Friday, January 21, 2005
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Christmas in Laos
I've lost my sense of time in Laos, quite literally. A couple of mornings ago, I woke up in the dark. I couldn't tell if it was day or night because my guest room has no windows. I got up, showered and got ready to leave. I opened the door and it was still dark outside, and the monks were just making their morning alms.
I've done all the usual tourist things while in LP, from viewing the caves of Pak Ou with their Buddhist statues to climbing the beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls. But my best experiences so far have come from getting to know some local Laotians. I met a young man named Thueng while riding my rented bicycle around town. He works at one of the nicer guesthouses here and studies English at a nearby college. We chatted awhile so he could practice his English.
That night, we had dinner with some of his friends at a restaurant on the Mekong River that serves a kind of Laotian barbecue with vegetables cooked in broth -- sort of like Korean barbecue meets Japanese shabu shabu. Afterwards, I jumped on the back of their motorbike and we rode out to a discoteque. It was packed full of Laotian teenagers. So much fun watching these kids dance, drink and sing -- so different from their normally reserved way.
On Christmas Eve, I went on a tour of the Pak Ou caves with those British blokes I met on the way into town. Our guide -- a handsome guy named An Saigon -- agreed to take us on his day off. For a fee which turned out to be three times the going rate. We quickly realized that An was something of a Laotian cad. At every village we stopped into, he would tell us about a different ex-girlfriend he wanted to visit. In a village famous for its whisky making, we were met by the most beautiful Laotian woman -- another ex, of course.
An then took us to his home village where they were throwing a big party to celebrate the recent birth of a baby. Boy, can these Laotians party! Many bottles of Lao beer and shots of the local whisky later, we took off riding in the back of An's truck as he drove fast and not too steadily to our guesthouse.
Later that night, we ate the world's heaviest Christmas dinner of potatoes, ham, Swedish meatballs, turkey and roast beef, all of it smothered in gravy, at an establishment run by a Swedish expat. Afterwards, we were treated to -- what else? -- a drag show featuring gorgeous Laotian men in traditional dress.
p.s. Weird food I've eaten so far: Chicken feet on a stick (a bit chewy); whole roasted rat on a stick (the meat is sweet but there's very little of it on the bone); and grasshoppers fried with scallions (crunchy on the outside, tasty inside).
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
I made it into Laos. It is a chilly Wednesday morning here in Luang Prabang, a town situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers in the middle part of the country. You cannot imagine how enchanting this place is. It is worlds away from the smog-filled, urban chaos of Bangkok, where I spent my first night in Asia drinking with two Thai locals and a couple of travelers from Barcelona. You have not lived until last call is announced by a rooster at dawn.
From Bangkok, I flew here to Luang Prabang on a turbo prop. My seatmate was an older British gent who said he goes often to Southeast Asia to meet men. He belongs to some club called Oriental Discovery that organizes tours of gay bars around Asia. He wanted to know if I was "a member of the community." When we arrived at the Luang Prabang airport, I shared a ride into town with two guys from the UK who now live in Tokyo and teach English. Over lots of cheap Thai beer later that night, they told me about going to Patpong, Bangkok's infamous redlight district, where they visited a place called the Starlight Bar. I won't bore you with the juicy details, but they got everything they paid for. So, everyone has their vice in Asia. Mine is just being here.
But I digress. Luang Prabang sits in the middle of this impossibly lush river valley, with densely forested moutains rising above it. There are almost no cars here, just these taxis called tuk tuks. And lots of motorbikes. The houses are old and lovely; many of them still retain their French colonial architecture. And the people are amazing. They are so friendly and open and happy. They want to talk to you and are constantly introducing themselves, even though most of them speak hardly any English. The entire town seems over-run with children playing in the streets and teenagers scooting around in their motorbikes. The girls here are more beautiful than anyone you can find in a fashion mag. In the central market, you can buy all kinds of handmade silks, Buddha statues, wood carvings and paper artwork.
Of course, I am in love with the food. The first thing I ate was a fresh mangosteen. Like an exotic perfume exploding in your mouth. Everywhere you go there are these food stalls in the street. This morning, for breakfast, I sat down in front of two old women in an alley and they fixed me a bowl of noodles, with clear broth, pieces of boiled pork and liver, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Sort of like a Laotian version of pho. Spicy and delicious. And so damn cheap. I woke up before dawn today and went out to see the monks in their tangerine robes going around town collecting their alms. All along the street, the locals kneel in front of the monks and offer baskets of sticky rice, banana leaf-wrapped cakes, cookies, Top Ramen, whatever they can give. It's a morning ritual. You can even buy the rice and cakes from vendors and drop the food into the monks' copper cans as they pass by.
Because of a major snafu before I left for Laos, I couldn't bring along my digi-cam. Too bad. So I leave you with these shots of Luang Prabang.
Friday, December 10, 2004
Leaving for Laos and Vietnam
I am leaving for a whirlwind tour of Laos and Vietnam on Dec. 18 and returning Jan. 3. I will be returning to the country of my birth, for the first time since I left as a young child. The prospect is both exhilarating and terrifying. How will the Vietnamese view me, a native son who looks like them, but doesn't speak the language very well and is essentially American in almost every other respect? How will I react to them? I won't know until I get there.
Here is my rough itinerary:
Dec. 18 Leave LAX for Bangkok
Dec. 19 Arrive in BKK
Dec. 20 Arrive in Vientiane, Laos
Dec. 20-21 Spend a couple of days in the capital
Dec. 22 Leave for Luang Prabang
Dec. 22-24 Spend time in Luang Prabang, maybe go on a trekking trip
Dec. 25 Leave for Luang Namtha
Dec. 30 Leave for Hanoi, Vietnam
Dec. 30-Jan. 2 Spend the New Year in Hanoi
Jan. 2 Leave for Vientiane
Jan. 3 Depart Vientiane for BKK
Jan. 3 Depart BKK for Los Angeles
Hope to see you on the road!
Monday, November 01, 2004
Vote or Die
It's been way too long since I've posted. Sorry about that. I've been on the road since Oct. 22. I'll be sure to blog about my roadtripping very soon.
But I'd be remiss not to post something on Election Day and urge everyone to vote. You've probably heard that this is the most important election in a generation, in a lifetime, the most important ever. Well, it's true.
If you don't like what George Bush has done to our country in the last four years, imagine what the next four years will bring without fear of facing re-election. Only the American people can prevent the disaster of another Bush term. As Howard Dean might say, "You have the power."
Vote or die.
p.s. If you don't know where to vote, MyPollingPlace.com is a good place to start.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Writing for Flavorpill
I'm now an official contributor to Flavorpill. If you aren't getting their weekly e-mail blast, you're missing out big time. It's all about the coolest things to do in the city each week -- plus the chance to win free passes and free music. I told y'all about it a couple of weeks ago, remember?
On Tuesday, you'll see my first writeup in the Los Angles e-mail. I write about the Sofa Surfers, these four Austrian dudes who make dark but danceable trip-hop music. They're playing Transistor Lounge at the Little Temple, which, as I wrote earlier, is a gem of a bar in Silver Lake.
Send me your thoughts, props, darts, whatever.
Roadtripping: San Francisco
I've returned from my weekend jaunt to San Francisco, which in the city is simply known as "the city." Can you imagine if we Angelenos ever tried that? No one would ever know what the hell you're talking about -- what city? Culver City? Studio City? Sherman Oaks? But the city by the bay gets away with it because, well, it can. In San Francisco, like New York, it's all about attitude. The city's mantra: Please don't be boring.
But really, how could you be bored in SF? My trip by the numbers:
Miles driven: 867.5 miles roundtrip, including in-city driving
Gas bill: $65 and change (yikes!)
Parties: Three -- a cool house party in Potrero Hill where everyone wore wigs; the Burning Man Decompression Party (only a slight decompression from Burning Man itself); a housewarming/BMD-after party in the Panhandle.
"You can't just throw a party in this town -- you gotta throw on something wacky, too," said my friend Dave.
Date(s): One with a charming, quirky woman who took me to brunch in Albany and then a reptile store and then a junk warehouse to look through old photographs of other people's dead relatives.
Favorite places: Samovar Tea Lounge (for exotic teas and free WiFi); Union Square (for people watching and free WiFi); Baraka (Spanish-Moroccan tapas); and Saigon Sandwich Shop (French-Vietnamese banh mi); Farley's Coffeehouse (great espresso and grumpy baristas).
A shoutout to Mark for letting me have the run of his fabulous apartment.
Me at Samovar in June...the hair is a little longer now:
photo: Heather Rush
Saturday, October 09, 2004
I find it a bit astonishing that I'm writing this blog post from a park bench in the middle of Union Square in San Francisco. It's such a beautiful day to enjoy the outdoors -- and blog at the same time. And you can do that with WiFi, which lets you access Internet networks without having to plug in at all. I find it kinda magical, to be honest. I'm sure someone can give me a very tedious technical explanation of the technology here. But I'd rather like to think of it as something of a cool mystery, like using salt to make ice cream.
San Francisco being such a wired city, you can find WiFi here almost anywhere. Such geeks!
Got WiFi? Mickey D's does.
p.s. Is it a crime to be unattractive in this city? Because everyone here is freakin' gorgeous, except the tourists.