Tuesday, October 28, 2008

the last two pages

So, I just got my new B2 business visa, and now that I have it, I can stay in Laos for a year and come and go as I please. Getting it was a bit of a story that I have reserved only for my friends and acquaintances on Facebook, most of whom I know personally. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but dealing with passport issues can be scary.

For example, I thought I wouldn't get let into Malaysia this past winter:

We were coming from Singapore and the Singapore immigration officials had told me, each time we went in and out of Singapore, that I needed to get a new passport. I thought they were just being anal. I mean, Singapore is where they used to stamp SHIT in your passport if you were a Suspected Hippie In Transit. So I just said "Thanks for the warning, and the mint," while to myself I was thinking, "What, no gum?"

So we get to Malaysia and they just kind of look at my passport and scratch their heads. The sexy but demure Muslim woman in the jersey- cotton headscarf uniform calls over the balding guy with the glasses. The guy waves for me to follow him and I go with him into a little side room. Valerie comes too.

I'm thinking maybe they are taking issue with my name because I'm a yid and Israelis aren't allowed in Malaysia. Or maybe it's just a routine customs check. I hope they don't think we have drugs. I wasn't really prepared for the whole rubber glove treatment.

But the guy just thumbs through the last two pages and shrugs his shoulders and laughs. I laugh too. Valerie just looked at me like I was crazy. He points to the empty pages and says "finished." It slowly dawned on me. He needed a bribe.

"No... not finished.. See?" I tapped the pages a little too abruptly. Valerie gave me a warning "Isaac..." The guy repeated, "Isaac- Muslim name." "Yes, Muslim name!" I said and laughed.

Picking up the passport, he laughed and said "cannot stamp- finished... see?" and handed it back to me. I looked closely. In tiny print on the sides of the last two pages it said "For additional pages only- do not emboss" or something to that effect.

"Oh! Now I understand! Oh, woops! I was wondering why they kept telling me I needed a new passport in Singapore. You see I blah blah blah..."

I carried on like this for too long until the guy just stamped my passport on the last page. What else could he do? He waved us through with a smile.

I felt like a schmuck. Valerie said "Maybe it's best in those kind of situations to just be quiet and find out what they want." She was right. But we made it into the country with smiles all around.

But now the problem was getting to the next country. I needed more pages!

So we went to the US consulate where I was told I would have to get a whole new passport. It wasn't because the passport was disheveled from living in my back pocket. Nor was it that I had handwritten on the first page ,"In case of death please donate my organs" which had prompted at least one US border guard to ask if I planned to die overseas. It was because the lamination over the photo had a tiny crack in it. So tiny.

Ten days later, my new passport arrived with an RFID chip embedded in it and pictures of the buffalo and Native Americans that were wiped out by previous generations of Americans. Having read that RFID chips are fairly insecure, I now carry my passport wrapped in tinfioil to match my proverbial tinfoil hat.

Of course, if someone wanted to copy my passport, they would have had ample opportunity when it was out of my hands for the Lao visa, as my friend Matthew recently pointed out. I hadn't thought of that. Eh, what are you gonna do?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back in Laos!

Here we are, back in Vientiane. What a relief! We stayed a few weeks at various guest houses, and got our fill of the cheap eats around town. Valerie got a job teaching and we found an apartment thanks to JC realty who are the only ones in town worth their salt. The owner, Cameron, is from Australia and quite nice despite the bad rap Aussies get on our new favorite show "Flight of the Concords" which, thankfully, we are able to watch on HBO. Did I mention how much I love TV?

Cameron picked us up to see an apartment and a house, spoke Lao with the owners and negotiated for us. We went with the apartment because it is newer and nicer and we frankly don't need a huge house. We are very pleased with our new pad- a two bedroom, two bath, two story, furnished flat for $350 a month. This is pricey for Vientiane, but not outrageous. Though we know people who rent for less than $100 and have seen some places that cheap, they aren't places we want to live.

We're also pleased because we are a five minute walk from the gym, a bike ride from Valerie's school, and a 10 minute tuk tuk ride from downtown for about $1.20 give or take. We've got the aforementioned cable, and wireless internet with speeds up to 5Mb/s. There is a mini-mart across the street and several restaurants and shops within walking distance, though these days we are almost exclusively cooking for ourselves now that we can again. In general you can get almost anything you need here though, of course, imported items may cost a bit more.

In addition to the ease of daily life, which I have come to realize is very important to me, I just feel happy here because the people all around me are happy. In general, Laos seems to be a peaceful place where people aren't afraid to smile at strangers. We really only just arrived, but so far the vibe is quite friendly. I hope it stays that way.

So here we are. Time to get back to writing the screenplay, figure out a way to get the Xiosynth fixed or buy a new sound card and start playing music again.

Back in Bangkok for... One night.

Despite the PAD protests prompting Prime Minister Samak to call a state of emergency after the protesters stormed some airports, and despite my parents worrying, we had to go to Bangkok. Besides being our gateway to Laos, I still had yet to get the XIOsynth fixed. I knew exactly where in Bangkok to go- right around the corner from our guesthouse. And I figured this time I could wait a month for them to fix it. I had been going back and forth with Novation all summer via email about getting it fixed in the US and just got the run-around. So we had to go to Bangkok.

I always say we "had to" because, I guess, I really would rather avoid Bangkok. I mean I kind of enjoy the hubbub, but then there is something about the guy with no legs dragging himself down the street on his stomach, and the foul sewage smell, and the air pollution and the humidity and the crowds that I can't romanticize. It's just nasty in places and we always find ourselves in the mall to escape it, which is just as horrible, albeit air-conditioned.

So we had to go Bangkok. But I was happy because I was FINALLY going to get the XIOsynth fixed. Only, when I get home from dropping it off, the repair guy calls me and says sorry, they no longer fix nor distribute Novation products. Why? Because they can't get ahold of Novation on the phone and constantly get the run around from them, just like me. Arrgg! So I called the number they gave me for the new distributer, but am told sorry, they can only repair Novation products bought in Thailand. Double Arrggg!

The next night we boarded the overnight train for Nong Khai. We were finally going back to our new found home, Laos. Phew!

Hong Kong revisited

Somehow the summer went by and we found ourselves back in Hong Kong exactly a year later. This time we stayed with couchsurfers. It's the only way to travel if you ask me. You get the inside scoop and a built in network of friends.

I love Hong Kong. For some reason, I can't help singing to the tune of some Notorious B.I.G. song, "Hong Kong Motherfucker..." over and over. It drives Valerie crazy, but when you are walking around amid the throngs of people and the lights and traffic and the double decker trolleys and it's a million degrees out, what else can you sing? You're in Hong Kong, motherfucker.

This time we had tons of veggie dim sum. It was sooooo goood. Hong Kong motherfucker!


There is a track by Seksu Roba called LA FREEWAY that is the perfect soundtrack for my weekend. Jerry (DJ Ziploc) rented a red Mercedes convertible sports car with GPS (necessary for LA) and drove us around at a million miles an hour with the top down. Kind of like riding a bus in India on potholed roads around thousand foot drops, sometimes you just have to let go. No matter what, if you are with Jerry, you are going to have to fun, so just relax and enjoy the fact that you are alive for the time being.

We were there for our friend Alex Baker's rock steady wedding to Kerri Guse. When Alex's groomsmen came out in wayfarer shades strutting down the aisle to T-rex, you knew it was going to be a party.

For our part, Jerry and I both wore our custom tailored suits made in Thailand: he in his all white, three-piece with matching white leather shoes. and me in my off-white linen with southern gentleman hat looking vaguely like I stepped off the plane from Panama. Joe Pfeifer, whom Jerry was staying with, crashed the party. We figured it was OK since Valerie had to attend another friend of ours' wedding in Wisconsin, and our friend Jacob couldn't make it. Joe and Alex have friends in common so hopefully Alex didn't mind. Joe DJ'd the night before at a party in the hills where there was also a reggae band whose name I forget but who kept the revelers feeling irie. The next night we went to some bar in Santa Monica and saw some band who rocked. I can't remember the names, so I must have had a good time.

Other than that, it was just good to see my cousins- especially the newest addition Cousin Joshua who is, like the previously mentioned babies, ridiculously cute.

"BUS IT! Part II"

As Valerie says "A bus is a story." We had taken so many busses on our travels that it seemed only natural to take the bus up to Humboldt to see my mom rather than rent a car or fly. With gas and jet fuel prices being at an all time high, the bus seemed like the obvious choice. How bad could it be?

On the way up, the Amtrak driver, after showing up late, yelled at us for trying to board the bus without waiting in line- though the line was clearly for people putting their belongings underneath in the luggage compartment. An hour into the drive, we were already behind schedule, but the driver took an extended smoke break. At the next stop, he accidentally left someone behind whom we had to go back for. We ended up getting to Arcata a few hours late. What a yutz!

Spent a few days with my mom in Arcata, which was great. So good to see her. She took us to Rita's. Oh man, if you get a chance to go to Arcata, Rita's is some of the best Mexican food I've had.

On the way home, just to really get a whiff of the underbelly of American society, we took Greyhound. You know, you can take a chicken bus in a poorer country and have a lovely time. You might meet a toothless Gypsy popping one chocolate bon bon after another in Hungary, or be leaned on and held onto for support by ticket takers and old ladies in India, or help look after other people's kids in Laos. But nothing, nothing will prepare you for the palpable anger and unsavoriness that accompanies a ride on Greyhound.

Before you get on, you run the gauntlet of panhandlers from the rehab clinic across the street. That's OK- they're just trying to survive. Then the tattooed, Elvis-do, straight-from-a-John-Woo-film, cigarette voiced driver will explain over the PA that any shenanigans and he will not hesitate to kick you off the bus. And he will: when the guy who smokes a cigarette in the bathroom takes a break from telling all his friends on the other end of his cell phone "Yeah dude, I just got done seeing my son for the first time. No- different mother... On the ride up we totally partied in the back of the bus- someone had a joint and we busted out the vodka- she was hot but I didn't get her number..." Yep, the bus driver will righteously kick him off at the next stop even though it was "Just one puff, dude." Then the guy will plead his case with the driver and eventually be let back on to sit next to the fresh release from Pelican Bay Prison who will say it's because the driver is "one of those uppity yellows who thinks he is better than everyone." Finally the bus ride will culminate with some skanky lady calling the bus driver a "piece of shit" for yelling at everyone.

Now, contrast this with the California Shuttle bus ride I took down to LA a few weeks later to go to my friend Alex Baker's wedding. This is one of those "low-cost carrier" style bus companies where the first seats sold for any particular ride are only $5. I paid something like $19- much less than greyhound, mind you. But, the clientele are credit card holding, internet users who are less inclined to racial epithets and ad homonym attacks and more inclined to tip the driver.

Back in the US

A few movies and airplane meals later, we get to New York, get attitude from the coffee lady who won't give me change so I have to buy a five dollar cup of shitty coffee to make a phone call, and then I can't work the payphone. Seems you put the money in after you dial in New York. It's been a while since I have used a payphone, but I seem to recall in California you have to put the money in first.

So after losing all my quarters I try calling the operator to get them to credit me and am put on hold for what seemed like forever. Finally, I am told that they can send me a check. After being in the air for a day and a half, I lost my shit. I start banging the handset on the payphone and then I notice the cops nearby. They didn't bat an eye, so I banged a little more. Fuck it, it felt good.

In NY we stayed with our friends Ron and Betsy and their daughter Juliet in their Chelsea artist's loft for a couple of nights and then crashed at our friend Asaf's whom we met five years ago on a train in Vietnam. Saw Medeski Martin and Wood free in Prospect Park, got to chill with Bobo, and Jason Kleinman. After being away so long, it was really good to see friends.

After a few days in NY we headed up to Valerie's parent's place in East Lime Connecticut, where Lime Disease comes from. They have a massive TV and a million channels of cable. Since I have been writing a screenplay, I now have an excuse for watching hours and hours of television- I call it "doing research." Plus, I can actually sit a full two meters from the screen and still be able to see. Fuck yeah! I love TV!

We head up with her fam to the Adirondacks where we stay in a cabin for a week with her brother and sister in law and their new baby Gavin, who like all babies, is adorable. I plopped myself down in front of the computer and didn't move for the week, just wrote. I only went on one hike and never swam in the lake. I had to make up for time lost doing "research" and anyway couldn't be bothered with the heat and mosquitoes after being in Asia for nine months.

Hopped on Amtrack, or maybe it was MTA down to Boston where we stayed with Ben and Kim and their new daughter Samantha who is also just ridiculously cute. Their old pad in NY was tiny but overlooked the Hudson. Their new place is half of a house and is so nice and comfy, but they are used to the excitment of NY so they're not quite used to being back in Boston yet. Good riddance to NY I say. I like Boston better- much more chill. Guess I'm getting old.

Finally got home to Btown, chilled with the parental units for a few weeks and saw friends. Damn it feels good to be home. I missed my friends and family.

BKK to NYC via AUH on Etihad

After leaving Bangkok, unable to get the Novation XIO fixed--don't even get me started on Novation--we Flew Etihad Airlines to New York. When we changed planes in Abu Dhabi, we boarded with a group of refugees who all had UN name tags identifying them as such. It was either they (because they had never been on an airplane before?) or perhaps the uber-rich Sheiks with their five wives (because they couldn't be bothered to pick up after themselves?) who left the bathroom in shambles. I know it wasn't the group of American flight attendants flirting with a homeward-bound expat, because we were treated to their uninterrupted, inane banter for 15 hours straight. When one of the Sheik's wives called a flight attendant stupid for telling her to wear her seatbelt, that's when the flight got interesting.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bangkok with DJ Ziploc

We had to come to Bangkok early to get the Xiosynth fixed but it was
just as well because it turned out my main damie Jerry Boonstra, aka
DJ Ziploc was flying in from Koh Samui.

We spent one night at the clubs and the next at the movies with him. The club night ended at Spicy- I guess one of the few open til the wee hours. Jebus that place is crowded and dank. Valerie said it best as we elbowed our way through the sardines,"This is how people die." An old man tried to give me a backrub in the bathroom, but it's just what they do for tips I'm told. Still
though... So we left that place within five minutes- it was nasty.

The next night, Jerry suggested we see the new Indiana Jones movie. Despite his taking us to the worst club and worst movie ever, it was still fun to hang out with him. Always is.

Now, we are in Sukhothai and I just found out the shop can't fix the XIO in time to play any shows back in Bangkok, or NY for that matter. Bummer.

Maybe I can try to rent one... Now I know why they say bring two of everything.

Friday, May 16, 2008

LIVE at Martini Lounge, VTE

Played a show last night at Martini Lounge in Vientiane, one of the few hip bars in town catering mostly to the expat set.

Two days before the show, the usb connection on the Xiosynth stopped working- the laptop could power the device but the driver would not see the synth. Luckily, the owner of the bar, Mark, a super cool guy from SF (of course,) introduced me to a DJ from Paris who also happened to live in the Bay Area for a time-Vincent aka Vee Kee. Vincent saved the day because he not only let me use his audio interface but also scratched 007 soundtrack samples while the French James Bond spoof OSS 117 played on the video screen in the background. The man can scratch!

The higlight of the evening- drunk, barely eighteen year old, Lao rappers on the mic and a beatboxer named Thierry from Marseilles who quite possibly puts me to shame seeing as how he has only been beatboxing for a year and already has serious skills.

If we move back here, I'll definitely have to colloborate with those guys. In the meantime, I'll post some pics soon.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


We left our heart in Luang Prabang and caught the VIP bus to Vientiane. The difference between the VIP and the regular aircon bus being the 1/2 sized restroom for Very Important P'ing. It's situated underneath in the luggage compartment and is just like the half floor in "Being John Malkovich" as the ceiling is maybe 3 and half feet high. The looks on other passenger's faces when they saw it for the first time were priceless.

The next day we had to do a visa run to thailand, so we hopped on a local bus and headed to the friendship bridge. The bus was packed, and as I was getting on, I felt fingers twiddle on my hip. I had taken out the bus fare (only about a dollar for the both of us) and stuck it in my pocket. Sure enough, when I went to pay it was gone. Good thing that's all the pickpocket got.

As we were returning from the Thai side of the bridge (which was really just a quick peak at the duty free shops) we were about to hop on the Bus back, but didn't have Thai Baht for the ticket. The ticket taking lady was adamant- baht only. Since we were already past the emigration point, we had no way of exchanging money or getting baht from an atm. She suggested with a wave of her hand that we go back past emigration and get some Baht. The emigration guy suggested with a wave of his hand that we go forward to Laos. We were stuck in no-man's land with no Baht for the bus. Luckily the driver of the bus took pity on us and for the price of only two extra tickets, acceppted dollars. Ahh the power of bribery...

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Ostensibly we came back to Luang Prabang after Vietnam because we had some unfinished business here. We had yet to see the cave of 1000 buddhas, hadn't bathed any elephants, hadn't yet been to the waterfall. But the real reason is I think we may have landed on a place to live and we need to check into the possibilities.

Some years back my mom sold her house in Berkeley and left the Bay Area for the peace and quiet of Humboldt county. She said the rat race made her an angry person. At the time, I didn't
quite get it, but now I understand completely.

In laos, I am much happier than I have been elsewhere on our travels. I haven't been the complaining and grumpy-old-man-child that has been known to come out in places like Vietnam and India. Sure, it's hot and humid, but there is little traffic and the tuk tuk drivers and
street vendors aren't aggressive or annoying- they generally just say Sabaidee and leave it at that. The watts, traditional Laos houses on stilts, and French colonial architecture is gorgeous, and there are tropical flowers, kittens and cute little naughty children everywhwere. Luang Prabang, despite all the tourists, is a peaceful sanctuary. To get an idea check out Valerie's pics at

Unfortunately, Luang Prabang is also a bit of a one horse town, so it's lacking in things one would want if one were to live here. We've already exhausted most of the restaraunt choices, which are tasty but limited in scope and housing is in short supply. There are a few colleges where perhaps Valerie could teach, but the real action is in Vientiane, which is still mellow, but has more going on. With all it's NGOs and embassies, there is a sizeable expat community and the infrastructure to support it. And there are four clubs I could play there vs. two here. But alas, Vientianne is just not as beautiful a city as Luang Prabang. We'll see, I'd still like to check out Berlin as well, but that's another story.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Travel tools: Nokia e61i vs Apple iPhone

I've been an avid Apple user since the 1980s when I had an Apple][ with 48k of ram. At 12 years old, I wasn't very good at programming in BASIC, but I had cracks of all the games and kicked ass at Castle Wolfenstein and Lode Runner. I've got Apple street cred in spades.

So all y'all die hard Apple fans may be wondering why I am posting to my blog from a Nokia E61i and not an iPhone.

Last summer, when we were planning, I knew I needed an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mobile for traveling- a digital swiss army knife if you will. It had to be unlocked, gsm, have a decent camera with video because I didn't want to carry a bunch of gadgets, a qwerty keyboard so I could email, a large enough screen because I am legally blind, and Wifi for internetting. GPS would have been an added bonus.

The Nokia has everything but the GPS, which can always be added later via bluetooth. It's not the end-all-be-all, but it comes close. The camera is just OK- 2Mpx and no Carl Zeiss lens like pricier models, but for quick pics and vids it suffices. There are a bunch of apps by third party developers for the phone's Symbian s60 operating system including Fring which lets one use skype via a packet data connection or wifi. There is even a web server out for s60, but I haven't tried it.

The only real downsides are the lack of a world-wide warranty which the iPhone has and a few minor software bugs. The warranty issue is HUGE, but it must be said that I've dropped this thing a million times and it still works. Despite what the geniuses at Nokia in HK tried to tell me, the only problems I've had have been with the software, although perhaps stemming from it's relatively low internal memory of 64MB. If you save too many wifi access points, you'll run out of ram and won't be able to edit them and will have to reset your phone with a special code to do so. That was a major headache to figure out, but since then I discovered I don't need to save every hotspot I use- just the ones with passwords I'd like the phone to remember.

The other issues are annoying but liveable - there is no control-z undo, and you can't copy and paste text in the browser unless it is in a text entry field. But Seeing as how the iPhone doesn't let you copy and paste at all, the Nokia wins in this regard as well.

As for the iPhone, it is sold locked and at the time I was researching phones, no one had yet cracked it. Right there was the deal breaker. Because even if I had the option of Jail-breaking at the time, why risk having Apple brick my phone?

So while I love Apple products, for my purposes the iPhone just doesn't cut it. Perhaps once Apple makes enough money off of it to cover their r&d costs, they'll be able to offer an unlocked version. Until then, despite my chagrin regarding the warranty, I'll stick with the Nokia.

Hanoi Rolls

...on motorbikes whose driver's ride on the sidewalks, go the wrong way down one-way streets, and blaze through red lights and around corners. Nothing much had changed about the traffic since we were there last except there was more of it. I hadn't forgotten how bad the traffic could be, I just forgot how I would react to it.

We were in Hanoi for the month of March as Valerie decided to get her CELTA certification there. I was excited to go back to Hanoi knowing I could probably get CD's made, play some shows, etc.

I spent the first few days in vain trying to find a place to print up some CDs and check out the clubs but was unable to get much done. In fact, the traffic got me so aggravated, I'd come back to the hotel in a rage from almost getting hit several times per day. That and the constant barage of people trying to sell me stuff or give me rides on their motorbikes got under my skin. I quickly turned into the ugly tourist who gets angry at people for their cultural differences, shaking my fist at blank-eyed motorists as they barreled past, narrowly missing me by a few inches. Then a bus would blast it's horn and I'd be this close to losing it completely.

I contemplated genocide- all Vietnamese drivers must die. I contemplated suicide- if I got hit that would show them how badly they drive. I found myself biting my lip from stress each time I had to leave the hotel. My heart palpitated. I had ptsd minus the p.

I thought perhaps all the cafe sua dac was contributing to my anxiety, but a few days going without proved otherwise. It must be said, that Vietnamese ice coffee is to die for- sometimes quite literaly. Several of Valerie's class mates had already been in accidents, including one in a coma. Were it not for the fact that there are plenty of Vietnamese restaraunts in SF where you can drink the liquid crack til your brain explodes, it would almost be worth risking your life in Vietnam for the daily fix.

But thankfully we survived the traffic, and were able to come back to Laos, safe and sound in the land of everything tranquil and good.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Live at HIVE

Played a show last night at HIVE in Luang Prabang, Laos with London's DJ Errol Brown of SumoBrown. Errol dropped in tracks that his friends in London had sent him that day on top of my improv.

Errol was supposed to play the night before, but his girlfriend got sick so he came the next day instead. I asked him if he could scratch, and suggested we play together. It worked out really well for having just met and we intend to work together in the future. Errol is moving to Sydney but said he could hook me up with gigs in London. So after Asia maybe we'll fly Oasis Hong Kong to London and play a few sets before heading back to the states. I'm hoping we can chill with our couchsurfer friend Laggi and Valerie's college buddy Dan Zinner in London.

(Note: Oasis Hong Kong airlines went out of business soon after this post.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

People to Do, Things to Be, PLaces to Talk to

OK I've been asked by several people to blog more about our travels. Basically, we've been touring around Asia, partly to spread the gospel of Cousin Isaac and partly to look for a place to settle down for a year or so. One of our goals was to be budget conscience and not spend all our money. Another was to meet people and be social. Of course I also fully intended to play shows and promote my music...

Here is a quick take on all the places we have been so far...

Hong Kong ( Week 1: Sep 13-20, 2007)
We got to HK and spent a few hours in the airport making use of the free wifi and sipping smoothies from MIX as we braced ourselves for what we knew would be a hot, sticky, smoggy, expensive, and crowded city.

We got up the courage to leave the airport and made our way to our guesthouse in Kowloon's TST neighborhood. TST is bustling with bars and clubs, clothing and jewlery stores, cafes, etc. Mainly, one has to avoid the touts who come at you from all directions trying to get you into their tailor shops and fake handbag stores. It's like a video game trying to dodge them.

We found the guesthouse, which took up a few floors of a building that also housed a massage parlor (totally legit foot massage) and a no so legit brothel. It took us a while to figure out that it was a brothel- the first sign was when we saw a man being led by a tarted-up girl from one apartment to the next. Then there were the groups of men who would avoid eye-contact and change their mind about whether to go into a room every time they saw us in the hallway. Our room was small but it had aircon, internet, hot water and we only ever saw one cockroach. The brothel was an added bonus.

We got the Octopus Card which works on the MTR, busses, trams and ferries and rode them to all the tourist spots- the peak, the midlevel escalator, the big buddha on the hill, the ladies' street market, and wandered around various neighborhoods. Though we were hot and sticky, we were having fun being tourists.

The only major snafu happened two days into the trip: the e61i's web browser stopped working and it took me several trips to Nokia "care" centers to understand that they could not help me at all, even if I paid them. Nokia has no worldwide warranty and they cannot even refresh their phone's software outside of one's home country. So even though the phone was sold by Nokia unlocked, as a "World Phone" it cannot be repaired worldwide. Luckily, after calling customer service in the states, I was able to reset the phone using a code which finally got the browser back up. But I was incensed that I had to spend so much time figuring this out.

I had also driven Valerie crazy with all the visits to Nokia so I placated her by agreeing to hunt down veggie restaurants with her. Luckily, Chinese veg food is abundant and sometimes even excellent. Also, HK, being super westernized, we were even able to obtain Dagoba chocolate and organic Aloe Vera gel. So while we were annoyed, we were at least eating well and comforted by our western amenities.

Music-wise, before we left I had emailed several clubs but not one of them had returned any of my emails. I figured there might be a language barrier. Luckily, Kay, a couchsurfing contact got me a meeting at the Fringe Cub and we talked about doing a show sometime in the new year. I followed up after the meeting with email, but again, no reply. Perhaps email is not the preferred method of communication in HK, or maybe they just don't like my music. Who knows.

Anyway, I didn't have time to worry about it though because we were running around so much. Laggi, a twenty-something couchsurfer who works for Oasis HK airlines- (how cool is that?) took us around and hipped us to things like the mod lifestyle shop "Delay No More" which transliterated sounds like "Fuck Your Mother" in Cantonese. He proved it when he said the words in English and a few heads turned around in surprise. He also confirmed our suspicions about the brothel- the pink light was the giveaway. Yesteryear it would have been the yellow signs, some of which are still proudly displayed in the streets of Kowloon.

We went with Laggi to the horse races, lost all our money, and I believe I was mistaken for an Australian by a Aussie jockey who patted me on the back and said something which I didn't understand but took to be brotherly. That's when I got the idea for Aussie Bob- a travel show host who spouts inane bullpucky- videos to follow.

Next Up: Taiwan...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

People to do, Things to be, Places to talk to, part II

(Sep 20- Oct. 1 )
A week later we were in Taipei, scheduled to stay with our couchsurfing host Yuying, a retired teacher who was great fun. She said she could pick us up from the station where the airport shuttle drops you off. All we had to do was go inside the station and call when we got in.

But by the time we got into town, it was 1 am, raining, and the bus had dropped us off by the side of the station where they were doing construction so the doors leading into the station were blocked. We found a 7-11, which was not hard since they are on every corner, and spent a good half hour trying to figure out the payphone's card system until eventually a nice man let us use his cell phone, and even gave us money for a cab. This was our introduction to the wonderful friendliness of the Taiwanese. They are so great.

We spent a few days in Taipei over which we did some walking in the hills, the usual touristy bits like the night market, a temple or two, etc. We managed to meet up with Raman Frey of Frey Norris Gallery from SF, our former roommate and Seoul Brother (Valerie and Raman had met in Seoul a few years back.) Now Raman was in Taipei on bidness, checking out the art scene after a jaunt to Beijing in which he managed to buy about a billion pounds worth of gallery catalogs- each the size of a coffee table book. How he manged to get them home I will never know.

Anyway, Raman speaks some Mandarin so Yuying taught him how to sexually harass people in Mandarin, which I forget but the translation is "I want to eat your tofu." Given that Taiwan's national dish, Cho Dofu (stinky tofu) is the nastiest, stinkiest most toilety thing you can imagine, this seems like a pretty hot pick-up line.

Here we see Valerie chowing down on some Cho Dofu.

From Taipei we headed down to Taichung, a college town of sorts and stayed in the expat-chic digs of Dane, Theresa, and Ugo who were excellent hosts. After getting drenched in a downpur, they took us to a BBQ for the moon festival where we sat on little plastic kid's stools which broke under our weight. We cooked on a tiny square grill on the sidewalk, where everyone normally parks their scooters so you usually have to walk in the street. During the moon festival, BBQing is done all over the city, while people set off illegal fireworks. Actually, even barbecuing is illegal apparently.

Later that night we drank in the park with some of the neighborhood teenagers. The leader of the gang, whose name means Fish, is in a death metal band called "Cheese." In Mandarin, it sounds like "go to hell." He'd rather sing speed metal, but his guitarist only likes death metal. Fish taught me some Spanish, having spent a year in Costa Rica living "La Vida Pura" (Pure life.)

A few days and towns later we took a narrow gauge train to Alishan, a mountain that the Japanese had logged to death during their occupation of Taiwan. They replaced most of the thousand or so year-old red Cyprus with Cherry trees. Now there are signs posted that it is an artificial forest. It is still beautiful however. As you go up the mountain you pass tea plantations where they hand pick oolong. The train passes through 3 climates- "Torrid," (Tropical?) Warm and Temperate. The "temperate" zone is nice and cool, a welcome respite from the horrible heat below. At the top it feels like being in Santa Cruz, except instead of the Redwoods, they are Red Cyprus. (There are still a few left.) Apparently, the train is one of only 3 in the world that reach the top of a mountain.

So, the big tourist attraction at Alishan is to take the train up to the top of the peak at 4:30 am and watch the sunrise. You get packed into the train with hundreds of Taiwanese tourists who seemed to come out of nowhere. Everyone pushes and shoves to get into the train even though everywhere else in Taiwan they cue up like civilized human beings. With everyone packed in, the train just sits there on the platform for twenty minutes while you get asphyxiated by the diesel exhaust even though they claim it's a steam train. By the time you reach the top of the mountain, it is already light out, though technically the sun has not risen over the peak. Tour guides scream into megaphones as the hordes snap photos. It's patently absurd.

But Alishan has it's charms. We stayed in a great little guesthouse run by a Taiwanese tea baron and his family and took a walk through the Red Cyprus along a wooden walkway that led us past little shrines and over suspension bridges and what not. If we lived in Taiwan, I'd want to live in the mountains.

After Alishan it was back to Taipei, where for some reason we decided to stay at a cheap hostel that the rough guide book recommended instead of calling Yu-ying who said we could stay with her again. Big mistake. It was nasty- the bed was a dirty foam slab on a box spring and you could just feel the bed bugs jumping on you, even though apparently there weren't actually any bedbugs. There was however a giant cockroach, so we slept with the lights on. The next night, we were supposed to stay with this guy Neo, an event planner who has toured California and Kentucky as part of a cheerleading squad, but we demurred because we had to leave for the airport very early the next day. So we left the squalor of the hostel for the relative luxury of a two and a half star hotel which was worth every penny of the NT$1200 (about $50 USD.) Except for the schtinkwasser coming out of the tap, it was grand.

All in all Taiwan wins for friendliness, food, and convenience. It feels like a cross between Japan and Vietnam in a way. There are scooters everywhere, but you can cross the street. There are vegetarian restaurants all over the place which are quite good and usually pretty cheap. It's also inexpensive and easy to get around. The best part are the people, however. Taiwanese are generally warm and friendly and are not out to rip you off. If you look lost, they will help you, even if they don't speak English. If it weren't for the humidity, I could easily see us living there and learning some Mandarin.

Next Up: Japan...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Laos Now Brown Cow

OK so we got back to Singapore and I got my laptop and xiosynth, etc out of storage at Sleepy Sam's hostel where we had to crash a few nights before staying at our couchsurfer's place. Did I mention couchsurfing.com? It's social networking for travelers who stay at each other's pads for free. Brilliant.

Anyway, got the gear, chilled in Singapore a few days with some couchsurfers who Valerie talks about in her blog, wheelybag. Then headed up through Malaysia and checked out Malacca, Kuala Lumpur and Pennang before heading to Laos' Vientianne, Vang Viang and Luang Prabang. Now I am woodsheding in LP trying to get my chops up and a set together to start playing shows again.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I left my gear in Singapore for fear that it would get stolen or ruined in India. So for six or seven weeks I have been without my laptop or keyboard and have been only able to make music with a small hand drum I bought on the beach in Karnataka. But my trusty Nokia E61i has kept me connected to the outside world for the most part, save for a few snafus. (Just don't expect to have your U.S. bought Nokia supported by any of the numerous yet useless Nokia "care" centers in Hong Kong as there is no world wide warranty. Oddly, Nokia in India solved a problem I was having quickly and cheaply!)

In hindsight I could have brought my gear, but am glad for those few occasions on trains and buses that I was not lugging around an extra wheely-bag. Plus, Goa was not quite the rave on the beach scene I had expected since the cops have cracked down on the parties, so I didn't miss out on any opportunities to play here anyway.

Valerie and I met up with Ben Furstenberg of Epic Abridged and formerly of Extra Action Marching Band and had ourselves a time with him on the beaches of Karnataka. From there we traveled south to Kerala, ending up in Fort Cochin.

Fort Cochin, while touristy is the nicest place we have been so far. It is cleaner than the rest of India and instead of cows and stray dogs everywhere there are goats and cats- my kind of place. After eating Indian food for a month and a half, it is nice to eat western fare again.

If you want stories of our excursion to Mother India, check out Valerie's blog. Next stop: back to Singapore to get my gear which is hopefully still there! Then it's off to Malaysia and Laos.