Holiday in Cambodia

Yes, I am now living out the title of a Dead Kennedys song.

So far Cambodia seems a lot poorer than Vietnam, not too surprising. Also, just in casual walking around for less than an hour I saw at least 4 amputees, signs of the huge amount of land mines that have been laid in the country I imagine.

Mostly just relaxing today but will head to Angkor Wat for sunset. I guess if you enter after a certain time they don't count that day on the pass you buy so you basically get a free sunset which is pretty cool.

It's really hot here but it's a dry heat again like it is in Laos so it's not bugging me as much. Going to try to do an early start tomorrow to avoid the heat and hopefully the crowds. We'll see how that works out.


Well I've made it to Saigon. The 7hr bus ride wasn't as bad as I thought. Unfortunately, I forgot my Tiley hat on the bus so that sucks a bit. I wasn't too attached to it but it was nice for keeping the sun off me so I need to track down some option here in Saigon if I can.

Saigon is busy but not as bad as I feared. Don't really have much time to check it out though since I leave tomorrow morning.

Still a bit tired but a lot more rested. I'm looking forward to spending a whole week in 1 city since that means I won't be moving around as much. I'm worried it's going to be really hot in Cambodia though which will suck. The forecast shows it being mid-30's every day and over 40 with the humidity but I'm also seeing more thunderstorms in the forecast so hopefully that means the rainy season is starting which will mean lower temp.

Extra day in Dalat

Well I've been really run down lately from the travelling and lack of sleep. Vietnamese get up super early (5-5:30am as far as I can tell) and start driving around on their motorcycles honking away at that time. So every morning I get woken up at around 5 and then try to catch some more sleep before I get up (usually around 7 these days so not exactly sleeping late here). My hotel in Dalat is fortunately the quietest I've stayed in so I've been sleeping better. I was beat this morning so instead of going to Saigon today I decided to spend a day just relaxing in Dalat. Means I won't see much of Saigon but I had a decent day and feel a lot more rested.

In 2 weeks now I'll be back in Canada so that's a bit freaky. I'm looking at jobs a little bit but it's tough to work on covering letters when you don't have your own computer. I have mixed emotions about what being back "home" will mean. In a lot of ways it's a fresh start and it's good and bad because of that. One of the first priorities is going to be finding a job. Hopefully I can find something that won't completely dominate my life like call center work has in the past.

In Dalat

Well between being a bit worn out and then not having an internet connection for a few days I've gotten behind in the blog posts.

Hoi An was nice but very hot. I didn't see any of the historical stuff but did do some shopping and had a ton of clothes made. I ended up having to buy a huge "North Face" backpack to carry it all. I say "North Face" because I have doubts if a $19 bag is really the real thing. Sometimes it is from the actual factory, sometimes it's knockoff. Seems pretty good and it's carrying all my stuff so I'm not complaining too much.

I then headed up to Danang to fly to Nha Trang. I was expecting to not like it much and just relax a bit on the beach but it turned out to be pretty nice. Not as hot as Hoi An and not as over-developed as I had feared (well it's developed, but they seem to have done a few good things with the city planning to make it not so bad).

I spent 2 nights there and then took the bus to Dalat. I wasn't really prepared for how the place would be. It's ridiculously hilly, you can be walking on a street and look over into the 3rd or 4th floor of a building right next to you! I went to Stop and Go cafe which sounded like a basic backpacker type place from Lonely Planet's description of it but it turned out to be this old french villa with an interesting owner who's an artist and poet. It felt a lot more like I was just visiting his house rather than being at a cafe. Tomorrow I head out on a tour with one of Dalat's famous "Easy Riders", should prove interesting. The guide was very nice he talked with me a bit but let me check in to my hotel and relax and waited for me (a few hours at least) before giving me info on the tour, I really appreciated that compared to how aggressive some people are. I'm contemplating hiring one of them to drive me down to Saigon on a motorcycle so I can see more of the highlands but I'm not sure if time will permit. I leave Saigon on May 7th in the morning so I really have to be there no later than the 6th so that doesn't give me a lot of time.

In Hoi An

Well I've arrived in Hoi An which means I've survived crossing Hai Van Pass. It's a pretty freaky ride over the mountains but the scenery is really cool. I think it'll be nicer when the tunnel is completed, most of the heavy trucks and busses will go through the tunnel but you could probably still go over the mountain and enjoy the scenery without the traffic.

I had a chance to see some more sites in Hue yesterday and it's nicer than I initially thought. The old citadel is a huge site and was really interesting. I think I was expecting more of an old city feel, which Hue doesn't have. But there are still plenty of things worth seeing.

After crossing the mountains I've also arrived in Vietnam's tropical zone so it's much hotter than in the north (more like the weather in Laos).

Haven't explored Hoi An yet so I can't really comment on it. I am however staying at the nicest hotel so far on the trip and it's only $14/night! I think I could have negotiated even cheaper than that but that's still a good deal.

One of the big things to do in Hoi An is get clothes made and I suspect that I will have some made when I find a nice shop. Some people I met at my hotel said they were recommended a good place to go so I'll see what I can find.

2 Wheeling in Hue

Well I haven't been too impressed with Hue but I've met some really cool people so that's made up for it a lot. It just doesn't seem to have as much nice stuff to see as in Hanoi. However, I did go on a really cool motorcycle tour today that was a lot of fun. We went around to a few of the temples in the city and then also saw one of the tombs for emperors from the Nguyen dynasty. It was really cool riding around on the back of the motorcycle and we got to see a lot of back roads and areas that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. I've been taking lots of photos so I'm excited to see the results.

Tomorrow I'm taking the bus to Hoi An in the afternoon. I've heard it's a really nice city and it's also got lots of good tailor shops so I think I may get some more clothes made. I think getting at least 1 more suit will be good but I'll have to see what the prices are like.

So far the trip has been going really well and I've been having a lot of fun.

Leaving Hanoi

Well tonight I leave Hanoi for Hue. I've really enjoyed my time in Hanoi. I spent 3 days in the city itself and then did some trips to areas nearby. On Thursday I went to the Perfume Pagoda. It's a nice trip out of town, you drive for awhile and then get a boat to go to the mountains. There are a lot of temples around and we only visited a few of them. Apparently, the biggest one is on the top of one of the mountains and is a full day's trek so we didn't go to it. A joint venture is building a cable car so I imagine that in the near future it will be overrun by tourists. It was really nice to walk through the mountains and see the scenery though but our guide's english wasn't very good and he didn't explain very much.

On Friday I went to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. Hoa Lu was the old capital in the north over 1000 years ago but those remains are long gone aside from some excavation work. There are 2 nice temples that we visited though and the guide was able to cover more of the history. Tam Coc is a beautiful area in the mountains surrounded by rice paddies. We went in small boats (2 people in each boat) and rode up the river for a few hours. It was very peaceful and the scenery was quite nice.

However, the highlight of the trip has definitely been Halong Bay. It's simply an incredible place in terms of scenery. Plus, I was really glad that I "splurged" on the trip and went with a better company. The boat was really nice and the service was incredible. We ate so much good food and got to see a fair amount of stuff for a 2 day trip but it was all very relaxed and I didn't feel rushed at all. Plus, the group was really good and I had some really interesting conversations with 2 of the other travellers on board. It was also my 28th birthday so it was a pretty cool way to spend my birthday and was worth every penny.

Vietnam Observations

Well I've been in Vietnam for a few days now and I figured I might as well take advantage of the free internet access at my hotel and post some observations.

First of all, while vietnamese are still generally really polite, they are definitely way more aggressive about trying to sell you things than lao people are. As soon as you walk along the street you will have tons of cyclo and moto drivers trying to take you somewhere. There are also lots of ladies carrying around fruit that really try to push it on you and usually some people trying to sell you t-shirts or books. What gets to be a bit annoying is that they all really try to get your attention and sometimes won't take no for an answer. I have a couple theories on this. I'm thinking that with years of propoganda about western capatalists maybe they just think that we're so obssesed with spending money that as long as they can get your attention you'll have to buy something. Well it's a theory anyways.

Sometimes ignoring them works really well but you have to be careful about how you ignore them. Not making eye contact seems to help keep them from starting in on you. When they spot you they start yelling "hello" to you. If you really ignore them then sometimes they'll figure you didn't hear them and keep yelling (or honking their horn or making other noise). Shaking your head sometimes works but not often. The key seems to be to make it clear that you did hear them but you're just not aknowledging them, hard to pull off.

A technique I've developed for dodging the moto and cyclo drivers has been to walk with a purpose. As long as you have a really clear destination in mind and focus on that you seem to be a little more immune to them. But if you're just wandering or have to pull out the map, then it's all over. I was extremely sucessful in this earlier today but that time my purpose was to find a moto driver! I was walking around with such a clear purpose of trying to find one that none of them went for me. Finally, I stopped and reached for my guidebook, as soon as I touched it a moto driver was on me.

Related to this is something I've noticed in Laos as well, there is tons of copying of businesses. In Laos you would see it more in that if a shop opened up then pretty soon 2 or 3 more shops trying to look as similar as possible would open up nearby (frequently next door). So you'd get a lot of places where there'd be 3 or 4 cell phone shops in a row for example. In Vietnam, it seems to have gone even further, they will blatantly rip off even the name of the place to try to confuse you. This is especially true of tour companies that get good reviews in Lonely Planet. There must be at least 100 Sinh Cafe copies in Hanoi. There's a rip-off Kangaroo cafe. And possibly my favorite one, there's a Fansipan Tours right next door to the real Fansipan tours! You really need to make sure you know the exact address of the place you're going (in the case of Fansipan, it was something like the real one is 24a and the fake one is 24 on the street). I'm not sure if this is a lack of business knowledge where people don't understand that you should try to make your business stand out to attract customers. You could also get into cultural differences here, particularly being a communist country where people are encouraged (and taught) to follow as a group rather than pursue individual ideas. I suspect the yelling thing started this way too, a few people started doing it and got more business so now everyone does it. I try to make a habit of not buying anything from these people in hopes that it will discourage the practice.

I also have to say that cyclos are really cool. I'm not sure which is cooler, tuk tuks or cyclos, they're both cool in their own ways. Either way, 3 wheeled vehicles seem to be way cooler than 4 wheeled ones. For those not in the know, a tuk tuk is a vehicle common in Thailand in Laos. It's basically a motorcyle front end with a covered carriage in the back with seating for about 4 people. They tend to be hand-built but there's a certain amount of uniformity in the design (although they all are different). There is actually a tuk tuk dealership in Udon Thani though. A cyclo (or pedicab) is essentially a bicycle back end with a seat in front of it. The rider pedals on the back end and you sit in the seat on the front. I've heard the ones in Saigon are smaller, the Hanoi ones could fit 2 people if they squeezed in a bit. They're pretty comfortable and a neat way to get around. What's odd is that there's nothing if front of you to obstruct your view. Makes for an interesting ride in traffic sometimes but it's pretty cool to just sit there in the open and take in the sites.

The final observation for today is traffic; there's a lot more of it here in Hanoi. It's definitely not as bad as Bangkok though. However, like Bangkok, it's produced a different effect. The traffic is extremely chaotic and drivers are certainly not "good" by western standards but there's a sort of un-written set of rules. I suspect that traffic has been an issue here for longer than in Laos so I'm seeing a similar situation as in Bangkok, the traffic is crazy but everyone driving in it knows how to drive in the crazy traffic. It definitely seems less dangerous than Laos where no one knows how to drive, let alone in traffic.

Similar to Laos, no one seems to look behind them or use their mirrors. With various different speeds of vehicles on the roads this can create problems. The solution seems to be to use your horn, a lot. I seem to have come up with the situations you use your horn:

  1. If a slower vehicle is ahead of you

  2. If pedestrians are on the road ahead of you

  3. When entering an intersection (don't bother actually looking for traffic)

  4. If pedestrians or vehicles are on the side of the road not blocking your way but maybe they will

  5. If you haven't honked your horn in the last 2 minutes; better make sure it's still working in case you'll need it

Seriously, the honking is crazy here. But this creates a new problem; people are used to filtering out the honking. The solution seems to be to honk louder or longer or to do a series of honks. Of course everyone ignores those too. For the most part it usually seems to work but I've been on motos where the driver will honk at a group of people standing in the middle of the road and they just stand there oblivious until he's right on top of them.

Sorry about yet another massive blog post. I've been debating including more posts on the main page but with the average length of my posts being pretty long that doesn't seem like a good idea. Incidentally, at Sneddy's request I've added an xml feed for my blog using blogger's atom feature. It's not exactly the way I'd like to do it but this is now done automatically by blogger so it's the easiest way for me to set it up for the moment. I might look into better options once I'm home. Those who don't understand what I'm talking about in this paragraph needn't worry, it won't affect you.

Turning 28

Well I hadn't really mentioned it before but my 28th birthday is coming up soon (this Saturday). In more recent years my birthdays have usually been no big deal. The last really cool birthday I had was my 21st when I took the overnight train to Moscow with Leanne and spent the day in Moscow just because we could. That was a total blast. Hard to compete with that I know but for the last few years my birthdays have usually been more down or just been doing a few things with friends. I've never been a big party guy and I'm not good at trying to organize parties either so I would never really pull off doing much of anything.

This year I'll be spending my birthday in Vietnam which is nice in itself. To top that though, I'll be spending my 28th birthday doing a boat cruise in Halong Bay. The site for the boat is Tropical Sails. Looks like it should be a really fun time. Then the plan is to head to Hue Sunday night, probably on the overnight train.

So far the trip is going great. I ended up adding an extra day in Hanoi because of when I could book the boat cruise. I spent most of this morning going to tour operators to book my cruise and day trips. In the afternoon I went to the temple of literature which was the first national university in Vietnam. It's a really nice old confucian complex, took a lot of pictures.

Made it to Vietnam, 2nd attempt

Well I had written a nice long blog post about getting to Vietnam last night but then blogger had problems and I lost it so this is my 2nd try.

I arrived in Hanoi Sunday night. I was a little worried about being able to get out of Laos. During Lao New Year Mai and I went to Vang Vieng for a couple of nights. We went tubing down the river and my passport and wallet got totally soaked. I had them in a ziploc bag but it opened. Most of the stuff was rescued no problem. Some nice lao people helped me dry everything out on a charcoal grill (including all the money I had on me). The big problem was that the date stamps for my lao visa and extension had washed away. I was worried I'd have problems when I left the country. To make matters worse, being Lao New Year the immigration office was closed so I couldn't fix it before my departure.

In the end it worked out alright. I picked the friendliest looking immigration officer at the airport and he just asked me a few questions about the dates but then let me through no problem.

Hanoi is a bit different. It's a lot more traffic than Laos and people are more aggressive about trying to sell you things but most aren't too bad. I know the traffic is worse in Saigon and I think the sellers might be worse as well so I'm glad I'm starting here and working my way south, might help ease my way into it.

It's a lot cooler here (mid-20's vs. high 30's) but it's rainy so the humidity is pretty high. In the morning it's really nice for walking around though and it's nice to be able to stay out all day and not get exhausted from the heat.

Some people have asked if I notice much of a difference between Vietnam and Laos. Yes I do. Laos is much more Thai/Indian influenced. Vietnam is more Chinese influenced. I'm really like the change of influence because I've always been more interested in Chinese architecture and design. There are also lots of uniquely vietnamese things as well so it's a nice change. Probably the easiest way to explain the difference is that in Laos (and Thailand and others) you get the tall skinny Budha statues with the pointy hats. In Vietnam (and China and others) you see more of the fat Budha statues. I know there's a joke about young Elvis and old Elvis in here somewhere.

In terms of Budhism, Laos and Thailand follow Therevada Budhism which follows only the original Budhist writings. Vietnam received it's current form of Budhism via China and is the Mahayana tradition which uses later writings as well. There's your trivia for the day.

Plan to stay in the general Hanoi area for a few more days but this will probably be my last full day in Hanoi. I'm going to take a 2 day trip to Halong Bay and also probably 2 day trips. 1 will be to the Perfume Pagoda and the other to the Tam Coc/Hoa Lu area. I've heard that the Perfume Pagoda is busy this time of year because it's a pilgrimage time so I may have to pass on that. After that I will head to Hue. Might fly, might take the train. From there I plan to head south towards Saigon. There's a lot of things I want to see along the way so I'm pretty excited.

The plan comes together

Parts of the plan have changed for a variety of reasons.

For reasons I only vaguely understand, it's vastly cheaper for me to fly to Hanoi instead of Ho-Chi Minh City (Saigon). I did some looking in Lonely Planet and it looks like the majority of stuff I want to see is in the north or central regions so this works out well. I've decided to add a week to my trip to Vietnam so that I'll be able to cover more stuff. I'm flying to Hanoi on May 17 or 18 (still some issues with booking the flight so I don't know for sure yet) and will spend 3 weeks travelling in Vietnam. I will then fly out of Saigon to Siem Reap so that I can visit Angkor Wat and other temples in the area. I should be able to spend about a week there which will be really nice. My concerns about the cost turned out to be somewhat unfounded. It worked out to be only about $20 more to stop in Siem Reap vs. flying direct from Saigon to Vietiane!

I'm really excited about the trip, it looks like I should be able to see a lot of cool things in Vietnam and also really explore the Angkor Wat area. I'm a bit down about coming back to Canada and Mai is really sad. I know I have to though because I don't have a job here and I need to start making a life for myself. Right now it looks like that's not possible here.

I've also registered for the colour photo class at NSCAD. I have the same teacher who taught me advanced photo so that's really cool. He talked me into shooting colour print film instead of slides and that's what I've been shooting here (Fuji NPS rated at 100). From my prints here I have mixed opinions of the results. Not sure if it's the negatives or the printing (my major complaint about negative film). Still, I do have some nice results and it'll give me tons of stuff to print when I get back (shot 12 rolls so far).

I plan to shoot more in Vietnam and Cambodia. I'll need to get more film but should be able to buy some in Hanoi or I can pick some up here. Debating if I'll go back to slides or stick with the print film.

To accomodate the extra time in Vietnam and the trip to Cambodia I had to change my return ticket. I now leave Bangkok on May 18 and arrive in Halifax May 19. I'll have to leave Vientiane on May 17. I tried to arrange the stop over in Japan but my ticket won't let me do it. I'm a little disappointed in that but the extra time in Vietnam and Cambodia makes up for it a bit. At least I know that I couldn't do it so I don't have to live with asking "gee, why didn't I stop in Japan?"

I will miss the first week of my class but that's not a big problem. I think the excuse of needing to miss it so I could spend extra time in Vietnam and Cambodia should get me off the hook.

The Plan

Okay, I'm starting to get the semblances of a plan worked out. The potential networking contract with the dam company has been put on hold indefinitely. Not having any work to do here is really getting me down and the job hunt is not going well. I think I've reached the point where it's time to head home.

So, with that in mind I've come up with a bit of a tentative plan. At the moment my plane ticket will leave May 5 from Bangkok. I'm looking at spending the next 2 weeks in Lao so that I can see Lao New Year. After that I plan to go to Vietnam for 2 weeks to visit there. I'd like to get to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat but it might be too expensive, have to find out the prices. I'm looking into the possibility of doing a stop-over in Japan for a few days on the way back. Could be a neat chance to visit Sneddy and see how he's liking Japan. Not sure if I can really arrange a decent trip there or not though and it will probably be really expensive so I might pass on that.

When I get back I'm definitely going to try to take a course at NSCAD. I'm leaning towards the colour course because I haven't taken it yet and I've been shooting colour print film here in Lao so I'll have lots of stuff to print. The big issue is going to be figuring out a way to register because I can't do it online. I might have to fax the registration from here. It'll cost a little bit but it's only a 1 page form so shouldn't be too bad.

I also need to re-certify my CCNA when I get back. I've been looking at other certifications and might pursue some. I've even been looking at the Microsoft certifications which I've been really hesitant to go for before. I haven't seen a good IT diploma course that I like so this might be one way to get some more qualifications and save me the cost and time of studying for 6 months in school. Hard to say though because not having any diploma or degree in IT has really been hurting me so I'm not sure if the certs will help that situation or not.

Looking to the Future

Well the continued lack of employment here in Lao is making it increasingly look like I'm going to be heading back to Canada soon. Lately I've really been missing home so in a way this seems good. On the other hand, I'm really afraid of falling back into the same rut I was in before I came here.

But in general, I'm increasingly feeling that I like what my life could be in Canada more than what my life could be in Lao. I just have that many more options to pursue my interests outside of work in Canada. I have friends and family that I miss, I improve my photographic skills in an amazing creative environment (NSCAD), I can take Taiji, etc, etc.

In Lao on the other hand, I do have some friends but my social life is pretty much as limited as it was in Canada, or worse. There's amazing places to go to take pictures but transportation is tough and the harsh sunlight means you really have to pay attention to the time of day you shoot. I do have a girlfriend here and I will miss her but we both knew that I might leave when we started dating. More and more I'm realising that the life I would want to live here is mostly just the fantasy of having an affluent lifestyle.

The big fear of course is that I'll be stuck in the job market back in Halifax and be forced back into a job that makes me miserable. I know I can't go back to call center work. There's actually a variety of reasons for this, the scheduling issues aside. One of the biggest is that I already have a lot of call center experience and I need to move into something else or else it will really look like that's all I can do. I can just imagine an HR person looking at my resume, "okay, you did some work for a non-profit organization during university, then you worked at a call center, you left that and tried to do freelance work, that didn't work out so you went back to a call center, then you got an international placement as a volunteer, and then came back to work at a call center". Doesn't sound too attractive does it? I need to move into something that will give me some more impressive experience on my resume and will make it look as if I've moved beyond call center work.

Now the big question is when? At the moment I'm riding out the end of my visa and will probably stay a little longer for Lao New Year (Apr 13-15) then travel a bit. My plane ticket currently has me leaving on May 6 but I can change that. I'd really like to be able to come back and take a photo course at NSCAD and they start up in the 2nd or 3rd week of May. It would be nice to come back and get right into doing something. Coming back and starting on a course right away and maybe taiji too will help me not get settled right back into the rut I left behind. I know I'll be jet lagged and tired for a bit so it will help to have something to get me off my ass right away.

The big thing that might hold up this plan, but in a good way, is that I've put together a contract proposal for some short-term contract work. It's a cool networking project so it would be some nice experience. Right now they seem pretty keen on my proposal but they haven't approved it yet. If that goes ahead then it will probably push back my return date. Hopefully I'll know soon because I'd like to make plans. Now that I've decided to come home I'd like to be able to move along with that right away but this contract would be some good experience and it would also be nice to be coming home with a bit more money to help me get settled in. For instance, I'd be able to get an apartment and some furniture as soon as I got a job offer instead of having to wait for a few pay cheques first to save up some money.

Back to Unemployment

Well I finished working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday. I've been able to keep reasonably busy so far. On Monday I went in to finish off some things ar work, still have some stuff left to do there and need to clean out my desk still. Yesterday I had a meeting with a company here that sounded promising. Turns out it's not a job but there's some potential to do some short contract work for them with some cisco gear so it's still pretty interesting. Need to do up a proposal and also figure out how much to charge them.

Mai (my girlfriend) took me out last night to teach me to ride a motorcycle. We just stayed in a parking lot and I drove around a bit. Still not quite used to working the throttle but I was surprised how easy it was to ride. I suspect riding a bike every day for the last 6 months has helped a lot. Not quite ready to hit the road (no licence causes a few issues with that as well) but it did help get my confidence up. If I stay I plan to get a motorcycle but I'll need to get my licence first because I don't want to cause more problems if and when I get hassled by the police. If I stay I'm planning to head home at some point for an extended visit so I'll get the licence then. Need to get a car licence too and learn to drive stick so that way I can drive anything here (not many automatics here).

Today I was a lot more down. Basically I'm in the same boat I've been in for the last 5 years or so, nothing's really changed I just had a 6 month placement in Lao to distract me from that for awhile. I don't really have a plan if I stay and I have no idea what I'll do if I go back home. Pretty much business as usual for me.


It's my last week at work so I'm really stressed. I have a lot of stuff that I wanted to get done and I'm just not sure if I'll have the time to do it all.

The fact that Tuesday was a holiday (Women's Day) didn't help because we stopped working earlier before lunch and then just went to parties in the afternoon on Monday and then the office was closed on Tuesday. So basically today was my first day really working this week. I want to tighten up a few things with the lab before the end of the week.

On top of things, work has gotten the budget to network all the office and wants me to do that. It's cool to get a more networking project but the timing is not the greatest.

Plus, I'm having to sort out my insurance and plane ticket. Fortunately, I have a friend who's a travel agent and she's helping me change my plane ticket.

On top of all that, I'm also trying to track down another job in Lao so I can stay and manage a relatively new relationship with my girlfriend. Pretty stressful.


The phrase "life is what happens while you're making other plans" has rung a bit true for me lately.

I apologize to any of my readers (assuming I have any) for the long delay in posting.

Things have been very busy with making the final plans for my mother's visit and then her arriving. At the same time, I was also trying to find out what the status was with my CUSO contract and if I would be able to extend it. On top of everything else, a week before my mother came I met a really nice Lao girl and have started dating her.

The plans for my mother's visit weren't too bad. Mostly just going back and forth via email on how she'd get up to Vientiane and which day. In the end, we opted for her to fly directly to Vientiane since that was the easiest option. She had a really good trip and is on her way home now (left here yesterday, should be flying to LA by now today).

We had a really good trip to Luang Prebang for 4 days and I really enjoyed getting a chance to see some other parts of Lao. I bought a few things but didn't go too crazy with the shopping.

As for the CUSO contract, after a lot of phone calls and emails I have finally found out definitively that I cannot extend my contract and will not be able to get another short-term contract. It essentially came down to funding and the way CUSO receives its funds for Lao, my placement doesn't fit into the category that they receive funding for. I was really disappointed about this. Plus, Hamid reminded me that we really don't have much time left. I now have only 2 weeks left on my contract and all next week I'm out of town at a CUSO meeting. I'm looking for other jobs here and I'm also having to start facing the reality that I might be back in Canada soon and what that might mean.

Now finally, the part that I'm sure everyone has been waiting to hear about. Yes, Andrew finally has a girlfriend! She's the same age as I am and we get along really well. Given the legalities around dating Lao nationals, I'm not going to post more details. Technically, the law says "sexual relationships" between foreigners and Lao nationals are illegal unless they are married. In reality, that means that if people in your village disapprove and want to cause trouble they can. We've been reasonably discrete and she's never been in my house so there hasn't been any trouble. Things have been going really good with her but she's a little upset about me going away next week since I just got back from Luang Prebang and might be leaving for good in the near future. I had been thinking about staying before I met her but now this is definitely one more reason to want to stay.

I'm starting to miss some parts of my life that I had in Canada (mainly friends and family but also some things I could do there) but the thought of going back to the same job market I was in before and also leaving my girlfriend behind isn't good either. I'm really starting to realise that either way there's no perfect solution. I'm looking for work here and am putting out some feelers back home and will see what happens, that's really all I can do.

The Day Keeps Getting Better

Meant to add that I had a good chat online with Landon as well (sorry Landon) which was really nice.

After I wrote my last blog post I went outside to look for a tuk-tuk home and heard some drums playing and decided to investigate. It turns out there was a South Korean drumming team just playing in the square next to the fountain. They were really good and it was the perfect end to a really good day.

A Good Day

A big advantage to realizing that I only have 2 months left is that it's pushing me more to get out and see places that I've been meaning to visit. I remember when I was staying in Russia I alwasy felt that I had plenty of time to visit museums or other towns and I kept putting it off. Suddenly, I only had 2 weeks left and there were tons of things I hadn't done.

I've gotten around a bit more in Vientiane but I've still let myself fall into this habit. Today though, I slept in a bit then got up and rode my bike downtown. I ate a late breakfast at the Scandanavian Bakery then struck up a conversation with 2 Dutch girls who are biking through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China. After leaving the bakery I rode my bike around downtown and took pictures of some of the buildings. I wanted to visit 2 temples downtown. I knew that both were closed at lunch time so I put that off until after lunch. In the meantime I stopped to walk along the promenade on the banks of the Mekong. I stopped to grab a drink and ended up talking to an interesting Lao person who's studying in Vientiane. He has a background in working as a tour guide in Phongsali province and is very interested in eco-tourism so he was very interested in hearing about CUSO and that they have 2 eco-tourism placements starting next month.

I left there and biked back to the fountain area to grab lunch. I did my usual weekend treat of a baguette sandwich at PVO and a fruit smoothie from the juice lady up the street. This is one of the best lunch deals in Vientiane (possibly of all time). I got the vegetarian sandwich today so with a pineapple mango smoothie the total cost was only 10,000 kip (or aproximately $1 US).

From there I rode back to Wat Si Saket and took a lot of photos there. It's the oldest wat still standing in Vientiane. It's fairly recent, being built around the beginning of the 19th century but it was the only wat that wasn't destroyed when the siamese razed Vientiane. All of the other wats that were older were destroyed and had to be rebuilt later. It's a really interesting site. I've found all the wats I've visited to feel realy peaceful which is nice. I find going out to take photos pretty calming to begin with so this is a nice combination (note, I always ask for permission before taking pictures on the grounds of a wat).

I biked around a bit more after leaving the wat. I had finished 2 rolls of colour so I dropped them off to be developed. I shot a few more things after that before biking home.

This evening I tried eating somewhere new for me, I had seen a Japanese place downtown that I'd been curious about and today I tried it. It was okay but I didn't find it filling enough so I don't think I'll go back.

For next weekend, I think I'm going to make a trip to "Budha Park" which isn't far from town and from some of the photos I've seen, it looks pretty strange. Hamid is going away for 9 days starting next weekend but he's talking about going to Luang Prebang the weekend after he's back so I'll probably go with him. Plus there's also the up-coming end of service meeting that will likely be in Savanakhet so there's a few things going on. Should be an interesting 2 months.

2 Months Left?!

Today I suddenly realized that I've been here for 4 months. That wasn't too shocking but what was shocking was that means that I only have 2 months left to go.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about this. On the one hand I'm really excited about going home in around 2 months (depending on travel after my contract ends). On the other hand, I'm really worried about going home. While I've had this great chance to live and work overseas I've realized that it hasn't solved any of the fundamental problems I need to deal with in my life.

I still have essentially no social life. Living here has really helped me learn that no matter where I choose to live I need to make sure to make more efforts to meet people and engage in social activities outside of work. When I was working at Eastlink my big excuse was the schedule. Here my excuse has been the language barrier. The bottom line is that I just need to be willing to put in more effort. I had a bad schedule before but I still had free time when I could have done things with people. Now I may have a problem with the language barrier but there are Lao people who speak English very well and there are foreigners living in the city, I just need to make more effort to meet these people.

The bigger issue though is that I still need to figure out more of a long-term employment plan and start working on it. I'm still faced with the fact that when I go home I will still have a hard time finding a job in IT that's not a call center. I have experience but call center experience isn't valued very highly and without a degree or diploma in IT it's pretty hard to get your foot in the door.

The possibility of extending my stay here has been thrown around. In some ways I really like this option. I feel like I could accomplish more at work if I had more time and I'd like to have the opportunity to see more of Laos as well. On the other hand, I don't want to stay if it's just to postpone dealing with the same decision. I would at least get some more experience with hands on technical work which is valued more than call center work but I'm not sure how much this would help. The other option I've considered is to look for other work here. There seems to be a pretty high demand for IT people so I could probably find a salary position. The main thing though is I'm worried about becoming complacent and stagnating because I got into a cushy lifestyle. If I stay then I'll really need to look for ways to keep pushing myself.

What is wrong with the world?

On 9/11 a terrorist attack killed nearly 3,000 people. This was definitely a horrible tragedy that should have been prevented. Since then it's been used as a justification for massive impositions on personal freedoms in the US and in various other countries. It has also been one of the main justifications for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. While there were potentially some ties with Afghanistan the attempts to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaida were pretty laughable and pretty much ammounted to taking advantage of the fact that most Americans would just lump all arabs together and not ask too many questions (and unfortunately this was mostly true). The US has used 9/11 as a justification to spend well over 100 billion dollars in war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. All in the name of "making the world safe".

On December 26, 2004 an earthquake off the coast of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia caused a tsunami which has already had a death toll of close to 150,000 and WHO officials are saying that total could double if aid efforts do not effectively help stop the spread of disease and starvation that is following the disaster. How much has the US contributed to this effort? $350 million. Do the math, assuming $150 billion spent on war efforts and 3,000 dead in 9/11, the US has spent $50 million per person killed on 9/11. 150,000 dead in a Tsunami and the US has spent only around $2300 per person killed.

I can't help but wonder how much better off the world would be if that $150 billion were spent differently. A Tsunami warning system in the Indian ocean would have helped warn many of the people and saved countless lives. Apparently, even 10 minutes of warning can have a huge impact on the number of lives lost. Spending some of the money on foreign aid would likely have improved the infrastructure in many of the affected areas. The lack of infrastructure has created numerous problems with sending relief to some countries and is contributing to the rising death toll. As well, medical facilities and staff could have been better equiped and trained which would make responding to a disaster like this much better.

Besides just helping reduce the number of lives lost in this disaster, $150 billion could make the US a leader in international aid. Reducing poverty and improving education around the world is a far better way to spread democracy than dropping tons of bombs on a group of people who already feel marginalised by the west.