Perspectives Abroad

politics, culture, language – south east asia

the case of the burmese icebox

PD*26357890back in january the aussie coast guard picked these two up 60 miles off the coast.  they had managed to survive in their giant pink icebox in “shark-invested” waters (are there any other kind?) for 25 days through a cyclone by drinking rainwater and chunks of fish “vomited by seabirds.”

now if your thinking these two shirtless dudes in a giant pink cooler amongst the baby blue sea looks more like a still from a harmony korine film than a drama in real life, you wouldnt be the only ones. aussie doctors are stepping up claiming survival would have been impossible, plus the dudes werent even sunburnt.

now wait a minute. are we implying then that this was staged? (i feel like errol morris) that in some wacked-out attempt at gaining refugee status they asked their friends to drop them off in the middle of the ocean in a giant pink cooler with no food or water in the off chance they might get picked up by the coast guard….


vientiane nights


as my time in vientiane winds down you can expect a flurry of posts. things that i’ve finally digested. things that are no longer novelties or annoyances (yes i have made my peace with the neighborhood dogs and their nightly chorus),  but that have become part of my daily fabric. of the routines and places that will come to symbolize my time here. the first  centres around my nightly pilgrimage from ‘downtown’ to my little wicker hut on the outskirts of vientiane.

full disclosure: my camera became possessed at some point in hanoi and now has a mind all its own, hence i’ve been forced to pilfer most of the images in this post. none the less they are all places i pass daily.

click here for some musical accompaniment on our nite bike ride through VTE.

novotel_vientiane-exterior_view-mainpost-work finds us biking down rue samsenthai, banana shake in hand, to the novotel for our poolside workout. put your favorite cd in the stereo and hop on the treadmill. aging europeans will be flaunting and fanning themselves in speedos while downing lao lao with tonic.


post-novotel you’ll probably find yourself eating dinner somewhere along rue fa ngum and seeing something like this. those trees on the other side are thailand. you will have ample opportunity to observe the social habits of the backpacker in action. getting into and out of long haul tuk tuks. hunting down the dodgiest of guesthouses. single, usually female ones, sitting on the ground surrounded by the packs of her fellow travellers. we shall call her pack rat, and i believe her function is to guard the packs while her brethren search out accomodation. while they themselves are transient, liminal creatures their combined prescence amounts to something of an institution. a leviathan of thriftiness that contirubtes a very substantial portion of lao GDP. saving money never made so much cents.

you will see other things too. some that u didnt want to see. old men, young girls. amputees. fake amputees. midgets. people who should have left long ago but didnt. geriatric japanese hippies who are stuck in time and have been reduced to begging and perpetual confusion. hummers (at 100% tax on all vehicles that is a very very very expensive machine for an LDC). and mostly teenage lao racing past in pairs on their honda waves, yaking at each other as they weave through the street.

adia_2007_05_17_dsc_3159_pregnant_lady_working_as_a_vendor_in_night_market_lamp_laos_luang_prabang_cringelcomacross the street, on the banks of the mekong, mini-stands are being set up to sell  fabric for sins – the ubiqutous lao skirt. enterprising vendors also roam and you may be offered to buy a large net (?) or bootleg viagra while finishing off your laap – spicy minced meat salad with basil, chillies, and mint leaves.

IH214282back on samsenthai and heading out of town, the buildings begin to show some wear and tear. with dust thick in the air, the street lights mark out a blurred haze on the road ahead. people lament that the thai treat vientiane as an outpost, a frontier town before heading out to the lush beauty of the countryside in their oversized SUVs.

img_9114make a right on rue chao anou and stop off at the night market to pick up pomelos and pistachios for a late evening snack. if its friday grab some limes and tonic to go with your korean jinlu. nine times out of ten a couple of  feral dogs will get into a vicious scrap in the middle of the alley, while little kids throw their shoes at them – either in encouragement or protest i’m never really sure.

Sepak Takraw


have you ever found yourself playing volleyball and just wanted to do a big backflip and kick the ball into your opponent’s face? welcome to sepak takraw – kick volleyball. and clearly my new favorite sport. its like an aggressive hacky sack game on a volleyball court mixing mad footballer skills with capoeria moves. you really cant go wrong. and did i mention u can play it barefoot on the beach? oh and the ball is made of wicker.


bad monks



its taken me a while to get this up, but go here for a great read on rogue monks in BKK selling meth to teenagers and then getting busted by undercover thai police spy monks. woah. thats some drama in real life right there.

and on to thai politics, where the monks are again messing shit up. seems there is a full on “black magic war” being waged between pro- and anti- Thaksin supporters. in fact, Thaksin’s (who is the reincarnation of the vengeful King Taksin the Great ) personal fortune-teller has told him that 2009 will be the worst year in recent history. may we live in interesting times…


Tim Geithner and the Legacy Assets

Tim Geithner. I don’t know if that guy is doing his job or not, but he sure has a gift for language – “legacy assets.” That’s what we are supposed to call all the bad credit out there that he’s rallying investors to buy. It’s brilliant actually. Legacy Assets. It’s something you can leave your kids in a will, like the opposite of inheritance. “To Jimmy I leave the keys to the country and all my legacy assets.”


“Legacy assets” is the linguistic equivalent of “extraordinary rendition,” only for the post-financial meltdown era. In fact, some “extraordinary asset rendition” might not be a bad idea. Let’s put all those bad assets in orange jumper suits and blacked-out goggles and sell them to some oil-rich despot with no morals. Let them water-board the crap out of them, get them all cleaned-up, maybe even turn them into good assets. Reformed assets. Or even a born-again asset. I’d take a born-again asset over a legacy asset any day. Then maybe we can even borrow those reformed assets back and pay for all this shit. 


But then the guy is over worked. Let’s face it. At the end of the Bush term, the Treasury Department website had a staff listing of over 150 people, right now it lists only one – Tim Geithner. I think he probably needs a “stress test.”

nothing comes between me and my…

beer laomekong-flood-08358

the suk

between the che hats, fake deisel watches, and blind men with karoke machines strapped around their necks are the obama shirts. they have a distinct aesthetic. an airbrushed face and graffitied somewhere is the word “change.” alot of care seems to have gone into the creation of these shirts. the good bush / bad bush shirts by comparison are crude sketches. obama is crushed velvet. straight out of a headshop on granville.  i asked the vendor about ratio of sales. we spoke through a calculator. he was mute. no one buys the obama shirts he calculates, but sales at his booth overall are up since their arrival. there is an anology there.

and i wish now that someone had spent more time on those shirts. hired hammer & tongs or something. something more 21st century. 20 years on and kid A walks down the Suk perusing the che hats and crushed velvet obama shirts. that’s us. our time. our memory. our shirt. and the aesthetic is from the 70s. curses.