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The toa blog - July 18, 2006

No, I didn't die, I went to America

Yeah, okay, a few of you thought I dropped off the face of the earth, but I didn't. I spent most of June back in the States for my first visit in three years and the first visit ever for my wife and son. I suppose I could have made weekly postings, "Hi, everybody, here we are buying a cheese steak at 12th and Chestnut in Philly." Or "Here we are in scenic and vibrant downtown Wilmington, N.C." or "Hi folks, look we're in Savannah and there's the Forrest Gump bench, life's just a box of chocolates!!" or "Hey friends, look we're in Florida, see there's a hurricane a-coming, wish you were here." or "Bair dair dair dair dair dair dair (insert intro to Dueling Banjos), howdy all, we done drove to the top of Mt. Mitchell." or "Hey hey hey, here we are in Washington, D.C. - look there's Constitution Avenue - it's under water and the IRS Building is flooded - never had such a good time!"

Well, it sorta could have been like that.

It was a good trip. The family tour saw us land in New York (TG non-stop Bangkok to New York - bloody expensive but a good way to fly), down to Philadelphia (rain, cold), then North Carolina (Greensboro and Holden Beach - kinda sorta near Wilmington), Savannah, GA, St, Petersburg, FL, Greenwood, SC, up to Asheville, NC and the Blue Ridge Parkway, a night spent in Blacksburg, VA (I lived there once long ago) and a day spent driving the backroads of Craig, Allegheny, Bath, and Highland counties, and then later a pointless trip to Washington, DC on account of the fact it rained something like a foot and everything was well, wet.

Some random observations on the USA in 2006:

I think it's absolutely great that a Philly Cheese Steak (a real one and not the crap served up by Pat's and Geno's no hablo espanol, folks - [sorry, that last comment is probably only going to be understood by Philly residents]) can be cooked and sold at a sidewalk stand by a Burmese immigrant (or a Greek or a Mexican or a Pakistani or an Ethiopian...). Can you imagine a foreigner being able to open up a som tam stand on the streets of Bangkok?

Walking past a Sushi counter in a grocery store what language were the staff speaking to each other? Yup, Spanish. This is good, by the way...

My wife thinks Americans drive a whole lot better than Thais. And she's right.

Our interstates are boring. And highway speeds have crept up quite a bit recently.

Thais are far more obsessed with the appearance of their automobiles.

Food is ridiculously expensive.

The Wizard of Oz can teach you the meaning of life.

My wife had never encountered black people on a day to day basis before.

Our son travels really well.

Target is better than Wal-Mart.

No one cares if you're an Asian/Caucasian couple.

No one ever made a single comment at or within earshot of my wife or I that ever made any suggestion that her race or nationality was of any concern or importance to anyone or for anything. And I doubt much if anything was said out of earshot, either.

America is a far less racist society then any in Asia.

The biggest assholes on the east coast (or probably all of America) live in and around Washington, DC.

It's more difficult to communcate via mobile phone with Cambodia than from either Thailand or China.

Wilmington, North Carolina is not a bad little city.

Neither is Savannah, Georgia.

Touring a WWII battleship is really interesting. So too thought the missus.

No one in America knows how to make good ice coffee.

The King of Prussia shopping mall(s) is/are still too big.

Being from Philadelphia and a fan of all Philly sports teams continues to be a masochistic activity.

Brett Myers is a chump and so too are the Phillies' top brass.

Action News has hardly changed in thirty years.

The Virginia countryside is still some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.

I'll add some more next entry...

Siem Reap

So I was away from Siem Reap for six weeks. While I was away fourteen new hotels were built. They are the Angkor Apsara Bayon Hotel, The Bayon Angkor Princess Hotel, The Angkor Beauty Kingdom Hotel, The Beauty of Angkor Khmer Royal Hotel, The Banteay Angkor Srei Phnom Krom Preah Bayon Khan Ta Prohm Hotel, The Angkor Prince Kingdom Royal Princess Duke Earl Jester Hotel, The Angkor Temple Green Hotel, The Golden Angkor Temple Hotel, The Golden Green Garden Village Palace Hotel, The Greenest Garden Villa Hotel, The Greener Than Our Neighbors Green Hotel, The Green Angkor Palace Terrace Garden Greener Than Green Hotel, The Angkor Angkor Hotel, and the Happy Lucky Mommy Sweet Home Family Hotel.

Fly Me to the Moon (or at least out of Thailand)

Get this. Not Quite Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the new airport, Suvarnabhumi, will be open and ready on September 28. Which is of course, ludicrous. And doubts of this deadline have been raised by well, just about everyone in the industry, particularly the International Air Transport Association, as well as airlines based in Thailand (Nok Air, Thai AirAsia, One-Two-Go). That Thai AirAsia is saying the deadline is unrealistic is especially interesting on account of the fact that Thaksin, who says the airport will be ready, owns a chunk of this airline, which is saying the airport will not be ready. Does the I'm Not Exactly The Prime Minister But Somebody Has To Do The Job Mr. Thaksin ever listen to himself?

Well, I Could Be The Prime Minister Thaksin seems to have also figured out how to save face, for when he insisted the airport would be ready on September 28, he also qualified his statement by adding that maybe many airlines won't be ready for the change. Nice one, dude.

As for the criticisms on the September 28 deadline, well, that's the fault of foreigners. The foreign media anyway, who keep reporting news stories like the IATA saying that the deadline is unrealistic. According to the We Don't Have A Real Government So I'm Only A Caretaker Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal, these evil foreign news agencies have "a hidden agenda".

Of course this really only is the tip of the iceberg. The missed deadlines, the contract nonsense - err, how'd that baggage deal go(?), reports of runway cracks, threats of defamation suits for reporting on runway cracks, reports on runway cracks retracted, certifications not made, more corruption, the lack of any public transport links, an opening ceremony for an airport that wasn't open, bragging about the world's tallest control tower as if ANY tourist or airline will be attracted to Thailand because of it... And with all the mishaps and the fact that the general public (at least the general public of people who use airports) and the airline industry are all repeatedly stating that rushing this airport to completion, which is being done entirely for selfish political reasons as one individual wants to be sure that he can take credit for seeing this project completed on his watch, is a bad bad thing to do and that the general feeling of the general public that generally uses airports is that if this thing does open on September 28 it's going to be a really really bad day for civil aviation... That someone in the government came out and said this airport is the pride of the Thai people. No it's not, it's an absolute embarrassment that's going to get worse before it gets better.

Speaking of embarrassing moments in Thai civil aviation. The other day a taxiing Thai Airways flight clipped the wing of an Air France aircraft parked on the tarmac in Madrid, Spain. Oops.

The Thai government has determined that this accident is no accident but in fact a plot by foreigners with hidden agendas. Apparently a shadowy figure which cannot be named has evidence which cannot be revealed that this incident occurred to discredit Thai aviation and the pride of Thai people. The Thai government is forming a sub-committee to investigate the incident. The government has also stated that the irresponsible actions of foreigners in this incident may result in additional delays in opening Bangkok's new airport as procedures for foreign aircraft operating on Thai soil will have to be reviewed. An un-named spokesman (he was standing in the shadows) said, "we are sorry if this creates a delay in the opening of our glorious new airport. We're ready, but once again, foreigners with hidden agendas are thwarting us. It's not our fault."

Well, it's a theory.

ASEAN visas

Unless you carry an ASEAN passport or travel with someone who does, this is pointless information, but next week, the ASEAN nations will likely have signed an agreement that would allow all ASEAN member nation passport holders to travel visa-free to all other ASEAN nations.

Whether the signatures will mean anything is something we’ll just have to wait and see about. Unbeknownst to a lot of people there is an ASEAN agreement that says any vehicle registered in any ASEAN nation may be driven freely from one member nation to another (though I imagine certain complications will exist with Indonesia and the Philippines) with nothing more than proof of ownership and insurance. Easy enough between Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, but try taking your Thai-registered vehicle through Cambodia and on to Vietnam, or taking your 400cc motorbike through Laos and on to Vietnam and then you can see how much weight ASEAN agreements carry.

Fly Me to the Moon Reprised

Well, how about Siem Reap? They just opened the brand new terminal at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport. I’m too poor to fly in our out these days, but some tourists tell me it’s pretty nice. And with $25 international departure taxes it damn well should be.

Pub Street

I have in the past criticized certain elements of Siem Reap’s main entertainment block, criticisms to which some, particularly people who own businesses on this street, have chosen to take exception, opposed to perhaps, I don’t know, considering them? But then again if it weren’t for some of these blemishes, then it wouldn’t be Cambodia, now would it?

Despite quite a number of the businesses having foreign ownership and the clientele almost 100% foreign, admittedly, the area is still uniquely Cambodian. Tuk-tuks blocking the street, beggars and kids scurrying between them, bars competing for the loudest sound systems, the cheapest beer prices – one place sells beers as low as two cents over cost, which would necessitate sales of nearly 60,000 units a month just to pay the rent. Needless to say, some business plans work better than others and two cents over cost might make you famous, but it won’t make you rich. That and it pisses off all the other businesses … as well as it should.

The bar and restaurant business seems to be doing well – as it should, Siem Reap is a tourist town and tourists need to eat and tend not to carry kitchens in their bags, though looking at the size of some of these backpacks, you’d think they at least have the sink in there.

Price wars and sonic wars not withstanding I will concede that Siem Reap visitors due owe it to themselves to give the area a look at least one night while in town. Plenty of eating choices offering Khmer, Thai, Indian, Italian, Mexican, and more, backpacker bars, Irish bars, gay bars, girl bars, grunge bars, everything but a ganja bar – but if it were legal Siem Reap would probably have one of those, too.

So here’s my take: go and visit and make up your own mind. There really is pretty much something for every taste and if one place on a corner doesn’t do it for you, then try the one across the street, or three doors down, or around the corner in the alley, or over there, or over the rainbow. Some of the places have been around for awhile, some are brand new. Some have expanded, some have changed, and a few have even gone downhill. Nice thing is you can walk to any of them from any of them (if the blasted tuk-tuks would get out of your way).

What? You want recommendations? Nope. I’m not playing favorites. Just watch out for the kids and know that the motodriver ganja is awful. The rest is up to you.

There, is everybody happy now?


In Siem Reap the moto drivers pull these trailers around to carry tourists, they comfortably seat two people, and since they started to appear around four or five years ago, the drivers called them "tuk-tuks". Which, at least by what most people understand a tuk-tuk to be, using the Thai model, the word is well, technically incorrect. But the more accurate word "remorque" is less familiar to foreign tourists and is already used to apply to most any trailer pulled by a motorbike regardless of its purpose. Well, language is first and foremost about communication and calling these things "tuk-tuks" even of they aren't, seemed sensible and the usage has stuck.

Until now.

Seems the government, in the form of the tourist police has decided that calling these things "tuk-tuks" is unacceptable and must stop immediately. Apparently it's one of those stupid nationalist things. So in an effort to be nationalist we won't use an evil Thai word, and instead we'll use an, umm, err, a.... French word? Uh-huh, no more calling them an "tuk-tuk" we have to call them "remorques".

Well, how f***ing dumb is that?

If you're so stuck up on nationalism, make up your own word. But don't give us this nationalistic b.s. and then trade a Thai word for a French word, even if the latter has been in longer use in the Khmer language.

Remember, language is about communicating ideas. If you want to exercise some national pride, instead of getting hung up on the origins of some word you're using, why not, I don't know...encourage the Cambodian souvenir sellers in the market stalls to sell Cambodian-made goods instead of crap made in China, Malaysia, and Thailand?

Am I the only one who finds the irony in that the foreign-owned boutique souvenir/crafts shops in the Old Market area tend to sell genuine Cambodian-made goods while the Cambodian-owned market stalls sell imported junk?

Recent Updates on toa

July 24: Bronwyn Sloan returns with Phnom Penh Perspective: Child Abuse.
July 16: Readers' Submissions: Cambodia: Delightful Phnom Penh - Meet the People by Hans Meier and Thailand: Kick Boxing for Pride and Peanuts by Antonio Graceffo.
July 12: Updated the Siem Reap/Angkor Guide.
July 6: Updated the Cambodia Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap section.
July 2: The most recent of several updates to the Overland Bangkok to Siem Reap Travelers' Reports.
July 2: Readers' Submissions: Cambodia: Angkor Wat and a Few Hundred Children by Ken Stimson.

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