Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That's My World!

Even in paradise, you have to clean and do laundry. I washed the slippers I offer for guests visiting my house since it's tradition to take your shoes off at the front door. It's been cool up north so it's been taking them a while to dry so I hung them on the metalwork of the window.

When I entered the room, I thought, "The shoes are dancing without me!" So here they are in flight:

hanging slippers

This is my contribution to That's My World! where everyone plays tour guide for their part of the world.

Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 TBR List

This is my third year on trying to respond to the TBR Challenge and get through my impressive to be read list. Although I read nearly 100 books this year (still have to count them up), somehow I seemed to avoid my TBR list. I have read a few but not all. Part of the problem is that books are physically in one location and because I travel so much, I'm often in a reading mood and the book is elsewhere; or I bring the book to another one of my work sites and leave it there and forget where I left it. One of my New Year's resolutions is both to read the books on this list and also to not move them so I know where they are.

So my primary list:
1. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen - Xieng Khouang
2. A War of Nerves by Ben Shephard - Vientiane
3. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West - Xieng Khouang
4. What I talk about when I talk about Running by Haruki Murakami - Vientiane
5. number9dream by Daid Mitchell - Vientiane
6. Wandering through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc - Xieng Khouang
7. In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh - Xieng Khouang
8. Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali - Vientiane
9. The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins - Xieng Khouang
10. The Care of Strangers by Charles E. Rosenberg - Vientiane
11. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood - Vientiane
12. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon - Audiobook, anywhere

Alternative list:
1. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus - Audiobook
2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens - Audiobook
3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - Vientiane
4. Herzog by Saul Bellow - Audiobook
5. Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham - Audiobook
6. The World without Us by Alan Weisman - Audiobook
7. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano - Vientiane
8. Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku - Audiobook
9. Brasyl by Ian MacDonald - Vientiane
10. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann - Vientiane
11. BuddhaDa by Anne Donovan - Xieng Khouang
12. Mara and Dann by Doris Lessing - Vientiane

And if I get around to them:
1. The Execution Channel b Ken MacLeod
2. Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer
3. Slan by A.E. Van Vogt
4. Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
5. The Redundancy of Courage by Timothy Mo
6. The Tapestries by Kien Nguyen
7. On the Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald
8. Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan
9. White Noise by Don DeLillo
10. The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
11. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
12. I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume

Well, we'll see how it goes this year.

And here are the physical candidates, on the bookshelf next to my bed in Xieng Khouang:

TBR pile

Friday, December 25, 2009

SWF - Christmas edition


OK, so I've been quiet for a while, but I have time to go over my images from the past month or two in the little bit of quiet time available between Christmas and New Year.

On Christmas Day, we supported a training in Animal Raising/ Village-level Veterinary skills for people injured by unexploded ordnance or family members (such as parents if the UXO survivor is a child). We usually have twenty people in the training but make appointments with twenty-five people, just in case there are 'no shows.' This month, everyone attended, including four people from another province which requires more than a day's travel.

After two days of theory, we have practice sessions in one village, vaccinating chickens in the evening when they have come home to roost, like so:

chickens roosting 2

We were trying to find the chickens in their coop but their owner told us to look up!

On Christmas morning, we vaccinated more animals in their mangers.

away in a manger

The buffalo in the foreground has a newborn white calf. The buffalo in the background was just starting to go into labor. We weren't in that section of the village long enough to see the baby. Water buffalo calfs are really cute, not like the full-sized version.

This cow is wondering whether it's safe to leave.

cow leaving pen

And I took photos while everyone else was working. I experimented with some HDR after we returned to Phonsavanh. The blue sky over a bamboo trellis and fish traps.

mares tails

And over a cow pen:

sky and roofsm

When I told a friend we'd be vaccinating animals in the manger, she asked if that included camels and donkeys. I told her, "of course. Donkeys are the animals with short horns on their heads, get into everything and go 'baaaa,' right? And camels are the slow moving animals with big sweeping horns which are used for plowing." She had to agree with me.

And in case anyone gets the wrong impression that it is always sunny here - the mornings are often very foggy.

cows taoi morning

I didn't even realize that the cows were under the tree in the middle of Ta-Oi town until I nearly stumbled over one.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world. Huh, I guess this is the last one of the year! Season's Greetings everyone!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

NaNoWriMo progress

Did I mention yesterday that I wrote almost 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo in one day. It felt good to stretch out and write. The backdrop of the weather didn't provide any distractions - cold and windy with the threat of drizzle in the air. The gusts of wind rattled the window and I was glad to be inside, though without heat the insides of houses in Xieng Khouang are nearly as cold inside as outside. When the temperature dropped in the evening, I stoked my internal furnace with a glass of wine.

My story starts in a village in Kham district where Daeng, the hero, and Boua, the heroine grow up. Not a smooth childhood - Daeng's mother dies in childbirth and Boua tries to marry her off to the son of a neighbor. They are both tormented by an older boy named Vong. This typical village life is contrasted with global events - new technologies and China dominating the movement to return to the moon. While the village doesn't have electricity, people still buy cell phones, which they charge when they go to town. So I'm writing about some of the juxtapositions I see in my daily life in Lao.

I'm glad to get ahead with this project, far enough to see the possibilities in several sub-plots. Also, glad to get ahead as I have some work-related stuff coming up and I'm not sure how much time or mental energy I'll have after work.

Monday, November 02, 2009

That Luang Holiday

Being based on the lunar calendar, the main Buddhist holidays occur on the days of the full moon. Many Lao names also revolve around the moon. My own name, Chanpheng, means "full moon". The person who gave me the name said that 'The full moon is beautiful and likes to have fun.' It also has Buddhist meaning, because of the main religious days being on the full moon.

That Luang itself is a gold colored monument (also called a stupa because it often contains relics, particularly those of the Buddha). Many believe was that missionaries sent by the Emperor Asoka in India, brought a Buddha relic which was built into the stupa in the 3rd century. The temple was rebuilt as a Khmer temple in the 14th century. In 1560, King Setthathirat moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane and rebuilt That Luang, which was again destroyed in 1828, when the Thai raided Vientiane. The French using old plans, rebuilt the stupa in 1900 but it was finally rebuilt in 1930 and people say that the shape is more elegant and pleasing to the eye.

Boun That Luang is the holiday falling on the full moon of the eleventh lunar month. Yesterday, people making merit at the Sri Meuang Temple brought their wax flower offerings on a parade from Sri Meuang to That Luang. Today, thousands of people offered food to the monks, who came in from all over Vientiane and the provinces. Tonight, while the Thai celebrate Loy Krathong, there is the Vong Vieng, where people light candles and circle the stupa three times.

Well, this year I'm up in Xieng Khouang and didn't wake up early enough to offer food to the monks. I'll also miss out on the ceremonies at That Luang. On the other hand, it's been a quiet and creative day. The sky has been overcast and strong gusts of wind hit the house. I can feel the temperature dropping. Earlier I noticed that the flowers on the peach and plum trees are starting to bud. Cold season is coming.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

November 1st - getting back onto my blog

The past few months have been kinda wild and I haven't had much of a chance to write. I visited the US for what should have been for a month, but circumstances dictated otherwise.

My first week in Seattle was interesting. As I fought off jet-leg, I attended the annual Family Practice Update at the University of Washington. It's my favorite continuing medical education conference, with a wide variety of topics. It's always amazing how medical understanding and treatments progress, even in the two years between the conferences I attend.

The following two weeks are a blur. I must have picked up the dreaded H1N1 in the caverns of medical advancement - I was quite sick and even after the week of high fevers ended, I still felt weak. Unfortunately, I didn't think of bringing Tamiflu with me and I didn't feel sick enough to go the a doctor. Seattle was reporting so many cases that they advised people to stay home if they weren't on their last legs, or coughs.

Fortunately, I was able to beg my boss to stay another two weeks. "I can work on reports and proposals while I'm over here," I said optimistically. Well, they certainly took me up on that and I think I ended up dealing with about an hour of e-mails every morning plus the report writing work.

I did go down to San Francisco for about two weeks and enjoyed some time with my Hmong friends in the Central Valley. I attended the Hmong "Cultural Festival" in Oroville in mid-October. Everyone said that it was the earliest celebration of the Hmong New Year ever but they didn't want to give the impression that Hmong New Year was starting so early, hence the new name. I also went to a party in Fresno and met up with many Hmong friends there.

After returning to Seattle for a few days of shopping, packing and sending the stuff that couldn't fit into my bags for Laos, I took off.

I'm doing both NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo this year and have a feeling I'll be able to keep up with both. I've been back in Laos for a week and as my jet-lag fades, I feel more energetic. Also, I'm just regaining my commitment to write, which is sometimes battered with my responsibilities at work. We'll see how it goes!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

While I was drinking coffee and deleting the posts of Disa, the spammer, I came upon my TBR list (To Be Read Challenge) that I posted in December. I've read about 60 books this year, but still haven't gotten around to most of the books below. Ah well, will be going on home leave soon so better bring a few of these with me.

List One:
1. Baghdad Burning II by Riverbend - I used to follow her blog but now I check back intermittently to see if she has posted anything new after 22 Oct 2007. She has blogged of her experiences as a Iraqi woman and her thoughts on the war, American troops and a life being boxed in by the violence and the aftermath of the occupation. In October 2007, the family decided to leave - and her last post was in Syria. What happened next? Where is she? Her first book was great and very intense.
2. The War of the Nerves by Ben Sheppard
3. Brasyl by Ian MacDonald
4. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen
5. Shriek: an Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer
6. Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes Vte
7. Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury - currently reading
8. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West
9. Wandering through Vietnamese Culture by Huu Ngoc Vte
10. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
11. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
12. Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Alternate List:
1. Echo House by Ward Just
2. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

3. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
4. Indignation by Philip Roth
5. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
6. Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
7. 2666: A Novel by Roberto Bolano
8. The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
9. Sly Mongoose by Tobia Buckell
10. Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick
11. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

12. A Grand Delusion by Robert Mann

Friday, August 28, 2009

Being spam-botted

Sorry to say, I've just put comments on verification and moderation cause some spam bot is leaving comments in Chinese on old entries. I myself find having to do the verification thing for commenting to be time-consuming when I'm on dial-up and sometimes the comments don't go through but I'm feeling desperate.

Anyway, I think I'll reconsider when and if the coast is clear....

I just can't imagine why these spam-bots exist. What benefit do they get in leaving messages on blogs, in other languages?

Friday, August 07, 2009

SWF - 7 August 2009


backtowards lao

I took the train to Bangkok. There is now a rail link between Thanaleng, Laos and Nongkhai, Thailand. This is a view back towards the Lao side.

cell phone reception

These guys were hanging out on the bridge. Not sure if they just like seeing the train go by or whether the cell phone reception is that much better.

I spent the next few days in Bangkok - dental work and sleeping. Finally felt some energy and walked around old neighborhoods I haven't visited in a long time.

monks in boat

River express taxi on the Chao Phraya River

Chao Phraya river front

Houses on stilts along the waterfront.

royal palace

An unusual view of the Sanam Luang, the Royal Park. I remember a grassy field from 20 years ago, but with various gatherings and demonstrations, they have now paved it over.Although there were some banners in favor of one side of the current rounds of problems, there were no demonstrators so the park has become a parking lot.

With the skies looking so threatening, it wasn't long before the sky poured down on us.


View from the pedestrian overpass by the MBK shopping center, looking across at the Sky Train station. I was happy I got up the stairs before the rain started coming down.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, July 31, 2009

SWF - 31 July 09


It's been six weeks since I last posted. I've been un-well, I suspect dengue fever. Fever, fatigue and whole-body aches. I have had zero enthusiasm about everything, even lifting my camera up. Fortunately, it's going away and I find myself with both the strength to carry my camera around, and the interest in looking at things and saying, "I'd like a picture of that."


Sky over Salavan on 12 July. The clouds look like nebulae.

moon at night

The same evening - the moon looking through my window. Even though it's two days past full, it still looks big and round through the clouds.

red light and river

The red glow at sunset at the Vientiane waterfront of the Mekong River. People like to sit by the river in the evening to relax, drink smoothies or eat other snacks.

boats floating in sky

And the sunset in the Xedon river in Pakse. The boats look like they are floating in the sky.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, June 19, 2009

SKY 19 June 09


I've been traveling a lot. I broke a tooth and have had to have all sorts of dental work, requiring voyages to Bangkok. This was the scene on Tuesday 9 June at the Nongkhai Station.

Thunderclouds south of Nong Khai

The train had to pass through that weather later in the night.

It rained a lot while I was in Bangkok - these violent kinds of thunderstorms that can turn a street into a river in the period of five minutes, before the rain stops and the street drain and a half hour later, it looks like nothing had happened.

Last Saturday, I took a long walk around Bangkok and followed one of the canals. I hadn't walked here before - there are sidewalks on both sides of the canal, which run behind people's houses. It's surprisingly small town along the path.

canal in bkk

On Sunday, I arrived in Nongkhai in the early morning and took a long walk around town. The city reinforced the bank of the river to prevent flooding and erosion. And the broad sidewalk is a nice place to walk.

clouds over river

I took the following picture at the Waterslide Park in Vientiane. Yes, they have one - but it's out of the price range of most of the Lao and it does not attract expats or tourists. The slides are interesting for taking pictures. This one I photoshopped; it's kinda funny:


Back to reality - a view of Phonsavanh on Wednesday afternoon, after arriving by plane and having a few meetings, we went off for a beer and a view:

storm over XK 17 june 09

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Skywatch Friday - 5 June 2009

At the start of the week, I caught sight of these clouds as I was walking home. By the time I got my camera out, they were just past their peak but still amazing. It's also amazing how quickly clouds can change.

Day 135 strange clouds

On Tuesday, as we were driving down to Champasak, I requested a stop to take a panoramic shot of pictures of the Krading River.

pakkading riversmall

After an afternoon and evening of thunderstorms, we headed to Salavan on Wednesday afternoon. The sky was so blue and clear from all the rain. While we stopped by the road, a whole family drove towards the distance in their tok-tok.

open road

And today, the rain came and went.

going home after rain

In spite of the humidity, the winds in the evenings are cool and refreshing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sky Watch Friday 29 May


The weather has moved into rainy season, at a much faster gallop than last year. The skies are either crystal clear or covered with thunderclouds.

Day 121 strange light 2

Although I haven't had much chance to post over the past month, I'm still taking pictures. I snapped the above picture on a moody late afternoon, where thunderclouds were directly overhead but the light from the sunset lit up the Buddhist temple from the side.


And a very luminous sunset over the Mekong river, looking over Thailand.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gecko dreaming of becoming a butterfly

gecko dreaming of butterfly2

I took this picture late at night, because I realized I had not taken my picture of the day, then I found the shapes feature.... and it's cool.

ABC Wednesday: S for silver and sleeping


A couple of weeks ago, I walked around the Morning Market in Vientiane, looking for reflections and light. And I found silver. These bracelets were enticing - I took the picture but did not take my wallet out of my bag - this time.

sleeping at store

And sleeping - this woman lives behind her shop, and her shop is an extension of her home, so she can take a nap anywhere and any time. Not sure about the profits though.

This is my contribution for ABC Wednesday. I thought I would get all the way through the alphabet this time - well I will but I've skipped everything between K and S.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


There's a lot of back-breaking manual labor jobs, with low pay. This truck delivers drinking water around Vientiane, with their staff of a driver and the man who carries the 50 liter water bottles to the houses and businesses.


I wonder what he is dreaming about....

While there is a municipal water system, we only use the water for bathing and cooking. Very few people use it for drinking water - too much chlorine. These men would be out of work otherwise!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Naga and camera

The Naga are serpents which move between earth and the other world, and have a central place in Buddhist images in NE Thailand and Laos. The legend is that the Naga King sheltered the Buddha from a thunderstorm while he was meditating. Naga images grace every templeyard, at the entrances to the buildings and along the roofs.

naga enhanced

I bought a Nikon D5000 and I've enjoyed taking photos with it, even though I should stop a moment and read the instruction manual. This picture was a little dark and I didn't get such a great depth of field, so I played with it in photoshop. Turned out kinda cool in spite of my lack of experience.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

From Bangkok to Nong Khai

I endured my dental appointment and then resolved to get back to Vientiane for a frantic week of work.

The new airport at Bangkok (well not so new, it's about two years old now) is gigantic and ultra-modern. I haven't gone through there so many times so I arrived two hours early so I could have lunch and make sure to get to my gate on time. Since my last visit, they have installed some beautiful large paintings. Here's a mosaic of images from two paintings:

My creation

Unfortunately, I didn't write down the artists' names. The painting of the picnic in the garden is like a Persian miniature but on a large scale. The other painting is of village life and I enjoyed the interactions of the community life on the wall.

I finished the book I had brought with me, so during the 50-minute flight, I stared at the map on the screen. I like watching how it zooms in from this view of Asia. It places me on the world.

Day 127 altered screen

Well, the original photo was a little boring, so I altered it a bit in photoshop.

Once I arrived in Udorn Thani, I got on a crowded mini-van to Nong Khai. I arrived late and enjoyed a late evening meal at the hotel. These tuk-tuks were parked across the street, ready to take someone around to all the sights in Nong Khai.

tuktuk Nongkhai

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Still alive, still happy

I just realized that while I'm taking pictures and contributing to several photography communities, I haven't kept up with my own blog. Well, whoever is following me, here's a special picture:


I just bought a new camera, in anticipation of a dental work I'll have to endure tomorrow. And I'm learning how to play with photoshop, so I can turn three turtles into six.

I took this shot at the park next to the Emporium shopping center in Bangkok.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sky Watch Fruit 17 April


I've been spending the week of Lao New Year in Xieng Khouang. My closest friends are here, and I've been going to several baci, or string tying ceremonies, every day. The only problem is that I don't have access to fast internet so I haven't had a chance to upload pictures and post journal entries. And I haven't had the time, what with all the activities going on.


Lao New Year means traveling around and visiting friends. Usually, there's a small ceremony with an elder, who usually had been a monk for several years, chanting Buddhist prayers and then blessing everyone to have good luck and health in the coming year. The blessings are made by pouring a small amount of water on the person's back, to wash away the bad luck of the previous year and bring good luck for the coming year.

Day 86 water throw

sky at suan

We went for a picnic at a friend's farm outside Phonsavanh. They put up the buildings in the foreground, but other people had cut down the trees to raise upland, dry cultivated rice.

The weather contributed to water blessings. Usually, Lao New Year is the hottest time of the year but this year, there was a lot of rain. Didn't make us feel like having water fights.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.

Friday, April 10, 2009

SWF - 10 April 2009


Bangkok haze was thick last week - though it started raining every day. Not just rain but the kind of deluge which makes you think that the whole atmosphere is coming down. It did bring down the dust and pollution, so the clouds building up on the weekend were very impressive against a clean sky.

monsoon clouds

This photo was taken between the Champa trees. The Champa flower is the national flower of Laos - though there are none in this picture.

Day 80 moon

I'm posting a bit early this week because it's after midnight and I can't sleep. The night is hot, humid and sticky. Hot season.

This is my contribution to Skywatch Friday, whose members post pictures of the skies around the world.