Category Archives: asia

An Afternoon Snack (short film update)

UPDATE: This video will appear on the Travel Channel in the pilot of “What’s Your Trip?” hosted by Anthony Bourdain. It will air Monday, May 21st, 2007 at 8PM and 11PM.

Original music by Brandon Follett, singing with a pig.  Check out his other music projects.  weirdosmusic.com

This video was filmed in the rural, low-income, rice-growing region of Thailand known as Isaan, where few foreign travelers venture. We went there two weeks into our Thailand travels in order to volunteer on an organic farm.

Before traveling to Thailand, a Thai friend in the States warned me about our plans to volunteer on a farm in Prakonchai, Thailand. She wrinkled her nose at the thought, saying that the people of northwestern Thailand talked funny and ate gross food, such as fermented fish. She said this region was like the Texas of Thailand.

For ten days, we stayed near Prakonchai, working on the farm and living with a Canadian man, his Isaan wife, and their two children. Our farm work included cutting rice, raking straw from the rice fields, and scooping up water buffalo manure to mix into compost. Since we don’t speak Thai, we couldn’t tell if the people spoke standard Thai or not, but they do speak their own local language in addition to Thai. The food was good, but it was definitely different from the meals we’d eaten at Thai restaurants in the U.S.

One afternoon, our hosts took us with them to the local market. The fruits and vegetable stalls were piled high with various shapes and colors we’d never seen before. The meat section was fresher, bloodier, and included a lot more animal heads than we were accustomed to seeing. We were also fascinated to see all sorts of fried insects for sale, with the vendors sitting nonchalantly behind their neatly organized displays of fried bugs. Our hosts’ five-year-old daughter loved the tasty snacks and munched her way through a bag of fried insects while her parents did their shopping.

Brandon also purchased a variety bag of bugs and enjoyed their flavor and crunch. He wanted to share his delight on camera, so we filmed “An Afternoon Snack.” The film was made in a moment of pure Follettry.

Special thanks to Stacy McBain for giving the English language the word “Follettry.” How have we managed for so long without it?

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Momma, I’m Scared (short film)

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click on photo to watch

A short film about a young man traveling through SE Asia scared of strangers.

Enjoy original music by Brandon Follett, now available in ringtones that are sure to put a smile on your face.
From Momma, I’m Scared, “Bludgeon your brains, poke you in the butt, those are the words Momma said to me”

Ban Kumuang School located in rural Isaan, Thailand

Why are you trying to make me FAT?
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My belly is getting bigger. Not that it’s news worthy that an American is getting fatter, but never thought I’d gain weight as a result of eating rice, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

I always figured it was fast food and processed food that made people fat. I thought people got fat from slurping down soda, licking sugary ketchup off their fingers, wiping the fat from burgers off their lips, and pretending white bread with some injected vitamins has nutritional value. When these people couldn’t get enough fast food, they would then super size meals, call Domino’s Pizza, buy a Twinkie at the convenience store, or lose themselves in the isles of processed food found at the supermarket.

All my life people told me to eat healthy by saying no to processed food and yes to fresh and local. While volunteering Ban Kumuang School in rural Isaan for a month, I ate breakfast and lunch with the teachers, and dinner was at the home of the director and his wife. With no processed food in sight, I didn’t think twice about watching my waistline.

Within a couple of days of starting my job, the Thai teachers noticed the chicken feet and spoon-sized frogs left uneaten on my plate. I’m vegetarian, I explained. Then next day, and for the rest of the month, eggs became the substitute for meat. The omelets became like the endless soda machine at Taco Bell. I never felt a minute of hunger while staying in one of Thailand’s poorest provinces.

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Getting fat off eggs, vegetables, fruit and rice came as surprise. I told the Thai teacher, “In the U.S., food corporations and fast food restaurants treat me the same way you indulge me. They try to get me to stuff myself with product. You put omelets in front of me and say, ‘eat, eat, eat.’ Then when I’m full, you put more omelets in front of me and say, ‘eat some more.’ Food businesses are always trying to get me to eat more than my stomach can handle. The food and drink marketers use coupons, two for one specials, happy hours, super size, buffets, and sexy women to sell large quantities of merchandise to make a profit. You, on the other hand, push food and drink on me with the same intensity as the corporations, but you don’t make me pay. Why are you trying to make me fat?”

The teacher replies, “Thai hosts are happy when you get fatter. It means they are taking good care of you.”

Luckily, my weight gain was not the cause of someone trying to make a buck off my consumer-dulled mind. My weight gain is a testament to our Thai hosts’ generous hospitality.

Omelet Review located near Warinchamrap, Thailand

The Westerner Suffering from Mental and Sanitation Travel Sickness

Basically, if you’re a Westerner visiting Thailand and can’t laugh and smile while your vegetables are cut on a fly-infested cutting board, then you’re mentally going to have a hard time.

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Sure, we would like to drive 30 minutes to the nearest city and dine at a clean outdoor patio with misters or large fans. We would like to be waited on by an attractive server who keeps the soda water, ice cubes, and Johnny Walker flowing, while we eat an omelet with proper utensils and have the option to wash our hands with running water and soap instead of wiping them on our trousers and pretending their clean. Right now, time and money are working against us. We rely on Aidan and Robert to play the role of the attractive server.

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Despite our time and money limitations, we can afford some cheap beer, a cheap omelet and good conversation somewhere in the countryside near Warinchamrap. We get two out of three at this rural Thai restaurant, and to our surprise, we get more than good conversation and cheap beer.

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We got a four star omelet. I now know how dirty Cinderella felt when she put her warty, corned, fungus-filled peasant foot into the clean slipper. The omelet was my slipper. My dirty hands were like Cinderella’s feet. The moment when my fingers brought the omelet up to my lips and my tongue reached out and tasted the bursting flavor of peppers and egg, I felt like a princess.

The other day, I was reading Ancient Wisdom, Modern World by the Dalai Lama. Here I summarize the Dalai Lama’s words about health:

Sickness is a product of the environment. If you come from the West, the sickness tends to be mental and stress related. If you come from the East, the sickness tends to be water-borne and sanitation related.

I imagine a journal entry from a Westerner suffering from mental and sanitation sickness:

Dear Journal,
After eating the disease-riddled omelet, I got diarrhea. I attribute my discomfort to poor sanitation practices used at the restaurant. Squatting over a hole in the ground has made my thighs sore. I have come to agree that Western toilets are for out of shape, lazy people. Now I wish I was in better shape and hadn’t spent so much time at the beginning of the vacation sitting by the pool looking at the ocean.
Signed,
Suffering Sam

Dear Journal,
I’m still sick; I get depressed looking at my dirty self in the mirror. I came to Ubon to volunteer at a school. I teach kids about Christ through English Camps. When I look at myself, I no longer see Jesus in my face. I resemble the heathens he was trying to save. In all the pictures of Jesus I’ve never seen him dirty. (Maybe bloody, but that can’t be attributed to his personal hygiene). The only thing whiter than Jesus’s face is his robe. I’m no longer Christ-like. I’m dirty like the devil……..Save me, Jesus!!!!
Suffering Sam, the dirty sinner

The journal ends, but Sam’s story is only beginning. Like the diners who must drive to the café instead of taking a ten-minute Saturday morning walk, Sam is in too big of a hurry. Like the omelet eaters who cannot wait for their tomatoes to ripen in season, Sam can’t wait for Jesus to impress upon him that everything will be all right.

His fast-paced heart lets the anxiety of dirtiness grow big and tall in his life.  The grim reaper waltzes Sam’s depressed thoughts over to a gun. His dirty fingers smudge the white ivory grip. He can’t put the barrel in his mouth because he’s afraid of catching a cold from the last person who might have blown his or her head off. His Western mental sickness of being afraid of objects that don’t smell lemon fresh saved his life.

The gun fires but only takes off his ear.  Friends find him passed out from shock, lying on the ground, with one hole still suffering from sanitation sickness and a new hole suffering from mental sickness.

Seaside Guest House located in Kep, Cambodia

Fear of HIV Distracted me from my Omelet

Shortly after dusk, we arrived at the coastal community of Kep where we found a clean, spacious room with a bathroom for $4 a night at the Seaside Guest House.  The following morning, we found an omelet on the menu for 2000 riel (50 cents).  As you can see from the picture below, I look cool wearing my sunglasses to breakfast, but my mind wasn’t focused on the omelet.  Underneath my shades, I was harboring an embarrassing secret.

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Between falling asleep after the long motorcycle ride and waking up, my eye had fallen ill.  Not even visions of fresh basil, garlic, mushrooms, feta, Gouda and avocado; freshly grated hash browns; and thick slices of toasted sourdough bread smeared with huckleberry jam could distract me from my eye problem.

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Fretting about finding proper eye care, I had become a mental wreck.  I was afraid that I would become feverish and pass out, then wake up in a Cambodian hospital shack, infected with HIV from a dirty needle used to administer antibiotics.  I was afraid that a doctor would amputate my eyeball and I would have to wear a glass eye that is too small for my big eye socket, because maybe in Cambodia they only make small glass eyes for small eye sockets for small people.  To make the small glass eye fit in my socket, I would have to use chewing gum.  If you have ever tried to buy clothes at a local market, you will understand this fear.

I went to a pharmacist who thought I had a black eye and needed pain relief.  She tried to sell me some pills loaded with codeine.

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I went to another pharmacist who recommended eye drops.  I bought the drops, and I was back to enjoying omelets within a couple of days.

Indian Curry Pot Restaurant located in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Curry-Infused Dreams of Freedom (or) A Backyard for my Dog to Piss
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Indian Curry Pot Restaurant & Guest House,
I wouldn’t want to stay at a place called the Curry Pot,
even for the price of $3 a night.

I imagine a hammock strung above a steaming pot,
with curry smells rising up in dreamlike wisps of spiciness,
curling through the air, drifting below my nostrils as I try to sleep,
infusing my dreams with temples, rats and brightly-colored saris.

Anyway, I’m not looking for cheap accommodation.
I’m looking for a good omelet.

Usually I order curry at Indian restaurants,
This time I try an omelet
with a baguette and fresh fruit on the side.

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I sit at one of the few tables,
notice an adorable little girl with big brown eyes
milling about between the tables
but my attention is drawn to the sea turtles on TV.

Mid-omelet,
not expecting a baby to be sleeping in a restaurant,
I am surprised to hear
a whimper from the corner.
A woman immediately appears from the kitchen
to breastfeed the baby
who had been nestled quietly in a bed behind the counter
the whole time.

As I’m swallowing the last bite of banana,
I meet the owner, a happy man
who enjoys chatting with his customers.

He pulls a chair up to my table,
talks about his native land of Pakistan,
the restrictions,
strict Muslim codes
compared to here in Cambodia.

He takes customer service to an unfamiliar and appealing level
of intimacy and entertainment.
It’s as though he’s chatting with a friend in his living room.
Then I realize that’s exactly what’s happening.
I’m the friend who has entered his home to enjoy a meal.

Here in Cambodia,
he’s allowed a family,
a business on his own terms,
freedom to be a homeowner and entrepreneur.
Selling curry, omelets and cheap accommodation from his living room.

I’m from Boise, Idaho
where people place a different value on property.

Yes, a person can own a piece of land.
On that land
they build or buy a box
to store possessions.
The backyard
simply a place for the dog to piss.
Beautify the front yard,
motivated by a Better Homes and Garden look.
A fancy exterior will increase property value.

Indian Curry Pots
do not exist
in Boise, Idaho.
The only type of acceptable business
in suburbia:
a Garage Sale.
Make way for new possessions!

As I get up to leave, I realize
the 5-year-old girl is his daughter.
She comes over to sit in his lap,
wants to know if I can
recite the ABC’s.

America, Better Change.

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Indian Curry Pot Restaurant & Guest House
Victory Hill
Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Fishing for Breakfast Ko Chang, Thailand (short film)


Filmed on the island of Ko Chang in eastern Thailand. One side of the island is full of white sandy beaches and resorts for tourists. The other side is more of what the island used to be like—mangrove trees and fishing villages. We opted for a quiet, peaceful bungalow among coconut trees on the fisherman side of the island. Local fisherman, Visarn, let us tag along while he worked.

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