Category Archives: Laos

SE Asia Omelet Zine featuring eateries in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos now available

In 2010, Bangkok Books began distributing You Can’t Hide an Elephant in an Omelet as an e-book.  Tara Blackmore from Broken Pencil has this to say about the book:  “What a neat concept this book offers: essays and stories about omelettes and cuisine from around the world. This particular issue offers experiences from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

Part restaurant review, part tour guide, this book offers pure entertainment in eloquent language that can be enjoyed by just about everyone.

Written like a memoir (the good kind), the book offers a glimpse into foreign food production, consumption and a healthy dose of social interaction and culture shock as well. It’s an objective look at travel and all it entails, offering tips and advice on how to get by. It also gives descriptions of local cuisine that can either repulse you or attract you, so reading it while hungry is a bad idea.

This book is well worth the money. Rich with well-worded descriptions and beautiful photos, this zine will satisfy the reader who has either travel-curiosity or no idea what to make for dinner (which, of course, would be omelettes).”

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN WANTING TO READ A CLEVERLY WRITTEN BOOK ABOUT EATING OMELETS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA HERE’S YOUR OPPORTUNITY.

Click on one of the below links to purchase a copy:

Ipad
Android
Kindle
Bangkok Books

Front Cover
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Sample Page
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Back Cover
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Vangviang Organic Farm located in Vang Vieng, Laos

Journey to the Source of the Mulberry Leaf Omelet

Nutritious and delicious, the mulberry leaf omelet at the Organic Farm Café takes the omelet experience directly to my body in a nourishing and satisfying sort of way. After a few bites of speckled green omelet, I’ve fallen in love and want to meet the mulberry leaf’s source of goodness, similar to how couples who are in love become curious about the source of their partners’ good looks. After asking around, I find out that my omelet’s mulberry leaves’ tree parents live only 3 km from town at the Vangviang Organic Farm.

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From the restaurant, I walk across the street to a bike rental shop. Ten bikes are lined up on a patch of dirt accompanied by a ‘bikes for rent’ sign. I hand the man a dollar (the dollar is one of the many currencies accepted in Laos), and the popular LA brand bicycle is mine for the day.

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My route takes me through the center of Vang Vieng a.k.a. Tube Town. While riding, it dawns on me that the challenge of travel is how to maintain a familiar level of comfort while in a foreign culture. Here, it’s easy. Countless bars serve up a mind-numbing cocktail of drugs in milkshakes or on pizzas, TVs show constant reruns of Friends, and low tables surrounded by pillows invite one to lounge the day away.

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A few blocks from the bar scene, the Nam Song River flows through town. The popular tourist activity is to tube the river while wearing small amounts of clothing. Most of the men are shirtless with sculpted hair. The women wear big sunglasses that hide part of the forehead, eyes, and upper cheeks. It seems the women like to show off everything but the upper part of their faces. The bright bikinis make up for the lack of eye color.

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I leave the tourists in Tube Town behind, and continue on the road toward the farm. The road is a transportation utopia – shared by foot traffic, bicycle traffic, motorcycles and trucks. Everyone appears at ease with everyone else. This feeling of serenity must come with knowing the motive behind what you are doing. American drivers always seem perturbed when they drive. I think a lot of that frustration comes from driving without a real purpose.

A conversation between an American motorist and himself:
Self, “What the hell am I doing by myself in this gigantic Humvee driving to the store a mile away from home to buy a can of soda?”

Inner Self, “You look good in a Humvee! You can afford a Humvee, so it is your god given right to drive a Humvee!!”

Self, “This stop-and-go traffic sucks!! This street needs to be widened from two lanes to four. Look at those trees taking up valuable driving space.”

Inner Self, “You should be able to drive freely, and nature ought to be caged in national parks.”

Self, “There are no parking spaces close to the store. Why can’t the store be longer so there can be more storefront parking? I hate walking.”

Inner Self, “Leave the walking to the four-legged critters who don’t have the sense to drive, but you still want to maintain a healthy look. Don’t drink regular soda. You need Diet Coke Plus!”

Self, “I know, I drive by the billboard so many times, I have it memorized. Each 8-ounce serving of Diet Coke Plus provides 15% of the daily value for niacin and vitamins B6 and B12, and 10% for zinc and magnesium – but I only have a coupon for regular soda. I promise I’ll eat a chewable Flintstone vitamin as soon as I get home. Maybe go to the gym?”

Inner Self, “You always break promises. You feel ugly and guilty.”

Self, “I’m going to take a drive in the country to relax.”

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A Lao truck driver would never ask himself why he’s driving a gigantic truck, because the answer is obvious – the 10 chatting people in the back or the sound of a mooing cow.

When I arrive at Vangviang Organic Farm, I find more than mulberry trees. I find a business built on the philosophy of preserving ecological diversity and providing locals with accessible and sustainable technologies to earn a living. Someone here must realize that you can grow a vegetable from chemicals, pesticides and big industry, but you can’t create a salad from thousands of acres of corn.

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Even with the success of the mulberry business, the owners want more than just a mulberry tree empire. At the farm, there are goats, guest houses, and a beautiful vegetable garden. There is also a volunteer program to help build community centers, teach English, feed baby goats and many other projects. The goal of the farm is to grow a healthy community.

As I pedal back to town, I wonder what it would be like to order an omelet in Boise, Idaho and use the omelet as a guide for a bicycle adventure. For instance, would the hash browns be made from local potatoes within bike riding distance? If so, would I get run over by a Humvee along the treeless four lanes of Fairview Ave on my way to the farm? When I arrive at the farm tucked away between the suburban sprawl of Meridian and Boise, will I be greeted by a business that provides a local product and supports local people? Or will I find a dusty field growing one crop only and the topsoil blowing away in the wind?

Thinking of the traffic and monoculture farm practices makes drugs and reruns of Friends seem like a bright future. Actually, I think the future is all ready here. How many times a day can a person watch Friends reruns on network and cable TV? How easy is it to get prescription drugs? Hmmmmm….

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This blog post sponsored by Local Grub.

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Click on the logo to learn about Local Grub

Not Lost in Cambodia

For those of you who haven’t heard the word, we’re not lost in Cambodia. Actually, we’re lost in California and slowly making our way back to Idaho for the summer. Even though we’re no longer in SE Asia, we’ll be adding more SE Asia omelet reviews and short films to earthwormenvy.com, then turning our attention to Pacific Northwest omelets and adventures. SE Asia omelet reviews will be available in book or zine form mid-summer.

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Not lost in Cambodia
Boiseans work, document six-month trip to Southeast Asia

By Jeanne Huff – Idaho Statesman
Edition Date: 04/15/07

A little more than six months ago, Boiseans Brandon Follett, 31, and Amy Johnson, 30, set out on a journey to Southeast Asia. They chose a destination they didn’t know much about. Neither knew the language well, although Johnson studied some guidebooks for often-used phrases and numbers so they could keep track of how much things cost.

Before their trip, the two had produced and sold videos to Current TV and had published poems, articles and reviews for a variety of publications. While on the road, they continued selling videos and publishing articles. They also worked their way through southeast Asia as volunteer farmers, English teachers and construction laborers.

Follett and Johnson are spending their last weeks abroad in an ocean-side bungalow in Ko Chang. They’re due to return to Boise on May 7.

I recently chatted with Follett and Johnson via Skype (a cool way to phone overseas on a dime) and then followed up with these questions via e-mail. What follows is an edited version of our phone and e-mail conversations.

What made you decide to go to Thailand? Why for so long?

Amy: Brandon wanted to go to Thailand to explore a culture that wasn’t as Western-influenced.

Brandon: And Amy can be talked into going pretty much anywhere. (Laughs.)

Amy: The first month everything is new and fun. After three months, the place starts to feel like home.

Things that caught our attention when we first arrived start to feel like everyday. The fish eyeballs on the table no longer freak me out. I no longer wonder why everyone’s wearing yellow shirts on Mondays, and we actually have two yellow shirts each to wear in honor of the king.

In the restrooms, I no longer bother looking for soap or toilet paper, and riding on the back of a motorcycle feels safe and comfortable.

How have you kept yourselves going there? How do you make ends meet, stay alive? Where do you stay?

B&A (e-mail): We volunteer to stay alive. It’s a way to meet people and keep ourselves entertained, to give some sort of meaning to our travels, and it’s also a way to support ourselves since we’re traveling on very little savings.

We found some volunteer farm gigs though World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and a volunteer English teaching job through helpx.net.

We get around by public transportation. Mostly buses and one overnight train ride. Thailand has a good bus and train system. During our one month volunteer teaching (job), the director of the school let us use his motorcycle.

Brandon: We rented a motorcycle for a few days in Cambodia.

Amy: We usually stay at the cheapest guest house we can find that still fits our minimum standards of cleanliness. We made a short film about our first guest house experience — “Guy Guesthouse, Trat, Thailand,” it’s on our Web site.

Brandon: I find volunteering more rewarding than sitting in a swimming pool looking at the ocean from a hotel.

Tell us a little about your filmmaking in Thailand, your blogging, your omelet reviews.

Amy: We started our filmmaking and omelet reviews last summer while still living in Boise in preparation for documenting our world travels, which began in June 2006 when we left Boise to live in Moscow, Idaho, for five months. We started writing omelet reviews as something fun to do on Sunday mornings while exploring rural Idaho, and it’s turning into a genre of its own. All of our omelet reviews are on our Web site. We posted our first guest omelet review last week, and we know of a few other travelers currently writing omelet reviews to add to our collection.

An Omelet in Phnom Penh” has been published by Gumption magazine and Tales of Asia Web site. “Kraft-inspired Omelet” was published in Gumption magazine.

B&A (e-mail): In Thailand, everything is new to us here, so there are lots of interesting things to film, like cockfighting and a barber shop named after JFK. People back home seem more interested in films about eating bugs in Thailand than picking huckleberries in Idaho.

However, The Discovery Channel is interested in both the bug film and the huckleberry film for the “Show us Your World” series. We’re waiting to hear final word from them on when our short films will be aired.

Our blogs are mainly our omelet reviews and short films. Some poems and other travel stories are also mixed in. We don’t update on a daily basis, but we’re continually writing and editing, so we add new posts when we have something that’s quality.

Our “Honda Dream” travel story about renting a motorcycle in Cambodia (was) published on GoNomad Web site in March.

Haggard and Halloo published the poems “I’m still Poor, Eating like a Yuppie who shops at the Boise Co-op,” and “Cockfight.”

What do you like the most about Thailand?

B&A (e-mail): Combined businesses/residences — a restaurant/small store/laundry/etc. in front and the family living area in back or upstairs. We’ve seen many examples of this all over the country.

We like the direction some of the farmers are going with sustainable agriculture.

We like the respect that people show to their elders and how families take care of each other. “Mai pen rai” attitude, which translates to something between never mind and no worries. It’s about not getting upset about anything, rather an acceptance of whatever comes along, knowing that it, too, will soon pass.

What is hardest about living there?

Amy: The visa/immigration regulations.

Brandon: Remembering not to use the local water.

Amy: Remembering not to point the bottoms of my feet at people because I’m used to sitting with my feet out in front of me, but in Buddhism the feet are considered the lowest and dirtiest part of the body and shouldn’t be pointed at other people. The head is the highest and you shouldn’t touch people on the head.

Buying deodorant. All of it is advertised as “whitening.” Thai people spend a lot of money on whitening products. We find it ironic because we know people back home who spend a lot of time and money on skin-darkening products.

What do you do for fun there?

B&A (e-mail): We play rummy. We’ve been playing for the past few years. Current score: Amy 45,930, Brandon 44,090. We talk to other travelers. Make films and write omelet reviews. Play music. Read books.

Is it hard communicating when you basically don’t know the language?

Amy: Sometimes. Only if we’re in a hurry. If we have a lot of time and patience, then it’s easy. Example: when we ended up at the police station because the name of the police station was the same name as the road our hotel was on.

We’ve learned to write things down in the Thai language to try to make ourselves understood. We carry around the Thai word for vegetable fried rice, and that usually serves us well. I know the numbers and enough Thai to try to negotiate lower fares for tuk-tuk (taxi) rides and things that we buy at the markets.

That’s another fun part about Thailand travel — in many places, the prices are not set, and it’s part of the culture to discuss between buyer and seller to establish a price.

What is the most interesting food experience you’ve had?

Amy: Many places have English menus. I once tried to order from the menu by pointing to a picture that looked good. I only tried that once because it didn’t work very well for me.

Brandon: Most interesting food experience: Disco dancing shrimp that crawl off your plate toward the water. This is the most interesting eating experience because usually I have someone else kill the creatures that I eat.

There’s nothing more psychologically interesting than letting the little shrimp get within an inch of freedom then snatch it up and kill it with a swift chomp by the molars. I do not swallow the shrimp whole because that seems a little inhumane to let them be slowly digested alive.

I eat fried insects whenever I get the chance. We made a film about eating bugs called “An Afternoon Snack” that the Discovery Channel is interested in and almost made Amy’s aunt hurl.

Amy: I am not as adventuresome when it comes to eating insects. I was able to eat some fried ants when I wrapped them up in a leaf and made the effort to not think about what I was eating, then they were actually quite flavorful.

The disco shrimps were a bit more challenging. They jump off the plate and wiggle around on the mat (we’re sitting cross-legged on bamboo mats to eat), and they jump off the spoon if you’re not quick. I was able to eat two small ones to satisfy my dinner mates, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch the chicken foot that Brandon put on my plate when I wasn’t looking.

Any advice for others who might want to travel to an exotic land, spend very little money and not know the language or much about where they’re going?

Amy: Don’t do it. (Laughs.) Know yourself well and do what fulfills you, not necessarily what’s listed in the Lonely Planet as the top 10. Make your own top 10. Do your best to learn the language, even if it’s difficult. At the very least, know how to say hello and thank you, and knowing the numbers is very helpful, too.

English is becoming a world language, but don’t expect everyone to speak English.

Above all, travel with respect for the people and the environment of the place you are visiting. Try to see beyond your own culture. You’ll see many different practices and customs, recognize them as different from what you know but not necessarily better or worse. Withhold judgment and take the opportunity to learn about other ways of being. Call home and e-mail travel updates and reports.

Brandon: Don’t go as a tourist.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact Jeanne Huff at jhuff@idahostatesman.com or 377-6483.

Kong Keo Guest House located in Phonsavan, Laos

Innocent Omelet-Eater Struck by Bomblet
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At the Kong Keo guest house in Phonsavan, Laos, a row of planter boxes made from bombshells separates the outside patio from an old airstrip. Some bars and restaurants in the U.S. mount guns on the walls, but the guns probably have never been used with the intent to kill people. What an odd omelet thought to know that these bombs were intended to kill omelet eaters just like Amy.

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The omelet comes inside a baguette, the first of many omelets cradled in warm bread while traveling in Laos. It has the right combo of fresh carrots and pepper. The taste should take me into a moment of pure omelet indulgence, but there is a familiar sadness to this place and a nagging from the past, like I’ve been here before. I wonder if at one time I could have been an Air Force pilot or Army soldier involved in the secret war in Laos? Then went back to the USA and shot myself in the head to become another number in the embarrassing statistic that more Vietnam veterans have killed themselves than actually died in combat?

Having been raised Christian, it’s hard for me to grasp the idea of past lives. Anyway, a victim of a screwed up war and suicide would most likely be in purgatory, confused, with one hand reaching toward the devil’s tit and the other toward Jesus’s warm heart, instead of eating an omelet in Laos. There’s got to be another reason for the familiar feeling of sadness. On the table I notice an ashtray made out of a bomblet. Bomblets are small round canisters that are released from a cluster bomb, a weapon that many nations are in the process of banning. Besides the obvious problem of dropping bombs on people, a lot of the bomblets do not explode on impact. 35 years later, little kids find the unexploded ordnances while playing and blow themselves up.

The familiar feeling of sadness becomes even stronger as I reflect on an article I read last summer about Israel pulling out of Lebanon and dropping cluster bombs on the border villages. Now, like the Lao kids, Lebanese kids are blowing themselves up after the Israeli withdrawal. In both cases, the cluster bombs were made in the USA.

The other day, I read an article about an international cluster bomb meeting. Countries around the world have signed an agreement not to use cluster bombs. Two countries did not attend the meeting: USA and Israel.

I hope the United States and Israel change their military and foreign policies, so that next time I experience a familiar feeling in a new land it will be one of pride and happiness.

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Info about cluster bombs

30-year-old bombs still very deadly in Laos

46 nations declare cluster bomb ban

Cluster bombs kill in Iraq, even after shooting ends

Israeli / US Cluster Bombs Litter Lebanon

Handicap International

**Take Action: Ban the Bombs that Keep on Killing show your support for the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007**

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Kong Keo Guesthouse
P.O. Box 158A, Phonsavan
Xieng Khuang Province
Tel: (20) 551 6365
http://www.kongkeojar.com/

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Bombs, Jars, and Omelets photo slideshow. After eating omelets, we visited the Plain of Jars, a tourist site in Phonsavan, Laos. Music by Veronica and the Mental Foreplays.

The Sunrise Tradition of Alms Giving (short video)

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click on photo to watch video

Every morning in Theravada Buddhist societies, the monks gather their alms bowls around 6AM. Drums wake the people to notify them that the monks are coming. Once they hear the drums, the people come out and sit on the ground.

The monks then walk throughout their neighborhood collecting food they will eat for the day. The monks receive no other food as they’re not allowed to cook for themselves or do physical labor. The community members sit with their rice and fruit and give one portion to the monks that pass.

The tradition dates back to the time of the Buddha. When the Buddha created the first monastic order after his enlightenment, his followers would also have alms bowls and walk throughout the towns. As an act of selflessness and communalism, people make offerings to the monks and get merit in return for giving the monks food. The more that you give to the monastic order, it will benefit you in the next life.

There is a high density of temples and many monks in Luang Prabang, and it is a beautiful sight to witness the sunrise tradition of giving alms. As observers, we need to show respect by sitting on the ground, bowing lower than the monks, and not getting too close with cameras. What appears exotic to us is everyday life for others. The appreciation of such a tradition lies in knowing that it exists for a greater spiritual purpose.

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Special thanks to Tiffany Hacker, M.A. for sharing her Theravada Buddhism expertise.

Earthworm Envy NEWS: The Sunrise Tradition of Alms Giving video was an Editor’s Pick on YouTube! Thanks, YouTube!