Monday, March 28, 2011

Wikileaks Reviewed

Gentle reader, 

Do you find this blog an odd medium for a book review?   Me too, but I really felt like I should share a bit about Wikileaks – Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.  The book was written and assembled by David Leigh and Luke Harding.  Both gentlemen  are journalists in the employee of the Guardian.  The book was published by guardianbooks.  Perhaps the title could have been Wikileaks according to the Guardian?  I felt like the book did a good job of telling both sides of the story.  The leakers vs the (secret) keepers.  They certainly did an excellent job of showing the Guardian in the best possible light.  Who can blame them?

There are perhaps six critical parts to this story:
    1.   The information about  Bradley Manning who actually passed the information to Wikileaks.  I am still confused as to why he had access to such a massive amount of information.  When I was in the military access was based on appropriate clearance and a need to know.  He is a very interesting case.  I will leave the judgments about Manning to those who feel qualified to judge. 

2.     Julian Assange is revealed as a fascinating character sometimes in a good light, sometimes not. 

3.      The efforts to balance the need to inform the public with the need to protect sources and not actually endanger the people involved is well documented.  Both sides of the argument are presented.   This could well be used in journalism courses of the future.

4.      The Afghanistan war logs, including the infamous video of the Apache Video which was recently on u-tube.   This information is disturbing.   Perhaps it’s better if you read before you judge.

5.      The Iraq war logs are also very disturbing.  Again I’d suggest reading before judgement.

6.      The diplomatic cables.  As an American some of them are a bit embarrassing, most are revealing and a few of them are down right hilarious.  One thing is for sure. There are some very brilliant, extremely articulate people working for the State Department.

The book is a good read and if you are want a peek inside what might have really been going on, this is the book for you.  It’s the most current book I’ve ever read.  The information that was leaked was current through mid 2008 when Manning passed the information to Assange.  The last group of information, the diplomatic cables, was finally released on 28 November 2010, a full day ahead of the planned coordinated release.  The introduction in the book is dated February 1, 2011.  I bought it in Thailand in early March.  This is pretty darn close to current!!.  For those who may be interested the ISBN is 978-0-85-265239-8

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Luang Prabang

We spent five wonderful days in Luang Prabang before leaving for Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars. Luang Prabang has a great marketing slogan for it’s tourism “Stay another day”.  It works for me, I could easily stay another day in this beautiful, serene little city with it’s wonderful sights, great weather and scrumptious food.  I could also arrange for a return trip at my earliest convenience!  I would stay at the Sok Xai Guest hourse again.  Nice people, clean rooms and a fair price.
Sak Xai Guest House, Maliwan is waiting for me to finish taking pictures

By the time the trip was over I had well over a thousand photographs taken in Laos.   I've culled them down to 100 and posted them at:

Temple Life, Luang Prabong
Mornings here begin with a parade of monks who have a route around the beautiful temple district.  Both locals and tourists line the walk to make merit by offering alms.  This morning there were more tourists than locals.  I don’t know if it was an off day because of Chinese New Year or what.  Somehow today felt less spiritual than previous mornings.  The alms parade begins at daybreak.  You can listen for the gong from the temple which signals it’s start.  I’m told they go by dawn rather than by any set clock time.

We discovered two or three very nice café’s by the river.  It’s so serene to just go sit and have a coffee or soda.  On a Lao pace a single soda can last for a couple of hours.  The views are magnificent on both the Mekong and the river Kan side.   The river feeds into the Mekong here in Luang Prabong.
Love the View
On Sunday we walked across a bamboo bridge over namkan and visited a tribal village that produces hand woven textiles.  It was interesting, but everything they make is quite narrow and not suitable for much other than scarves and table runners.  Still, it was fun to see.
The Bridge of Bamboo
Le Café Ban Vat Sene is amazing!  They have absolutely incredible coffee, marvelous salads and very friendly service.  Maliwan ordered a beef steak and received a pork steak; refused to send it back. The bill indicated pork and everyone was happy.   Went back on Monday and had coffee and just a salad. Mali ordered a cheese and onion quiche that was out of sight!  We had our final supper in Luang Prabong there again;  I had to get another taste of their feta salad and onion quiche.  Delicious!

Le Café Ban Vat Sene
Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene is owned by the same people that have the more famous Le Elephant.  We went there for that reason.  Le Elephant is prettier, more expensive and the food is no better, maybe not quite as good.  Having said that, it's still worth checking out if you are in Luang Prabong for more than a couple of days. 
Le Elephant
On Monday evening we went to the National Ballet Theatre!  Got there just after curtain time and got half price tickets. The entertainment is traditional Lao ballet. The costumes and dancers were great.  It was wonderful!  There were explanations given in Lao/Thai, French and English.  English was his last language, but his efforts helped with the understanding of the different dances.

Lao National Theatre, highly recommended! 
After the ballet we went to the night market where I bought a chess set and half a dozen old French coins.  Stopped by a noodle vendor in the night market and had a bowl of noodles for dinner.  They were so good we went back for a 2nd bowl last night.

On Tuesday we ended up having breakfast at a place called Mystic Café  It’s another one that is on my recommended list.  The Lao style coffee is think and delicious.  The omelets are huge and very tasty.  We’ve decided to have breakfast there tomorrow before we start our journey west.
Not sure which cafe has this, but it's a great sign! 
Our original plan was to see the National museum on Tuesday but ended up climbing Pousi hill which has a marvelous view of the city.  I couldn’t help but notice the old gun placements.  I was told later that they were put up there in 1975 by the Pathet Lao.  Remaining are several concrete structure posts and one small canon or mortar base.
Buddha images on Pousi Hill 

War time left overs
We were actually going to the national museum on Tuesday but it’s closed on Tuesdays so we went on Wednesday.  Other than the fact that the day closed wasn’t mentioned in the Lonely Planet, they did a great job of describing the museum. Why not just read their description in their book.  You really aren’t going to come to Laos without a copy, are you?  

Also on the grounds are you will find the royal car exhibit which includes two old Lincoln Contenintals, one from the 1950’s and one from the 1960’s and a prestine 4 door Edsal sedan.   Also there is the Floating Buddha photo expo which is also worth your time, at least it was mine!

We enjoyed coffee and a light lunch at the Arthouse Café where I met the owner.  Debra is one of two western women who run successful restaurants here.  She’s located with a marvelous view of Namkan, her facility is loaded with original art.

We had dinner at Tamnak Lao which offers fantastic Lao food.   The other place we ate that is worth recommending is the Loung Prabong (LpB) RestauRant overlooking the Mekong.  The Somtom (spicy salad is better than any I’ve had elsewhere, Laos or Thailand.   When I return, I plan to make for photographs of the wonderful monks,  In the meantime enjoy this last one.

Peace and Serenity to you! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back to Vientiane

Temple Lines
Window Monk

A Backpacker's Bike

First let me say that I know I haven’t added the photo’s or cleaned up the blog entries from my last trip to Laos; nor have I forgotten.  The three above are quick shots all taken within a few yards of each other. 

This time I took a van from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai, crossed into Laos and returned by the same route.  I happened to be with a company called aYa Services Co. Ltd.  If you decide to go with them you might want to take a neck pillow and a light jacket or blanket.  Overnight in a van can be a bit chilly.   Also, gentle reader if you happen to have occasion to change your return date, for any reason, when you call the Chiang Mai office get the name of the person you spoke with and then call the Nong Khai office yourself!   

A couple of other tidbits that might be helpful include:  Before you go to another country for a visa, contact that embassy or consulate and make sure you have all the paperwork needed.  This could save untold grief!   While you are at it, check and make sure that they will actually be open when you plan to visit.   Did you know that international Woman’s day is celebrated in Laos as a national holiday and that the Thai consulate will be closed on that day?   I didn’t.
There just seemed to be a whole lot of very cute kids on this trip.   I was going to put a lot of photo’s here but instead we now have:

Vientiane Children
One thing I noticed this time was a definite Vietnamese Influence in the streets of Vientiane.  Not surprising really, just interesting.

Street Cart

Wind Chimes

By the river there is a childrens playground.  This is pretty new, it wasn't completed when we were in Vientiane a couple of months ago.  

Playground by the Mekong
In Vientiane there are several crafts stores where you can buy all sorts of nice things, included hand woven material. 

At the Loom
I found the most interesting silver ingot in the Market.   I have no idea exactly how old it is, if it’s valuable, or if it’s real silver, but it is interesting.  If you know anything about this stuff, please contact me. 

Valuable or Just Interesting? 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Help a Child --- Meet an Elephant

My recent trip to Pattaya included a visit, all too short I might add, with my friend Reed Johnson and his lovely wife Pranee.  Reed is the director of the 46th Special Forces Company (Airborne) Association. The association supports 26 schools in five provinces Chiang Mai, Lop Buri,  Buri Ram, Sarin and Satune.   The total number of children is around 6,500!  The 46th SFCAA also has a marvelous wounded warrior program.  The website is  There are many ways you can help.  Let me suggest just one that will be meaningful, affordable and pretty darn easy:

Simple wooden pencils are at a premium here in Thailand.   You can buy them in the States for a fraction of what they cost here.   Look for sales at Office Depot, Walmart and the like.  When you come to Thailand, pack your second travel bag full of pencils.  Let us know you are coming and we’ll collect the pencils and get them to the children.   

I digress!  Reed took me to meet Papa Chang, his wife’s family elephant.  Actually she comes from a family with a long and storied history with the elephants.   Papa Chang, whose real name is Somrak is a very old Thai elephant. I’m told his registration papers say he was born on 28 October 2439 (1896).  That said he’s way beyond the normal life expectancy of an Asian elephant.  Mrs. Reed’s mother, who is now 90 remembers Somrak from her earliest memories, age 5 or 6.
Papa Chang
The head of a very old elephant 
The year 2004 was very significant for Reed and for Papa Chang.  Reed had suffered a motorcycle crash where he hit the ground so hard that his helmet was cracked.  Later in the year he’d visit Papa Chang who would rest his trunk on the left side of Reed’s neck.  Papa Chang knew what the medical community would soon verify; Reed had a cancer in his neck.  Today Reed is cancer free!
Papa Chang, Reed & Papa Chang's kwan chang
Studies that have been done with dogs indicate they can “smell” cancer with a very high accuracy rate.  I have no doubt that elephants possess far more abilities than dogs.   

Perhaps when you come to Thailand you can drop off a bag of pencils for the schools and if Pattaya is on your schedule, maybe you can meet Papa Chang as well.   He’s really a very nice elephant! 
Papa poses with Gary