Friday, September 15, 2006

A walk around town

Salavan is small - even smaller than Phonsavanh. And it feels small - like today, I went for a run in the late afternoon. In some places, it's very ugly - everything is new because the entire city had been destroyed, totally leveled during the war. Other places, the central part of the city and the areas by the Xedone River are nicer. Teak houses and meeting halls that were built right after the war.

I started off from behind our staff house/ office, off the road into the bushes. A few moments later, I was on the strip of the old airport - small planes used to land here until Lao Aviation cut off the road. Now, it's a place to fly kites and to play badminton.

I ran to the end and past the house that I plan to rent. A few steps later, I ran into (almost literally) into Dr. K, who owns the house. We talked for a few moments about when they'll have the house fixed up and I can move in. I'm very happy about that, because the nightclub next to the office is not endearing itself to me.

A few more steps and my cell phone rang, so I talked, in Lao, with my friend while all the neighborhood kids gathered around to look at a foreigner talking on a cell phone.

I continued onward, deciding to stop in the market to get a phone card. While there, I meet one of the people from the Dept of Education - haven't seen him for a year at least, but he said that he's seen me running. He told me that our education staff were in town, which I hadn't known.

I left the market before someone else recognized me and stopped at a pharmacy to get some aspirin. The woman at the pharmacy asked me if I lived in Salavan and I started talking about our project; turned out she was Dr. K's wife.

Onward - I passed a house which turned out being R's new house. He's one of education staff and he and the drivers were sitting outside so I had to sit with them for a moment. By now, it was starting to get dark so I left. The last mile of my run was in the dark, which is a little scarey because there are no street lamps and I wasn't sure if someone would run me over or whether I'd end up in a ditch.

The folks who went into Pakxe today returned with Indian food. Yummy - better than frogs or deep fried crickets any day!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nightclubs in the Wilderness

Until I rent my own house here in Salavan, I'm staying with my staff in the combination staff house/ office. So I'm living in the same play where I work, with the people I work with. Don't have to commute far - it's kinda like telecommuting without the tele. Except for television - the guys love to watch the Thai soap operas at night, which give me a headache. But after a hard day at work which involves organizing training, editing training handbooks, and cutting through red tape, they're entitled to watching stories about the fast life in Bangkok.

Our house is just a little out of town - right in a short strip of nightclubs. The one next door is a shack with woven bamboo walls - which do nothing to cut down the constant pop music, mostly Thai. While they do play some songs that I like, from Carabao and Caravan (Thai alternative rock groups), I do prefer to hear the songs only once or twice... and my real preference is to be able to chose my own music.

Fortunately, they stop around 10 pm by which time I'm usually asleep with ear plugs in place. A few weekends ago, they started up the music and really cranked it up at 6 am. The only music that starts that early and plays that loud is for funerals; my staff though that was pretty funny and told the owner of the nightclub. Since then, they decided they would not start up so loud so early.

When I mention the music, my staff go "What music?" Since they all come from large families, I guess that noise is reassuring rather than a problem.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Dark Night, Stormadly

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

A Dark Night, Stormadly

It was a dark and stormy night, filling the zombie's heart with glee, which even though, as everyone knows, zombies don't have hearts, or at least hearts which don't work in their assigned function of enriching the cells of our bodies, the space in the zombie's chest which once had housed a heart, had been an open pit of hunger and despair. Zombies are night owls and they don't beat around the bush when the sun does down.

The endless rain continued. And continued. As the moon rose, but the endless rain held back the romantic rays of the moonlight. The zombie continued with its mission, filled with glee but also thankful for the freezing temperature, the bite of the cold as sharp as a knife. It did not wish to putrefy any further until its mission was complete.

"Who's there?" Another dark form stood awkwardly by a sodden wall, The zombie floated by. In another life, it would have pounced on the human and would have done what zombies do to humans.

The zombie merged with the shadows. "If you don't come out, I'll shoot."

The zombie laughed and all the dogs in the neighborhood howled in response. "There's nothing you can do to me."

"That's good," the voice said. "I only have a banana for a gun."

Now the zombie shivered with fear, but laughed again to hide its despair. Bananas were good for humans, but were poisonous to zombies. He could just make out the form of the holder of the banana – smallish for a human, and bent-over in an odd posture.

The zombie said, "Just watch out. I'm a zombie, and you know what zombies do to humans."

"Oh, yeah," said the form. "Well, have I got news for you. I'm an aardvark, so how do you like those pickles." The aardvark threw the banana at the zombie, who fled, screamingly away but was not nimble enough on its feet. The banana hit the zombie's back, the potassium reacting with its flesh. For a moment, the dark of the underworld was lit with a flare that make all the shadow creatures run for cover.

The aardvark walked over to the smear decorating the sidewalk. "There goes a good banana," it mused. "I hope this zombie is really dead this time." He pulled out a cell phone, disguised as an apple and pressed a few wormholes. "I suppose we'll have to get an electroencephalogram just to be sure."

Another form trotted up to the aardvark. "Hey, Boss, waddhaya think the zombie was after?"

Fluffy the cat could be so dense, thought the aardvark. "I suspect the jewelry in the castle. That's what they're always after. Not very imaginative."

"You don't think this one's a decoy." The aardvark had not idea what Fluffy was getting at and wished that he would just go back to sleep.

"Decoy." The aardvark said slowly.

"Meow. You know, maybe the real thief is at the castle right now."

"That's why we should be going there right now, you idiot. What are you waiting for?"

Fluffy sighed and lay down so the aardvark could climb on his back. Fluffy ran like lightening.

They did not glance back at the zombie. Once the dark had descended again and the sounds of silence echoed loudly in the alley, the zombies fingers started to move. They dragged themselves away from the rotting arms, looked at each other, reached out with the pinky fingers to give a hi-five then scurried off after the aardvark and Fluffy.

It would be a long and rainy night, but at the end the forces of good would prevail. And the aardvark would find a name.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Flash Fiction Contest #2


They floated above her, translucent white shapes which undulated at the edges; they floated and they moved closer to her. Seos felt that the orange spot at the bottom of their forms could sense her; they seemed curious. For a long moment, she and the creatures who inhabited this planet, regarded each other.

"I come in peace," Seos whispered, trying to fill her mind with love. She could sense that they understood her, and the colors on their surface changed. She wanted to go with them.

"Go away!" Jasot yelled, running towards her. The shapes rose, like balloons and a moment later, they had disappeared beyond the forest of purple trees.

Jasot panted as he grabbed Seos's hand. "Are you all right?" She nodded, still staring in the direction the creatures had gone. Not creatures; they seemed very spiritual. They were Priests, she decided.

Jasot swore. "I bet they're sentient. There goes our commission." He shook her arm. "Did you hear me?"

She turned to face him. "Yes. They were beautiful." She felt embarrassed that the Priests had seen Jasot. They must think that she lied to them.

He turned and kicked out at a piece of metal scrap. Seos left him alone. They had been exploring this planet for six months and it was obviously too long for their relationship.

They avoided each other for the next few weeks. Jasot only informed her of power and food usage; they had only a limited time to make their fortune. And that did not look like it was going to happen. Benda was a beautiful world, a near Earth environment which could only be exploited if it were proved that no intelligent life lived on it.

The Priests had made their lives more complicated; she wanted to find them so she could explain.


When Seos returned from her latest exploration trip, Jasot was in a good mood. That immediately made her suspicious.

"Let me show you something." He reached for her hand but she moved away. "It's OK. We'll make our money back."

"What?" She gasped, feeling afraid. She could imagine that he had trapped one of the Priests and there would be no way she could apologize to them. Jasot led her into the cargo hold of the ship. A few weeks ago, it had been nearly empty and held only a few last cases of nutrient powder.

Now, a shape filled it. It looked organic, as if it had grown into this twisted shape on its own, but as Seos looked at it longer, she realized that three terrifying forms had been carved into the surface. Though they seemed to have wings, hands and faces, the combination was made by an alien mind.

"What have you done?" She turned on Jasot, raising her hands to strike his face but he pushed her away. She fell against the shape; the surface felt smooth and warm, like skin. She got to her feet slowly, staring at Jasot.

"What's wrong now? It's only a statue." He smiled; she imagined that he was calculating his profit.

"I think it was… is an icon, of religious significance to the natives on this world."

He laughed. "I've been thinking of those creatures we saw. How could they build anything like this? They haven't tried to communicate with us; I don't think they can be that smart."

"A court will have to determine that."

"That would take up precious time, and in the meantime, we could sell this, keep us going until we have our claim here." He wrapped his arms around her. "It will be all right. I know what I'm doing."

She couldn't find the words to express herself, so she stayed silent. Maybe once they returned to their world, she would be able to speak up against him, but now. They had only each other.


The time to leave crept up on her slowly and on the final day, everything went too fast. They were sitting in their couches going through the systems check when Jasot started flipping switches.

"What's going on?" He yelled at the monitor, then slammed it. Seos moved the cover off the observation port and saw them.

The Priests swirled around the ship, moving closer and closer. Seos felt thrilled to see them, but suddenly felt a deep despair. They were grieving over something.

"Strap up again," Jasot said. "I'm going to take off through them, if they're not going to get out of the way."

"No." She surprised herself. "They are probably more intelligent than we are. Hurt them and you could get tried for murder."

Jasot leaned back. "So what are we going to do?"

"Return the icon." Jasot started to take a breath then nodded. Seos jumped up to open the hatch again, and return the icon. She thought that Jasot had probably done the calculations and realized that theft and murder were not cost-effective.

As she attached the antigrav lifters to the statue, Jasot followed her. She was about to engaged the lift mode when he shoved her out of the way. "It's not attached right," he said. "Might have fallen on you."

They returned to the edge of the forest and stood it upright as it had rested for thousands of years. As they returned to the ship, the Priests drifted around them. Seos felt they had finally done the right thing.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

gems as a second language

I've mined some Gems as a Second Language materials from a new magazine; however, I don't have it here with me. Instead, I received an e-mail from my doctor's office:

Please accept our apology, this is to inform you that Dr. S. will not able come to see all appointments on 3rd September 2006 due to the urgently thing requests.

Sounds serious. Shudder. They gave me an appointment for Monday, when - I hope - the Thing will not make any requests.