Wednesday, March 30, 2005


From the frigid drizzle of Seattle, I traveled 20 hours by jet to a muggy Bangkok night. Everything suddenly seems much more alive, even on Sukhimvit at 1 a.m. Tomorrow I have to get my Lao visa at the Embassy then Vientiane the following day. Meanwhile, I'm bumping into walls as I endure jet lag for the second time in a month.

On the flight, I did feel organized and awake enough to work on my new WIP, added 5500 words, and it's starting to get good. Once I got to the hotel, I couldn't sleep and wouldn't let my characters sleep either so now over 11,000 words. Also got some time for editing "Time and Chance" but I failed at NaNoEdMo. Better luck next month, where my story lines will probably all meet and implode like matter/ anti-matter right at the time of Lao New Year!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Rainy day in Seattle

It's a very rainy day today, but I'm happy enough. The Seattle-ites have been craving rain; it's been a dry rainy season. I've been writing - the rain helps the flow of ideas. I guess they are water-soluable. When I've been editing my science fiction refugee saga, "Time and Chance," I've also been thinking about how things got the way they did. Now, I'm working on a new book which includes the events leading up to the war, the resistance movement, ending on an uneasy peace. That will be continued in the book I'm working on for 2YN which deals with economic development - how people look at quality of life vs. economic growth and how they achieve it. The trade in scrap metal and explosive remnants of war and its consquences will be a central issue in the book. The bottom line is that people, even when they move out into the universe, will likely remain the same - same noble traits and same tragic flaws.

I'm back in Seattle, came up here earlier in the week on the train. Moua's family had a party at the house - Mee made "Lao spaghetti", khao phung. The sauce is made up of coconut milk, chicken and spices (particularly Lao chiles) over fermented rice noodles. Olga, one of the medical assistants from the clinic, joined us as well as Neng, another Hmong medical assistant. I'm not sure what Olga thought about the noodles, but she enjoyed the Corona beer, so the dinner was cross-cultural. Moua sent me to the station, then a few minutes later, Yong Pao, his younger brother studying pharmacy at Fresno State, arrived with another crowd to say "good-bye". Yong Pao is in his third year of school and is the leader in the class. He wants to minor in community health and maybe get a MPH. That would be wonderful.

The train from Merced to Sacramento was very late, but that wasn't really a problem since the Sacramento - Seattle train was late by 6 hours. A freight train had hit a car on the track in Santa Barbara, killing the person in the car. The trains behind it were delayed. So I worked on "Time and Chance," and watched the other people. There were two homeless guys who came in on bicycles to warm up; it was cold and raining outside. Many people went to sleep; they came prepared with sleeping bags and pillows. One couple took pictures of some of the sleeping people; maybe that was one reason I couldn't sleep.

The train ride itself was beautiful, though I had kind of scratchy feeling you get, like there's sand under your skin from having been awake for two long. I shared lunch with four other people in the dining car. At first, we talked about general topics; I really didn't want to say anything about myself because that can get weird sometimes. But they asked... and after I explained what I had been doing in Lao, one of them did something I never would have expected. He said, "Thank you for doing this work." I was really touched.

In fact, on this trip, strangers that I talk to are much more knowledgeable about the world and supportive of overseas work. In the past, people voiced very negative reactions towards Asia - "Those people don't think like us; they don't value life..." etc, etc.

Monday, I'm back on the plane to Bangkok then Laos. Should be quite hot there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Shaman at work. Posted by Hello

Good wishes for the new baby. Posted by Hello
I arrived in Merced on Friday, after a tiring trip - three hours extended into six. Bad traffic getting out of San Francisco, then then train was late and slow, all irritations further compounded by the rain. At the end of it all, Moua and his family arrived and that made everything worthwhile.

Many friends have been stopping by, mostly Hmong and Lao to find out how things are in the homecountry. On Saturday, I went to the one-month ceremony for Doua's baby. This is a picture of the shaman, one of Moua's uncles doing the soul-calling portion of the ceremony. Afterwards, everyone ties strings on the baby's wrists, and the parents' wrists to help anchor the souls in the bodies and to attach wishes of good luck and prosperity.

I've been talking a lot with everyone; they all have interesting memories of their lives. The children are amazing - the last time I was in Merced was three years ago; since then, the kids have really grown. It's always amazing - adults really don't change that much but you can measure time by how much the children change. Pao Thao's (Moua's older brother) oldest daughter is going to graduate from high school this year; she wants to study anthropology. I talked to her a lot about this; I think I surprised her by taking her so seriously. I'm not sure she realizes how special her perspective is, to understand her own culture and what has changed, what has remained the same.

Friday, March 18, 2005

San Francisco, part II

I survived the recertification exam, but I was amazed. For a poor peasant coming from the upcountry, it was real science fiction. The exam room was down a white corridor, lit by flourescent lamps, no shadows. Everyone was tuned into these computer scenes. I think next time I have to do this - in six years - they'll probably have cables that you can link into your nervous system. That will be for better interface; maybe they'll have us doing virtual reality CPR drills.

By the time I finished the exam, it started to get cloudy. I decided to see a film (one of the advantages that the US has over Bangkok) so saw 'Bride and Prejudice.' It was wonderful - Bollywood films, at baseline, are over the top, but this film really set the parameters for topness. Indian life is so much like Jane Austen - idle women, a lot of conversation and domestic intrigue - so making 'Pride and Prejudice' an Indian film was just perfect. The snobbish Mr. Darcy becomes Will Darcy, the owner of an international hotel chain, who doesn't like India to begin with an makes snobbish remarks about its backwardness. Elizabeth is Lanita, the firey second daughter of the family. James Whitcomb becomes Jimmy Whitcomb, a skuezzy backpacker. The greatest dance number was in staged in the market in Amristsar, perfect.

Today, I walked up to Golden Gate Park and found that the De Young Museum is closed for rennovations. Grrr! Nice walk though, kinda running through my memories of past San Francisco visits. Went to the Asian Art Museum, which has an exhibit of art from Ayutthya. I've seen many of the pieces before, both in the museum in Ayutthya and in Bangkok, but they were radiant in this exhibition hall. Museums in SE Asia are more like someone's closets - the pieces are crowded together, the lighting is poor, and the exhibits tend to interact more with the elements. Meaning totally natural - in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, the hall used to reverberate with the squeaking of the bats, and the air was odoriferous due to the same. So maybe the Asian Art Museum surroundings are more sterile (literally and figuratively) but it's kind like seeing the neighborhood Buddhas dressed up for a special occassion.

To top off the day, I saw another film - the "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill." It is a quiet, understated documentary about parrots. That's all I can say about it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

San Francisco

Just when I thought I was getting over jet-lag, taking the train from Seattle to SF knocked me back into the old time zone again. It was a productive train ride though - studied a lot of medical stuff for my recertification exam which I take on Weds.

It was a beautiful day for a train ride, could see all the giants of the cascades, first Mt. Rainier peaking its head out over the foothills, factories, subdivisions and broad fields of daffodils and tulips. The south end of Puget Sound was clear, a little choppy, a good day for the sail boats out there.

I was joined by a young man who got on at Portland. I got a little bit of a weird vibe but when he introduced himself, I retreated into my book. He just got back from doing missionary work in SE Asia for a particular better-not-named group. Because of the length of the train ride, I didn't get into it with him - Buddhism and animism are the religions in the region. Hands off! I think converting the 'ignorant masses' to the better path would be much better put to use if it were Buddhist missionaries working in the US. Enough said. I read many chapters in my medical text while he read the Bible.

I did have a pleasant dinner with two women about my age. When you sit in the dining car, you sit at the next open spot in a table until it fills up. So by luck, the two women were very interested in the work I've been doing and knew a lot about Asia already. I tend to be very quiet about my work because people usually change the subject quickly; I imagine that they are uncomfortable that what I might say would be difficult to hear. Since I usually don't say much, I was surprised and pleased that my dinner companions were so interested. The dinner restored a little bit of my faith in Americans.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

jet lag report 2

I'm almost up to week 2 in the US, starting to sleep better, thought the whole readjustment schedule will likely be blown with the train ride down to San Francisco.

In front of a grim motel style apartment building on Rainier, I saw an old lady wearing torn beige coat over a shimmering Lao sinh! I greeted her in Lao and she almost fell over. She smiled so broadly, exposing her old, worn, betal-stained teeth. She kept asking me how I came to speak Lao language, hugging me every so often as if to convince herself I was real and not some genie trying to confuse her. In between she explained she had come to the US ten years ago. Her children had since married and she lived alone, which seemed strange for me, that Lao kids would not bring their mother with them. She wanted me to come inside and stay awhile, but unfortunately this is America, home of the clock. I'm not sure if it was a good thing that I talked with her, or whether she'll have strange memories later.

Later, at the bank. The manager is VN, we talked about her home province of Quang Tri, which was heavily bombed during the war. I have been there and visited many ofthe battle sites when I was consulting on a UXO curriculum. She had returned this past year and we talked about the damage of the war to the country. Next to us, I heard another bank mployee talking with a customer in VN.

Today, bus passed SCC. Old bizzarrely dressed man immediately picked up police on his internal fuzz-buster radar. "What they doing there?" A whole line of bike police. In front of SCC, there was a demonstration. "Bush, keep your laws off our bodies."

Later in the afternoon - walked around UW. The cherry trees are blooming and people were lying on the grass, taking pictures, hanging out. A lot of Japanese families were there, taking pictures to send back to relatives, making the connection between the US and Japan in the flowering of the trees.

Much later, saw "Hotel Rwanda" Great film, will review here later.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Jetlag report

The time at the bottom of the entry is the time in Vientiane - and the time my body is running on. So since it's about 5:30 in the afternoon there, I'm wide awake here in Seattle where it's 2 am.

The big event of the day was going to an Eritrean restaurant with some old friends. The restaurant was a shed but the food was wonderful, and the ambiance was appropriate with my state of jet lag.

I haven't been writing as much as I had hoped. Just experiencing, which is strange enough for now.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

In the US

I've been in the US for home leave for the past five days. It's very weird - first of all, jet lag. The usual - can't sleep and can't stay away. I've been trying to keep myself awake during the day by walking around downtown Seattle, but I feel like I'm dragging myself from one double latte to the next. Had three today.

There's no place stranger than the familiar place that we return to. I'm see old places but they look different, subtle changes. It hasn't rained very much in Seattle this year, and it's strange to see the Cascades covered in green instead of covered with snow. Friends have changed, aged and I've aged as well.

In the next few weeks, I'll go to California where I take the recertification exam for my PA license. I'm also going to Merced where I used to work with Hmong refugees and Mexican migrant farmworkers. Will be going back to Laos at the end of the month.

In the meantime, I'm working on editing my NaNo novel, Time and Chance and cooking up new stories and poems. If I were so tired, I'd be inspired by all this. I hope I'll be able to put a few words together by next week!