Monday, October 30, 2006

First World Culture Shock

Sydney Opera House

It's been awhile since I've written. Partly because I've been on a sort of vacation within a vacation, I've been going through writer's cramp bordering on an aneurysm, and with Australia being so similar to the U.S. (Bondi Beach where I'm staying might as well be in Southern California), I haven't been as inspired or seen any mind shattering things. I've been staying with friends as well, so it feels more like staying at a friend's place down the coast an hour away from home, vs. being on the other side of the world. It's been really nice to take a break from backpacking. This is also the first English speaking/first world country I've been to on this trip, which makes life so much easier.....And you know what, it's sunny here. There's beach and surf, so let me think....
computers or waves?
computers or waves?
internet or beach..........(perfect example of writer's aneurysm).

But nonetheless, there are some interesting cultural observations to be had here in Sydney and Melbourne --- I've only been in the cities on the east coast. Supposedly the west coast and Outback are incredible and a bit more diverse. These observations do not constitute or stereotype all of Australia, just things I've noticed which may or many not have a profound affect on your life.

Sydney is in a harbor and to the east and north are beautiful gold sand beaches only 15 minutes from the city center. This area feels like Huntington Beach or Long Beach, California...but cleaner.....and whiter. Sydney has the largest amount of caucasians per capita that I've ever seen in my life. But I guess that makes sense since China had the most concentrated amount of Chinese, and Lao had the largest percentage of Laotians that I've ever seen.

Melbourne reminded me of Denver because of the scale and size of it. It has a more artsy feel and more ethnic diversity than Sydney. The music scene there is Australia's answer to Austin Texas.

General Observations:
- cities and towns are generally cleaner than the ones in the states.
- more 7-eleven's here than in the U.S.
- this place is expensive to travel in. Lucky to be staying at friend's vs. paying for accomodations (Thanks Alicia, Mel and Kate!)
- the country is going through the worst drought of all time.
- American culture is big here. All the television programs are American shows out here. Music is American pop. Surfing is life out here.
- the U.S. annihilated the Native American population, Australia did the same to the Aborigines.
- we've got rednecks, they've got Bogans, their mullet-headed, wife-beater wearing equivalent.
- people here seem a lot more friendlier and less on edge than in the states.
- the music in the clubs here are, how do i say, more 'happier' than the beats in the U.S.
- and in general, the're more open to do anything and everything at anytime. And they truly make you feel at home.
- the personal hygiene level here is astronomically greater than any country I've been to so far on this trip.
- the travellers/backpackers that come here seem to be more of the partying crowd than in other countries that I've been to.

When I first arrived here, it was a big culture shock since everyone speaks English, everyone observes traffic laws, no farm animals roaming the streets, and public transportation actually makes sense. It really threw me for a loop in the beginning. It has been nice taking a break from backpacking. Coming onto month 12 of my travels, you hit a wall from time to time, and get tired of travelling. I hit a wall when I got here, and it's been nice to take a break from moving around. It's been nice to have everything so easy here (no language barrier, no looking for accomodations, no worrying about your stuff being stolen, no fear in crossing the streets, etc.). Anyway that's enough Vitamin I for one day. I leave you with this proverb,

A rolling stone gathers no moss. TenRen's are better than one, and Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Bolivia's a Blast

The complex dice games, with names like "Casa, cama y puta" or "House, bed and whore" - and all dice are thrown from awesomely intricate leather cups.

Koharsky, when he gets pissed (in either way), can find a mace just lying around handy when he needs it - where else do you get that?

The runways look like this.

photos of laos part ii

here's the second load of photos i took from laos.

if you'll notice, in some of the photos you might see dust spots. this is dust that gets into my camera from changing lenses, or going through the lens rings from zooming in and out.
the dust gets on the ccd sensor (whatever the hell that means) inside the camera. you can use a hurricane blower (an air blowing hand blowing device.....hmm, that sounds funny), but sometimes the dust sticks to the surface of the sensor (big pain in the arse), especially in hot, humid climates like southeast asia (where i was and where i will be in a couple weeks). anyway, the point is, today, i had my sensor cleaned here in melbourne. this is lucky for me and my camera, since the only other place i know where this can be done is in the u.s. of a. and i probably won't be there until late spring '07. so the point of the previous point hitherto henceforth is, i'm so damn happy to have a clean camera, that i'm going to get pissed tonite.

anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program:

me and a couple of english lads rode motorbikes through the lao hillside, and bought a couple of bottles of laobeer and drank by the river next to this hut. since the villagers don't have too many western visitors, we were the main show in town.

in nong khiaw, you can rent huts overlooking the nam (river) ou. these kind, novice buddhist monks were nice enough to look after them across the river while i was away. my hut is at about 9 o'clock.

sunset in nong khiaw. look at all those dust spots on the ccd sensor.

cockfighting in luang prabang


one of many wats (temples) in luang prabang

lanterns in the night market in luang prabang

village girl weaving

rice fields and bamboo huts. laos has plenty of those.

weirdest waterfall i've ever seen. it goes right through the jungle.

rice field and bamboo hut.

lao is communist (well, sort of), and this is a photo of their old, long departed, communist brethren to the west, the soviet union.

last photo, sunset over the mekong river in vientiane.

laos is wonderful. it's such a nice respite from other countries in asia with it's laid-back nature, ruralness, and slower pace of life. this is especially true after coming in from the massive population center that is china. laos capital vientiane, feels like a small village. small towns in china are larger than the entire laotian population...of course, a small town in china holds only 2 million people.
if in southeast asia, i highly recommend laos, especially if after you've down the usual tourist circuit through thailand, it's more decadent brother to the west.

life, love, and Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Monday, October 23, 2006

How the United States is Perceived Outside the USA

Just about every day there is a story in a South American newspaper on how the United States is trying to manipulate one of the countries in the region. Today I read about 100,000 acres of land that George Bush is supposedly trying to buy in Paraguay. Speculation is that he is trying to take control of the Guarani Aquifer, one of the largest underground water reservers.

Before I came to Bolivia I read many articles about the president of Bolivia accusing many Americans in his country of being undercover C.I.A. agents. Great! And with a rich history of backing bloody coups, many against democratically elected governments, if not outright invading, I don't think Evo Morales is too far off base.

It's sad so many in the world see Americans in this way. I have visited over twenty countries since 9/11 and it is the same from Europe to Asia to Africa to South America. People around the world believe the U.S. will take what it wants, when it wants, by force without any concern for local citizens. I am constantly asked why our country is doing what it is doing and constantly asked how my fellow citizens elected George Bush for a second term.

It's sad.

This is not a reference to a baseball team

"Someone is using you Bolivia U.S.A."

A local told me that this is where C.I.A. agents hang out. Then he called them 'rednecks.'

And here is a photo of an obvious C.I.A. agent sketching Santa Cruz's main plaza

photos from laos part I

well, i'm in my first english speaking country on this trip, the land down under, australia. i'm in sydney right now, which reminds me a lot of places in the usa. bondi beach, with it's surf and skate culture is a lot like southern california. the crisp clear air and temperate climate is a bit like san francisco. and british colonial brick architecture and proper english sounding street names remind me of boston.
so it's a lot like the states, you could almost say it's a mirror image. in fact, if you placed a mirror on the equator, and flipped it over, you'd get a reflection of the u.s.
for example, they drive on the left hand side of the road (almost runover only twice),
the toilets swish clockwise on the southern hemisphere (either way, it's a nice respite from southeast asia squatters),
they walk on the left hand side of the sidewalk (have gotten into two accidents).
it's a lot cleaner though than cities in the states. no grafitti, or street grime. interesting. people seem less stressed too, and everyone seems to like to party. since i want to be engrossed in the culture of the places that i visit, i've been more than happy to oblige.
anyway, i'm lucky since new friends of mine (courtesy of my pal alicia who had a hand in coming up with the 'global transmission' moniker) mellani and katrina, are letting me crash in their place. it's nice since it's a bit more expensive here than i'm used to, and it's nice to have a home to come to instead of a hostel or guesthouse. mel took me out with her friends on my birthday, and i had a great time.

yes i did.

anyway, here's the first photos from laos. will post a few more later, since blogger isn't playing nice with the rest of the photos.



run monk, run

giving alms at sunrise

a not so young novice monk

gifts to buddha

sunset on the mekong, looking at the thai border crossing

hut living

he's not here. where he at? Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Crossing The Boarder By Foot

In the thirty-three countries I have visited, I don't think I have ever driven to the border and walked over into the neighboring country; until now. Alex, Andrew and I took a bus to the northern border of Argentina which it shares with Bolivia. We then hired three women with a push cart to help us with the process. The three women took us off the paved road into a lightly wooded area and across some train tracks. It seemed very dodgy.

At the border, two guards looked at our passports, laughing the whole time they flipped through the documents. They asked what my Egypt stamp was in my passport and Alex, who speaks the best Spanish between us, searched his brain for an explanation. Finally he said "pyramido" and made a triangle with his fingers and they understood.

At this point, the three woman helping us had to leave their hand cart behind. They took almost all of our luggage, and it is extremely heavy (Andrew would not give up the camera or the hard drives). They wouldn't let us help. These were strong women. It was strange that they didn't need to show I.D. as we crossed over into Bolivia.

The women helped us with the boarder patrol in Bolivia and then got us a cab. We paid them the agreed on 5 pesos each, less than US$2. It was all very easy and a bit exciting.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

from the land of strange

i've seen many amazing things on my trip.
i've seen many strange things as well.
i've been surprised as as well.
but it's when you're not expecting to see something fascinating,
that is when it sticks out the most
and also surprises you the greatest.

for me,
it had to be my second stop on my way down from bangkok to sydney the other day.
had a layover in singapore and then in bali, indonesia (of course garuda airlines lost my baggage).
in bali's airport,

an aquarium with fish. totally caught me by surprise.
fascinating. just fascinating.

and thanks for all the great birthday wishes. just to think, it was 24 years and 1 day since i've been born. where have all the years gone?? speaking of "where's", Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Happy Birthday Ren

If my Friendster alert is correct, Ren, you are another year older today. Your age has always been a mystery, but the majority of people who know you put it somewhere between 18 - 26. Either way, the remainder of us at Global Transmission Media wish we could be there with you to celebrate. In our absence, have some extra Happy Pizza and just imagine we are sitting around you drinking Beer Lao and celebrating your ??? birthday.

A small photo tribute to Renato Jose, a.k.a. Maxi Rodriguez:

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

happiness continued

in addition to 'happy pizza', you can get "doctor 'o' tea" ('o' stands for opium) or 'happy mushroom shakes' (no need for explanation). vang vieng is a weird place. it's the khao san road (bangkok) of lao. on the main strip, there are all these guesthouses with restaurants in the front with big lounge mats and tables facing loud television sets. lots of backpackers laying back watching movies and feeling the effects of 'happiness'. on one half-block section, i saw 3 different jennifer aniston flicks or shows being shown. just like raoul duke knew when to leave vegas in 'fear and loathing', that was my cue to leave this town.
everybody knows that a town that features jennifer aniston and hallucinogens, is not a good combination. that's a sure fire signal to vacate.

good with any combination, try Dónde está Ché Pelotas?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Video Shoot Helps Filmmaker Find Love

As many of our regular readers know, Alex, Andrew and I were asked by a producer at, to head back down to Buenos Aires to shoot more short documentaries. We were on our way north to Bolivia but did a 180 degree turn and returned to the city of 14 million for one more week of shooting. One of the three films we shot was on Buenos Aires fashion, a piece Andrew Burke not only produced but also acted as the on air personality, along with our new friend from England, Sarah Holmes, and our BA friend Nico "The Don" Gagliardi.

Here was the premise: Andrew had been in Buenos Aires for one month (okay, it was really two but TV is never about reality, even documentaries) and was not having any luck with the local ladies. His new Spanish speaking friend from England, Sarah, and his local friend "Don" Nico came to the rescue. Don Nico brought him to get a Porteño (people from the port city, or Buenos Aires) haircut while Sarah was lending female sensibility and style. The three then went to the fashion district of Palermo to buy some clothes. Along the way, they asked local Portaños what they thought about Andrew's fashion. At first he was scoring a 5 out of 10 with his shaggy hair, stretched out white t-shirt, dirty jeans and hiking boots. With each improvement - a haircut, a new shirt, a new necklace, etc. - his rating went up; and so did the chance of the women we asked of going on a date with him. Finally, the manager of a clothing store (pictured below), gave Andrew a 9 out of 10 and accepted a date - that very night!

This all really happened. None of it was staged. His rating really went up and this attractive designer and store manager really accepted to go out to dinner with Andrew that night (we all went with them though).

Actually, Augustina got us all gifts (but Andrew got two).

happy pizza

every country has it's backpacker hangout. it's the place that budget travellers go and end up staying there too long. it's where backpackers inevitably go for beautiful scenery, laid back lifestyle, cheap beer and eats, and activities aimed towards young travellers avoiding reality. it's the place where westerners outnumber locals, and there are more street signs in english than in the native tongue.
in laos, that place is vang vieng. it is strategically situated halfway between vientiane and luang prabang, the two main tourist stops for jaunts through laos.
here the main street is filled with cheap guest houses, restaurants aimed towards westerners, high speed internet/international phone cafes, and generic t-shirt souvenir shops. the lazy do nothing activities of choice are tubing down the river (where you pass a bunch riverside bars and get pulled in by a little laotian dude. then you drink and get back on your tube. sensible mix.) and renting motorbikes (drinking optional).
most backpacker ghettos also have a gimmick. here in vang vieng, it's 'happy pizza'. this a special pizza you can order that is laced with cannibis. they're everywhere here, more pizza places than noodle or rice shops.

oh, the sweet allure of youth.
what will they think of next to entice our future leaders of tomorrow.

for a happy time without the use of mind enhancing substances, go see Dónde está Ché Pelotas?'

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Battlestar Galactica

Back in Córdoba, Argentina at the Peperina Hostel. Alex and I are in a mad dash to download episodes of Battlestar Galactica from iTunes. I somehow missed half of season two in the mad rush to leave the states and Alex is downloading the first two episodes of season three. We have about 24 hours of bus ride to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and what better way to spend the time than with Baltar, Commander Adama, Starbuck, Boomer, President Laura Roslin and the crew. The new Battlestar Galactica is easily the best drama ever to air on television but you must watch it from the four part mini series that started it all. Find it on iTunes, Netflix and probably at your local video store (do they still exist?).

Friday, October 13, 2006

2 haikus from laos

The deathride I took last Sunday ((The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)), the beautiful emerald green ricefields, the laid-back people, and the fact that it's rained everyday this past week has put me in a reflective mood here in the wonderful country of Laos. Here are two haikus for a rainy day in the Laotian countryside.

An Ode to My Once Caked-on Muddy Shoes
washed you four days past
and still you are soaking wet
will you ever dry?

An Open Heart Letter to the Sun
will you please come out?
i need you to dry my shoes
stubbed my toe twice - ouch!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fue barbaro, Argentina, gracias, boludo

I arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia at 5 AM this morn. Salta offered me a good two days of reflection on two months in Argentina, and then I decided to high-tail it straight to the steamy Bolivian tropics instead of going little by little as I’d planned… impatient to return to Bolivia, tired of Argentine food, prices, tourism. To tell the truth, I’m not really sure what lit a fire under me, but I had to hot-foot it out of there. Before I get too far from South of the border, though, I’d like to ruminate on Argentina with that outsider’s perspective 2 months deep, for whatever it’s worth, and with the aid of some overdrawn visual metaphors.

Argentines seem to be always on the move – though I think that holds most true to Buenos Aires, and let us not generalize too much from there, despite this city making up 13 of the 40 million people in the country. Argentines are very patriotic. Their lines are well-drawn and clear-cut, and their fences well-built. Their gardens and mountains are beautiful and well-maintained. They are building and re-building, still reeling from the crash and still stinging from the dictatorships, yet still determined and resourceful, as resolute in reconstruction as they were in deconstruction a few years back.

Argentina is a beautiful country, and Argentines are a beautiful and proud people… the pride is well-earned (see History book on “Cacerolazo” or see Soccer’s Greatest Moments DVD Box Set), but many off-tune notes from the past still echo and at times even ring loudly – and because of pride, I believe many Argentines refuse to listen. Thus, the graffiti and signs decrying impunity and demanding “Juicio y Castigo,” “Judgment and Punishment,” demanding that people confront the ghosts of the dictatorial past. But who wants to unearth the semi-decomposed cadavers of the dirty wars, bodies left to decay on the outskirts of the imagination?

Once, in downtown Buenos Aires, a fistfight almost occurred in a parrilla-bar where Andrew and I were eating. Both men were declaring how Argentine they were, but one had stated that three blocks away under an overpass hundreds of unmarked bodies were buried.

I was rent-a-biking around Salta
when I came across this plaque.

History gets written, rewritten, then written over, at times for good and at others for bad.

The names of the politicians that had first wrote it are chiseled out, and those neighborhood folks are superimposed. The park that was commemorated by this plaque had been razed.

Only dirt remains.

Three months ago, in a moment of not totally unfounded paranoia as I walked down the street in La Paz, I was struck by the fear that Evo Morales may become a dictator, considering his unprecedented popularity and his irrational political and social moves… then, I came across a graffiti of his name written, crossed out, rewritten, and re-crossed out, each successive edit done in different handwriting… and I breathed anew, knowing how swiftly critical Bolivians are, and how eventually unsustainable all dictatorships are.

I knew that I was back in the Andes not so much by the mountains, which could be most any mountains at the Salta end, but by the spirit houses lining the roads.

The plaque on this grave, also by the road, reads:

Luis Angel Pablo


Murió asesinado alevamente por quienes creyó eran sus amigos

Descansa en paz y perdona a los que te quitaron la vida

Tus familiares.*

[Died killed (alevamente – ?) by those whom he thought were his friends

Rest in peace and pardon those that took your life

Your family.]


Although I end this trip with an entry of sunsets and graves, it's only because I'm as sad and nostalgic as a tango song... and also because I believe in sunrises and rebirth... and because I know I'll be back.

Che, que barbaro este viaje. Hasta pronto, boludo.

On crossing into Bolivia in a day or two…