to my favorite Scandinavian Bakery next to the fountain. Then we rented a motorbike and drove around town a bit so he could quickly see the sights and then I took him on the motorbike back to the Friendship Bridge so that he could head back to Thailand.

I, of course, want more than a few hours in Laos, so I stayed. I waited at the bridge for a while until my Lao friends Sone and Odai arrived on their motorbikes. The three of us then headed to Odai's village which was supposedly "near Vietianne".

Almost an hour later, most of which was spent on a rutted dirt road, we arrived at Odai's home. What an interesting ride it was, however. I love riding through small dirt-road villages and watching kids play soccer outside a small school, old men walking their buffalo herd down the street, monks sweeping the dirt outside of the village temple.

We will be spending the night at Odai's, but first we have been promised a party. In typical Lao/Isaan style we will be "friends, sitting, talking, eating, drinking."

Labor Day


Happy Labor Day! I used to think that celebrating Labor Day on May 1 was a communist thing (Power to the People!) but I guess it is celebrated all over the world on this date, except for in the US. Shows what I know.

In any case, I am enjoying my day off from school. Tomorrow I will have one more day of work (no classes though) then its off to Laos on an overnight bus Friday night. Can hardly wait!

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

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