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.