Tuesday, March 30, 2004
30 March 2004 Melbourne

Arrived home safely, though am suffering a severe headflu. Possible reasons either three months of unremitted body abuse, or birdflu contracted during an 8 hour stopover in Ho Chi Minh airport.

At this airport soon discovered the only way to pass the time was to play "spot the preserved animal" at numerous duty free stores and under the bain marie at Skynet cafe, or buy dollar-cans of tiger beer and use them to fuel endless mimics of people at the airport.

One Australian was just starting his trip overseas. Was confused why his flight that left at 10:00 and arrived at 1:00 had taken more than three hours.

Check in time: am forced to step over large pile of empty tin cans. Try not to draw parallel with Vietnam Airlines construction material.

Finally land at Melbourne airport after surviving VN airways and a Catherine Zeta-Jones film. Intolerable cruelty indeed.

Upon landing, my bag failed to appear on the conveyor belt. As usual, it had been quarantined. This time, ants were found crawling over it in the plane luggage hold. Tell me just who is so attached to their high school antfarm they have to bring it overseas with them? The customs officer made me empty my entire bag. Forced to admit to smuggling three months of dirty underwear.

Love to you all,


*Anyone with comments or ideas for a new email address for me can email to jeanclaudevansam@hotmail.com
Friday, March 26, 2004
26 March 2004 Luang Prabang

Am on way back to VT after traveling right up to the Chinese border. In Muang Sing we did a mountain trek to a "remote hilltribe village", usually the type that hasn't seen white people before (excludes between 10:00-2:00 monday, wednesday and every second sunday).

We opted for the unofficial guide...10 bucks cheaper or so. Well, what can i say but the scenery wasn't great. Despite climbing at 2000 metres (dubious), such was the extent of slash and burn activity it was nearly impossible to see the next mountain ranges.

We arrived at the village and set about relaxing. I tried to sleep of a nasty hangover.The others went for a wander a smoked a 'tartugan' -a new Canadian word, you can work it out.

When they returned there was a perplexing change in the atmosphere. Where but an hour earlier kids had swarmed around them, now their mothers gathered them fearfully out of the way...

It just so happens, during the time we arrived, the second chief of the village had been burnt to death in a slash and burn. The whoile village began wailing and moaning in a most harrowing fashion, and it made us feel quite uncomfortable...especially when it was suggested we might be bad spirits...

Then there was the village mourning ritual where no one can leave for three days following a death...as we were guests we were granted an exemption. Otherwise we planned to stow away at first light ---anyone familiar with Laos village life would know that the village is already buzzing by daybreak, so our chances of this would have been slim!

Throughout the 'ordeal', our guide proved utterly useless, deciding to sit and giggle in the corner rather than offer us any explanations of what was going on....

so ALWAYS use the proper guides!
Monday, March 22, 2004
23 March 2004 Luang NamTha

Wokeup this morning with eyes watering from pollution and eyes bleeding from communist radio blaring outside my window. My room smelt like farts that weren't my own.

After Vangvien, i went to Luang Prabang. Beautiful three tiered waterfall there. Many temples too, but frankly, i'm over them (perhaps i am no culture vulture after all!). On the way to the waterfall we met this German guy riding around SE Asia. Pretty good way to see remote areas. He said sometimes he meets villagers who have never seen westerners before (Let alone Germans). He said sometimes they are so terrified they drop everything and run. I suggested it was the bike shorts. That night I had a few drinks, and met an Australian roof tiler who had fashioned an opium pipe out of a bamboo flute. The night ended with a swim through the Mekong river.

After LP, spent three days up river in a boat only accesible area called Muang Ngoi. Here i went walking with some other backpackers out to a village. En route, i found a sign that had fallen over. Wishing to help fellow travellers, i propped the sign on top of another sign. Then we went for lunch and a casual wander throught he town. An hour later on our walk back, we met some Israelis just entering the village. They had been looking for it for an hour, despite following all the signs...

Not sure where i will go to next. The golden triangle, third largest opium poppy plantations are only 60 km away which might be good to check out. There is also an extensive national park here, but then again, don't want to overdo all that culture nature stuff!

Monday, March 15, 2004
15 March 2004 Vangvien, Laos.

Blah blah am now in Vangvien which is a very cool backpacker adventure town. Met an English lady who works with rhinoceroses. Together we went out drank opium tea, smoked a hideous amount of reefers and ate hamburgers.

Hard to say whether the opium had any effect. It’s supposed to be mild and clouding. To me it just tasted like dirt tea. Later a I lay in bed I had some strange visions when I closed my eyes.

I saw Braveheart at a guesthouse last night and met some poms there. They had seen Braveheart many times before. I guess it’s refreshing watching England win something for a change. After the film, went out for some drinks at a local bar. Here we swapped b-grade celebrity stories. They were most interested that I had met “Blair from Neighbours”, however, one guy Adam had a story better.

“My ex-girlfriend’s mum, was not only one of the angels in the turret in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, she also crashed Michael Palin’s mini.” I have his autograph.

After the bar we went looking for a nightclub one guy had the address to. Suddenly there was eleven of us piled into one Tuk Tuk. Lo and behold, the “nightclub” turned out to be a house warming party a little out of town. It was a bit like that ad where there is a real boring tea-party and all the sudden this Bundaberg truck pulls up and this polar bear gives everyone heaps of rum. Don’t know what the hosts thought when eleven us and one polar bear rocked up and tried to mingle surreptitiously.

Me and Freddie kicked things off by going up to a brick wall and spelling our names in pee. Apparently that caused a little commotion, as the wall wasn’t as dark and hidden as we thought. Later we went and introduced ourselves. “Who were those heathens peeing on the wall?” I asked.

I’m not sure much after that, but awoke up standing in the kitchen of the house, still horribly drunk. The English guys had left at about 3:30, but not before some official had come to the party with a Kalashnikov rifle for some reason. Not too clear on that, but hope I wasn’t involved.

Anyway, the important thing was I made it back to my guesthouse by ten in the morning to catch the bus. The guesthouse owner looked me up and down and said “Too many beer Lao?” As luck tends to have it, the bus driver couldn’t find my guesthouse, and so left with out me. I caught the two o’clock but instead.

My guesthouse now is really sweet, all these little cottages right on the river bank, and these amazing hills that rise steeply out of nowhere as a backdrop. The only problem is my toilet is one of those Asian ones that you have to flush by pouring buckets of water into the bowl. What’s more, they hadn’t given me toilet paper. Always prepared, I had not one, but two rolls with me. I got undressed as I was to have a shower, but first decided to sit on the throne. I sat down and contemplated how you would use a toilet without toilet paper.

With a hint of irony, I then discovered I had put my own toilet paper on a wet shelf, and it was now soaked through and useless. Likewise, the shelf was now bone dry. Wish I’d had more time for contemplation! Luckily, there was an extra roll in my bag. The thing was, I had turned the ceiling fan on to cool down the room. This had the side effect of blowing the curtain up so the window was clearly exposed ensuring everyone had a clear view into my cute little cottage. So the choice was this: drop my preciousness and learn to do with toilet paper, or stand naked and rummage for toilet paper for all to see?

I am also compiling a list of actors who if they appear in a film, you know the film is bound to be shit. Currently the list stands at Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Rick Moranis and all the Culkins. Email me suggestions.

Friday, March 12, 2004
12 March 2004

Too dumbfounded to write anything after finding out my brother is suddenly going to London for three months.
Thursday, March 11, 2004
11 March 2004 Phnom Penh

Awoke this morning startled to find someone in my room watching me sleep. He was even wearing my clothes. Closer inspection revealed him to be the coat-rack.

This is my last full day in Phnom Penh and at the Post. Am celebrating it by feeling very sleepy. An espresso this morning was enough to knock away the illusions of men watching me sleep, but not the illusion I would be very productive.

Last night I invited myself to join a group of backpackers I saw having fun at the table next to me while I was eating a lonely dinner. I cast just enough cow-eyed glances at them for them to ask me to join them. Ended up having lots of fun, but only because it didn’t come with a hidden 10 percent VAT.

I have just picked up some trousers I had tailor-made. Long thin legged with a high waist, these Khmer tailors know fashion when they hear about it! But you can’t complain for $12, at least until I wear them in public.

Recently I have been voraciously devouring books leading to a substantial improvement in my vocabulary in this sentence. Am currently reading Jack Kerouac ‘On the Road’ and Yesterday I picked up Lord of the Rings in Swedish. As I am currently working very slowly through the Swedish language New Weekly, prospects of finishing The Rings are grim. Tolkiens big mistake was to omit the phrase “He called me his rub rub friend” – that was a quote in the Swedish magazine from that other lord of the rings Michael Jackson.

Tonight is my last chance to go to the Heart of Darkness nightclub –legendary among people who write about Phnom Penh, though of limited appeal to anyone else. Chances are slim.

Speaking of people writing about Phnom Penh, I started reading a book by a journalist about South East Asia called “year of living stupidly” by James Eckhardt. Read two chapters, by which stage I decided it was very similar to “Gecko Tales” (see earlier blog), which was an all too ominous sign. Three people I’ve spoken to since have written it off as crap. These journalists seem to write books because they cannot get work with any other newspaper. When you read the books, you are not surprised.

Now I may go and eat my words. Hopefully I can keep them down.

Monday, March 08, 2004
9 March 2004 Phnom Penh

My last week in Cambodia and at the Post. This edition am working on reaction to the US new policy on landmines. Rather, the lack of reaction. One ex-pat from a de-mining organisation virtually accused me of "throwing rocks at the Americans"over their policy...I haven't even written the story yet! I figured i would ask him a few leading questions, but he didn't seem to eager to take any bait.

Have also been working this week and last on my radio stories which seem only to get bigger and bigger...at least I have less and less MDs left each week, so i assume they are getting bigger...maybe just boring-er too? Am starting to mess around with Cool Edit Pro which I bought for a whole 2 dollars from the Russian market.

This market is the best place to go to get rip-off anythings -CDs, birkenstocks, gucci handbags (have restrained myself). I don't know what this has to do with being Russian...maybe cause tourists are russian to get there to buy heaps of cheap stuff to fool their friends! I bought a black lacoste t-shirt at another market and wore it today. When I took my t-shirt off, the black remained. It was black on back.

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