Large Flies in Taman Negara, MalaysiaApril 3, 2010
Laos and IApril 3, 2010
I flew from Siem Reap to Pakse, Laos on a Lao Airlines prop plane with neon seats and a terrifying reputation. I then took a tuk-tuk to the southern bus station (a dirt parking lot that resembles a fairground in the off-season). I negotiated a lift towards Si Phan Dom on a local bus, a pickup truck with seats in the back (and a basket of pigs). They stopped about half way and added a freezer our load, right next to the swine and just shy of my right foot.
I found people from NYC on my bus. They were a couple in their early twenties who had been teaching in China. We agreed to stick together and found accommodation on Don Det island, which involved hiring a motorboat after the bus dropped us in a another dirt field (bus station). Travel days are a pain in the ass.
Don Det is surrounded by an alleged 4000 Mekong islands and the river itself. It has about 30 guest houses (huts with hammocks) and generated electricity from 6pm until 10pm. There is a crazy rumour going around that there will be electricity here by 2010 and this means that it’s only a matter of years before float planes and a Sofitel appear. Until then, it’s a backpacking stop where days are spent hammocking (new verb) and riding around the island. The sunsets are shocking and I could easily have spent a week here doing nothing.
One hilarious thing is that the walls of most huts are paper thin and conversations easily floats from bungalow to bungalow. So does the noise of sex. Take a stroll around the island just after the generators kick and you’ll hear hut after hut of backpacking couples doing the nasty. The guy in the room next to me groaned out of nowhere last night, then his girlfriend opened their door and spit off the balcony. Total sorority girl move.
I blew the bank on a 15km kayaking trip, which was the highlight of my time on DD. We were dropped in just after the waterfall and had to traverse some nasty Class 5 rapids quickly. I flipped going into the biggest hole – anyone who has spent time in rapids will tell you that this the worst time to wreck. The realization that you have to go down the whole stretch this way is terrifying. I desperately clung to my kayak as I was thrown down the river, gulping for air and using ny knees as a shield oncoming rocks. The guide was shouting “STAY LIGHT” (right) but I was pulled by the much harsher current on the left. Scary, scary shit. I was pretty banged up by the time I was spat out. One puncture wound on my right shin is going to take months to heal and could probably have used some stitches (if there was a doctor within 200 miles).
Three nights passed quickly on Don Det. It’s got just enough tourist charm and just enough rural feel. With all of the construction going on, it’s obvious that won’t last for long.
I made a fast decision to head north for Champasak, which was a relatively quick bus+boat trip away. It’s a sleepy town with few tourists and I loved it immediately. I fell in with a couple from California, who were also staying at my guesthouse. Over the next two days we drove motorbikes up to the local temples (Wat Phu), ate a fuckload of delicious Lao food and drank cheap whiskey.
The whiskey here is $1 a bottle and is sweet, kind of like Soco. The brand is called Lion King. The best part about it is the typo on every bottle’s sticker, which purports the contents to taste “smooth and mellon”.
I have now landed on the island of Don Daet, which has increased the number of tourists here from zero to one (me). I am at the island’s community guesthouse, which has two mattresses on the floor and a balcony overlooking the river. Everyone is quite curious why a tourist would come here and dozens of kids have ridden by, smiled and shouted “Sabadii!!” (Hello). I rode a clunky bike around the island today and became a local attraction. Tomorrow morning I have to find a fisherman who will take me back to the mainland, were I can head up to Pakse.
After Pakse I meet up with a friend. She is with me for one week and I am sure that this will be a shock to the system. It’s been ten weeks since I’ve seen a single person that I know. I am not sure if I am nervous or excited. No wait. Nervous.
I’d suck off each of the Seven Dwarfs off for a slice of good pizza.
Singapore and The Gum ThingOctober 31, 2009
Anyone who knows me will tell you one thing about me: I hate when people chew gum. Specifically, I despise when mouths chaw, gnarl and mangle objects. A combination of this with bubblesnapping is enough to push me to the boundaries of sanity. It's a problem.
I decided to pitstop in Singapore because it is still the only place that gum is unlawful. This was my Holy Land. This was my Jesus Christ.
Gum 101: The horrors of gumchewing began with the Greeks and Aztecs, who chewed on tree resin as a way to pass the time between playing Stratego with civilization. But things really didn't get cooking until a formula was patented in 1869, finding its way into the first gumball machines two years later. William Wrigley souped up the recipe with mint extracts in 1914, if only to drive me insane ninety years later. Frank Fleer was the real gum guru, creating Blibber-Blabber in 1906 (the first bubble gum).
Fortunately for me, there is Singapore. Gum was banned in 1992, after vandals began sticking it on the sensors of the prized Mass Rapid Transit. Here's the best part: Nobody missed it. No black market ever developed, even though offenders were only "named and shamed" if caught – which is not even a slap on the wrist by Singapore standards. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yen commented at the time, "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana." Dude psyches me up when he talks all tough about gum law (but not much else).
The resurfacing of legal gum in Singapore is an excellent example of just how bizarre and corrupt America can be. In 1999, desperate to open bilateral trade with Bush's USA, the government agreed to two things. The first was public support for the war in Iraq. The second was repealing the gum ban. That's quite a dicksucking for trade negotiation.
How did they end up swallowing? Only Americans will fully understand, for we are a special people. The year before, Wrigley's had hired a lobbyist and leaned on an Illinois congressman to put gum on the Bush Agenda. Only the devil knows what was traded in making this a sticky issue for Singapore, who picked up a 150 million dollar tax break per year on their end of the deal.
The government in Singapore found a crafty way to save face. Some gum has medicinal purpose, even if is to help build enamel or fight cavities. Therefore, they made gum an item that must be handed out by pharmacists, only after taking down the names of customers for a national record. Any importing of gum is still illegal. There is something perversely exciting to me about this. I could buy a parrot at 4:30am in Manhattan but a person in Singapore must ask a pharmacist for a stick of Hubba Bubba.
For five days I have not seen a single person chew gum. No whorish women snapping their cud. No athletes mouthing the sticky substance like it was their junior prom date. I have had beautiful, thoughtful moments without the presence of my nemesis. And nobody – not even the spoiled tourists – seems to miss it.
I propose a gumfree world. If I had a billion dollars I would buy lobbyists and make it a priority. Until then, I will have Singapore.
Taken In Bangkok At A Hotel. For Those Looking For A New Life….October 30, 2009
Americans Overheard At Dinner (Ko Chang, Thailand)October 23, 2009
“I don’t know. The Bush thing gets so overplayed.”
“Makes me wish I learned a little Thai before I came. Now I’m here
and everyone speaks English so….” (laughs).
“You just need to chill and realize that they don’t have customer
satisfaction surveys here.”
To the owner: “Your people are like. So cool. I am in awe.”
“My signal keeps going out too. We’re roughing it!”
“I can’t even imagine what Cambodia is like.”
“So I know that we’re near where the Vietnam war was. But was it like,
“That’s hilarious.” (One girl says this 26 times instead of actually laughing).
“It is so, like, I don’t know. They’re actually chopping the
vegetables. How cool is that? It reminds me of Koreatown. Or
“I just want to take a year of my life and go to like, everywhere.”
“We really have to hit the 7-11 later. I need smokes and Oreos.”
“Like. I don’t know. Like. I just like. Like. I don’t know. Like. Just
like…” (She never gets the sentence off the ground).
“So do you guys have pop songs too?”
“I can totally see eating this for thirty dollars in LA.”
“I wonder how much condoms are here.”
“Isn’t it cute how they say ‘make a party’ instead of ‘have a party?’
“If I had a choice I would totally eat with chopsticks every night”.
“This is such, like, an authentic experience. Just look at these
“It’s not like I have a whole new perspective on life. It’s just like,
that I have some perspective.”
“That’s sooooo spicy. Can I have more water?” (I am convinced the
staff double-dosed the chilis and are snickering under their pleasant