What I Have Learned (Episode I)

Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
Trip End Apr 22, 2005

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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  ,
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

A Short List of Some of the Things I've learned in the Past 31 Days:

* The most dangerous things in Southeast Asia are sidewalks.

* In Cambodia fried spiders are the preferred roadside snack.

* The King of Thailand is the longest reigning living monarch.

* The King of Thailand does not smile for photographs -- ever. He is on every piece of currency wearing glasses and is always seen poker-faced. At the cinema the royal anthem is played and you must stand.

* Either the King of Cambodia is gay or he's doing a damn good job of faking it.

* Middle-aged French tour groups still think Indochine is a French colony and act like they still own the place.

* Middle-aged American tour groups still feel the urge to destroy it.

* Fat white men over the age of fifty who are traveling alone in Southeast Asia are surely up to no good.

* A Bangkok prostitute can expect to earn $12.00 for a full day's work.

* Neither the Thais, Cambodians nor Lao people use chopsticks unless they are eating Chinese noodles. They eat with a large spoon and a fork. They do not put the fork in their mouths.

* The King of Thailand's grandson had autism. He died in the tsunami on December 26th in Phuket. His mother held a press conference on the day of his funeral and began a new charity in his honour. He was very much beloved by the Thai people.

* Monks use the Internet and have cell phones.

* Unlike Vietnam and Cambodia there are virtually no beggars in all of Lao.

* Unlike children in Vietnam and Cambodia Lao children actually continue playing even when they see white people walk by.

* Considering the cruel hand the people of Cambodia have been dealt with repeatedly it's astonishing how kind they can be to strangers.

* Thailand is called the Land of Smiles. Lao is called the Land of a Million Elephants. Cambodia is one of the heaviest land mined countries on the planet.

* The United States dropped over two million tons of bombs on Lao making it the most heavily bombed country in the entire world. Many have yet to explode.

* Generally speaking Lao people do not smile as much as their neighbors. They are far more reserved and shy. Of all their neighbors they speak the least amount of English.

* The Lao people are more easy-going and relaxed than their neighbors.

* Phnom Penh breeds exceptionally odd ex-patriots.

* Phnom Penh girls ride motorcycles sidesaddle.

* Luang Prabang girls ride motorcycles while carrying parasols.

* Asian women prize white skin. It is impossible to find lotion without a whitening agent.

* Even most deodorants contain a bleaching agent for that sexy pale armpit you've always coveted.

* Just becasue you're the poorest country in Southest Asia doesn't mean you can't get in a good pot shot to those less fortunate. In a guide published by the Lao National Tourism Administration it states under "Pharmacies", "Fear Not. You are not in the back woods of south [sic] America where you are never sure which Gomez or Sanchez pharmacy will be open for business."

* Pepsi has the lockdown on all of Southeast Asia though Coke can be found in some places for a slightly higher price. Even the Lao National Tourism Administration says if you have a bad case of "tourist gut" that you should drink Pepsi.

* Television commercials in Cambodia consist of a red screen with text and pop music playing in the background.

* In Bangkok the traffic lights have a countdown to the time when they will change. If it's 30 seconds in green you know you have half a minute to cross the street before it turns red.

* In Phnom Penh there are no traffic lights.

* The ice cream man rings a bell in Southeast Asia as he does in the Western countries only he does so from a bicycle with a cooler strapped to the rear.

* Most children in Cambodia will get more money from begging than they will from selling postcards or other ways of earning an honest living. Giving money to children does not help them instead it normally goes to buy their parents drugs and alcohol. It is a vicious cycle.

* I now know why Sally Struthers was always bawling on those "Save the Children" commercials.

* Ninety percent of books sold in Southeast Asia are Xerox copies. An authentic used book will normally command twice the price.

* After Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge virtually decimated the Cambodian gene pool of all its artists and intelligentsia it's a wonder they have survived as a race. It's wonder still that they can trust anyone or even smile. But they do.

* There are ATMs everywhere in Bangkok and in every 7-11.

* There is one ATM in Lao.

* There are no ATMs in Cambodia.

* Thais eat whole roasted frogs on sticks.

* The magazine, The Economist is more expensive in Cambodia than in Thailand or Vietnam. In Lao however you cannot buy it at all.

* There is one bus in Cambodia without a television blaring kareokee. It unfortunately does not have air conditioning however.

* I have more stamina and a higher tollerance for irritation than I knew I had.

* I have more compassion for people than I thought possible.

* This journey is better than I thought it'd be.

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