Saturday, 8 November 2008

Campaign Obama. 07.11.08












Dear Friends,

Wow. I am still buzzing. Aaaaaagh!! Even though Obama losing was never really an option, the magnitude of the fact that he won only hit us all properly once it happened. The USA has a black president. WOWWWWWW!!!! AND – he is AMAZING!!! I truly believe the world is a better place now. I am feeling so elated!! I wonder how long this natural high is going to last!

So, let me tell you how the last few days campaigning was. Over the weekend volunteers from all over the place pitched up to help us knock on doors. One woman came from Manhattan with her two sons, 8 and 12 years old. They were so sweet and eager to help; they knew they were helping to change the world; Obama was their hero and they would do anything to help him win.

On Sunday we had to place door hangers on each and every door of each and every Obama supporter in our vicinity. The hangers gave information on voting as well as the address of the corresponding polling station for that house. In the morning I was behind a table in the office making sure our volunteers were given the correct door hangers for their particular turfs. Then I was sent out to do it myself as we ran out of volunteers and skipping one door was not an option. For every door we didn’t reach, a possible vote for Obama could be lost, purely because that person didn’t know where to go.

The first shift of canvassing that I did happened to be with Doug, my host who makes delicious bread and who is also writing a novel, I found out. We were a good team and figured out a good system. He drove while I jumped out and did about 5 doors at a time. I think he got a little bored of just being in the car the whole time and so along the long streets he would get out too and do the evens while I did the odds.. we’d then meet back at the car, and onto the next street.

By the end of the afternoon I was literally running from one door to another, trying to reach them all before it got dark. It didn’t work… The last 40 or so doors I reached (out of about 200 all together, all scattered around the place) were in the pitch dark, lining the quiet streets of Berwick, a gridded, quite dreary town about 15 mins drive from Bloomsburg. It was so dark I couldn’t see the numbers on the doors properly until I got right up close to them and shone my phone on them. It was exhausting, but once finished I felt good… mission accomplished! We were in the office that night till 2am, compiling the packages to give to the canvassers the following day.

On Monday Sam and I spent the whole day on campus. We got a huge white board, wrote on the top “I’m voting for Change because…” and had all the students write their different reasons why they were voting for Obama with sharpie pens. We were there till about 8pm, and there wasn’t a white bit of space left by the end of the day. Among the reasons were “we deserve better health care,” “we need to restore our image in the world,” “Sarah Palin is scary,” and “He’s cute and smart.” It was the first time we stayed on campus after dark, and because students weren’t rushing from one class to another, they were more relaxed and actually able to hang out and chat to us. One of them approached me and thanked me for all the hard work me and Sam had been doing: “You’ve been out here all day! You must be tired… can I buy you a coffee?” He sweetly bought me a caramel macchiato – it was delicious.

Another boy who I recognized came up to me and had some questions. I’d spoken to him about five days before. He was tall and skinny with dark hair and searching eyes. His name was Alex. His whole family were Republicans, and the first time I spoke to him he told me he was leaning towards McCain. I’d told him about my views on the Obama foreign policy compared to the Bush/ McCain one, which he’d found really interesting, but was still worried about a few issues. “I don’t know… I just feel safer with McCain… I mean, I’m worried about this ‘change’ that Obama wants to make… he wants to change our country… and we don’t really know him, and people say he’s a socialist and stuff… and what about him being related to terrorists?...” It was clear he’d been brain washed by all the propaganda of the McCain campaign, which from the flyers I saw set out to instill fear into people as their only means of getting their vote. As calmly as I could I sat down with Alex and we went over everything. I probably talked to him for about half an hour. He wasn’t stupid.. it was like he knew deep down that all these things he’d been told about Obama weren’t true but he needed to hear it from someone. A lot of kids that came from Republican families didn’t know anything about either of the candidate’s policies, didn’t know why they were republicans.. they just were and that was that… and they didn’t want to learn… not this one. Alex told me he’d sleep on it and decide in the morning. I crossed my fingers.

There were a few steadfast McCainites I managed to converse with and I have to say that a few things that came out of their mouths, particularly when discussing Iran, were quite terrifying. One boy said “ I think we should just bomb the fuck out of it,” and another said, in a tone far too relaxed for the point he was making, “Yeah, we need to get rid of Iran…” The ignorance and obstinacy was infuriating, but I managed to keep my cool, just.

Election Day. Sam and I had assembled an army of about 15 Obamarite students who would help us all day. Our mission: To get as many kids as possible to get in line at the campus polling station, and not let them leave! Each volunteer was assigned a different floor in each of the various campus ‘dorms’ (a building containing roughly 700 apartments each) to storm, and throughout the day our troops went knocking on all their doors to urge them to go and vote! Safe in the knowledge that the majority would vote for Obama, we did not discriminate between Obamas and McCains. We couldn’t waste any time trying to figure out who they would vote for. They just had to get to the polling station!

I was stationed outside the polling line from 7am until 8pm. My job was to urge the students not to leave the line for any reason. At the beginning of the day, between 7am and 8:30am, the queue wasn’t longer than about 50 people at a time. Even then, students would arrive, peer in through the door, and mumble something about coming back later before I’d jump in front of them, big smile, and exclaim, “ The line is only going to get longer! I wouldn’t leave now if I were you!” “Really?!” they’d say, “Ah man! Ok.. if you say so…” And it did get longer… 50 people soon turned into 100, 150, 200… we had to open up another big room next door so that the queue could overflow into it. It was amazing. All the work that Sam and I had done over the last two weeks (for him 2 months) was finally showing its results. More and more and more students flooded in, almost double the number that had queued in 2004. Several times I found myself frantically re-arranging 20 students at a time in order to make another bend in the line so that they could all fit in the room; “ if you guys can just move this way, yup… great, and you come behind this guy here, and you here, and yes, you here.. exactly.. there you go,” and the snake would wiggle its way round and I would feel like a steward at Stanstead airport on the 27th January dealing with impatient holiday makers.

There were three professors all on board as well. They spent the entire day inside the queuing room, doing everything in their power to keep the students happy. Boxes and boxes of Dominos pizza arrived throughout the day, as well as coca cola, People and Us magazines, and even a stereo to play music… ANYTHING to keep them happy! Still, many attempted to leave, and for every one that did, I did everything in my power to make them stay. In my head, their vote would determine the results of the entire election;

“There is nothing more important than voting today! Skip class! Your professor will let you off!” - We had a sheet on which they wrote down their names and that of their professor, whom we would call and explain their reason for missing class – “ this is the future of your country! Don’t you want to be part of history in the making?! Please don’t leave! You’ll regret it!”

I felt as if I was in a battleground. And on top of it all there were three McCain supporters standing outside who did nothing but bitch about me all day. I decided to try and kill them with kindness; went up to them, smiled and introduced myself. One of them replied with; “Hi, I’m Nancy, and I am a native American, where are you from?” “ I’m from England, but have lived in America for seven years, and I still pay taxes here… Is that good enough for you?” That shut her up. They were ruthless I have to say… bit of a shame… there needn’t have been any hostility... guess they were just plain angry.

I saw many familiar faces walking in and out of the polling station all day. I saw many whom I’d bugged and bugged, and felt satisfied in the knowledge that had I not bugged them they might not be there. I saw Alex walking out. My face must have given me away instantly… I was dying to know who he’d voted for and was praying it wasn’t McCain. He clocked me, smiled, and told me he’d voted for Obama. I’d been so stressed out all day, and when he told me that I just leapt on him! I gave him a huge hug and told him he’d just made my day, in fact my whole two weeks, in Bloomsburg!

At the University, out of 1971 votes (record number on campus by far!) we got 1370 for Obama. Columbia County, the one we were responsible for, and a notoriously republican area, lost to McCain, but marginally, and by 7% less than in 2004.

Obama won Pennsylvania overall by more votes than any Democratic candidate has since 1964.

Watching the results come through on a big screen back at Headquarters, we all cheered when Pennsylvania was called, and again when Ohio was called, and there were hugs and kisses all round when Obama reached 270 votes. We cracked open some champagne and were all glued to the screen watching the people cheering all around the world. The crowd in Chicago was astounding… I don’t think they stopped for a full ten minutes. I had goosepimples all over my body while the enormity of what had just happened slowly sunk in. We all just kept looking at each other, exclaiming “Oh my God!!! This is amazing!! Aaagh!!!!” Then we heard shouts and screams coming from outside, and saw about three or four hundred students from campus rushing down the road towards us, every one of them ecstatic! Sam put on his “For Voting Info come here” sign that stuck high and clear out of a rucksack that he wore on his back, and we went out and joined the celebrations. The students mauled Sam, and I got several hugs as well, from students thanking us for all “everything we’d done for them.” Familiar faces were wild with huge smiles, and every eye I caught shone with joy and excitement. I couldn’t stop smiling either… There are few times in my life I can remember feeling that euphoric. As I said before, we never let ourselves consider Obama losing, but I don’t think any of us really dared to imagine how great it would feel once he’d won, either.

The students paraded back up the road to their campus dorms and back in the office we eagerly awaited our hero’s speech, which, I’m sure you will all agree, was out of this world amazing. I know our grandchildren will be You Tubing it in 100 years from now. He was strong, determined and so in control! He looked so handsome and didn’t look down once as he addressed his country. Every girl around the world went a little weak at the knees as he called Michelle ‘the love of his life’ and I think any man that doesn’t admit to having just a slight man-crush on the guy is lying.

What Obama’s campaign achieved is mind-boggling. His policies made more sense than anyone else’s, and his character of course shone beyond any other candidate’s in years, but his campaign strategy was ingenious, and without it I’m not sure he would have managed the landslide victory that he had. He inspired more volunteers than any other candidate has in history, and we knocked on more doors and made more phone calls than any other campaign has ever done. He ensured that millions of Americans who would never usually vote, were informed and educated enough to know about him, his values, and his policies. Last weekend, in Pennsylvania alone, Obama volunteers knocked on nearly 2 million doors (about 300 of those were mine)! The McCain Palin campaign, with their negative robocalls sent by the push of a button, simply couldn’t compete with the Obama grassroots plan.

Such is the power and popularity of Barack Obama that already, Americans I speak to feel a huge sense of relief, freedom, and pride that they have missed for eight long years. No longer when they travel will they sheepishly pretend to be Canadian, and they are hopeful that a new era is beginning… Obama has his work cut out for him, that’s for sure, but I think he’ll manage. Ok - I am in love with the guy so maybe my opinion is slightly tainted, but it’s pretty amazing that over night, literally over night, he has, already, changed the way Americans see their own country. I never imagined I’d say this, but I am jealous of Americans right now! Where is England’s Barack for god’s sake? Gordon and David just don’t quite match up somehow! Well I suppose I must remember Obama’s influence will spread far and wide. We will all be affected by him somehow, and for now that’s good enough for me!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Campaign Obama. 2.11.08








Its 1.30am (thank you daylight saving) and I just got back to my lodging after another long day. Pretty shattered but the adrenaline and apprehension that comes from working on this campaign is kicking in and keeping us all going. I have not had much sleep this past week, and cannot believe I’ve been here already for 11 days… it feels more like 5.
I cracked dead pan Sam, we are mates and having a lot of fun together… he is not the serious moody person I took him for at ALL.. it just took my introducing him to Hot Chip’s “Ready on the floor,” and we bonded, and have since been playing the song through speakers on campus and boogying away with big Obama signs on our heads as bemused students pass us by. I actually don’t think I’ve ever made quite such a fool of myself as I have in this fight for Obama… ANYTHING to get them to listen! I got on a shuttle bus that drives around campus the other day and just plonked myself down next one student after another… chatting away… did you know Obama this, Obama that… please vote for me as I can’t… and then there’s my face recognition problem which means that I have now talked to so many of them that I have no idea if I’ve already engaged with them already or not… starting to get a few rolling eyes.. “yes… you asked me yesterday…” aaaagh! But Sam won’t let me stop… ever… bug, bug, bug, bug… that is how we will get them to the polling station… it doesn’t matter how annoying we are… it’s the only way of assuring they will go. After this experience, I promise this: I will never ignore a big issue seller again, or for that matter, one of those charity people who stand on the street outside WH Smith in Notting Hill Gate and come up to you with a huge smile and ask they can speak to you for 2 seconds… THAT is what I’ve been doing! It is demoralizing at times but I know that in the grand scheme of things, mine and Sam’s work on campus is making a pretty huge impact. More than double the number of students to the last election have registered, and our goal is that every one of them votes… and I think its going to work.

I am not writing well as I am very tired so please forgive if I repeat myself like I did in the last blog a couple of times… I am dribble writing…

So every day last week I was on campus from 10 till 4pm, and then in the office from 4 till midnight earliest preparing for GOTV (Get out the vote) first day of which was today. Thursday the door signs for each and every Obama supporter in our 10 sq mile vicinity arrived with addresses of their polling station on them. There are about 15 different polling stations, and each voter whom our amazingly sophisticated data system indicates wants to vote for Obama, must get one hung from their door so they know exactly which one to go to on Election day. The problem was that there was a hiccup and we got sent incorrectly addressed signs (about 5000 of them) and therefore had to spend about 5 hours sticking correctly addressed labels onto each and every sign. Sam, Catherine, Jeremy (best boss in the world), and I were sticking labels until 3:30 in the morning. We all bonded over label sticking, Hot Chip and Dire Straits… such a mind numbing job that we could all for once actually converse at the same time as getting Barack to the White House… everything happens for a reason.. Personally I have felt much more relaxed in the office since. Catherine did a ‘what would you rather’ on Jeremy: every day for the rest of your life stick labels, or have Obama lose the election. Absolutely seriously he answered that he would stick labels every day for the rest of his life.

I feel very much part of the team now, maintaining deference for them all of course (they have all been on this campaign for much longer than I have, and they all have degrees in politics) but now I know more of the ropes and not having to ask every 2 seconds how/ what/ where/ when... I’m even ‘training’ other out of state volunteers as they come in to start their day’s canvassing!

To think I was even considering 10 days ago that I might scadadle out of here to drive to NYC for Halloween last night… there’s just no way I could have!… would have lost any respect any of them had for me… and at 2am last night would have missed our crucial GOTV preparatory meeting… no no.. I am absolutely committed to the cause!

Barack spoke to us on the phone this evening – it was amazing. He made a conference call to all 20,000 teams across the country that are doing what we’re doing. He told us he was proud of us. Soooo cool…! Every time Sam or I feel tired and in need of a boost, we YouTube one of his speeches, and all’s good. One such is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCx0J3NiABY&feature=related watch it and you’ll get it… only takes a couple of minutes.
Yup - love has become a mild obsession… his stickers are all over my lap top and his posters on my bedroom wall. He rocks my world.

I haven’t had more than a 10 minute conversation with Charlotte since I got here…. She has been working even harder than me… its pretty intense.. hope she’s ok she’s gone back to the other town..

There’s a racist who keeps parking his truck outside our office – it has loads of signs on it like “Obama bin Laden,” “Say no to Radical Muslims,” “Why should I press one to speak English?” … what a jerk. We don’t confront him… must’t lower to his level. I got called a baby killer by misinformed student yesterday, and someone walked passed me having a ciggie outside the office today and asked if I supported Obama – I said yes, and he said he felt sorry for me… I asked why… he said “coz he’s a fuckin liar! He says he’s not against guns and he is..” or something like that.. I kept my cool… he was drunk.. not worth trying to explain the details of Obama’s actual plans which won’t ‘take away’ their guns at all, just make obtaining them a little harder.

On the whole though things are positive… there’s an air of something big and exciting happening in this country.

touching lots of wood… polls seeming almost too good to be true…

Oh... Derek, Lyle, and Lauren SD came from NY today to canvass with me. Was such a treat to see them and their little dachsund Monster... and made the whole process much more fun... Derek converted a McCain supporter into an Obama one, Lauren got given two delicious apples by an appreciative Obama supporter, and someone ensured that Lyle is a christian through and through and knows that Jesus will save him. They were the trendiest looking people Bloomsburg has seen walking its streets in a while I think.

again.. sorry for abrupt ending but knackered..

oh.. sorry no pictures yet but my hard drive has run out of space and I don’t know how to do it…

xx Jax

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Campaign Obama. 24.10.08



Dear Friends,

For those of you who don’t know, I am at the moment in a small town in Pennsylvania called Bloomsburg, campaigning for Obama. I’ve been here for 5 days and will be for the next 9 until the election has taken place. I am feeling quite exhausted, and know there is a hell of a lot more work to be done. Since I arrived I have been working from 9am till midnight each day, except for yesterday, Sunday, when I gave myself the evening off after canvassing in the pouring rain all day, feet soaked and hands a little numb.

I lucked out with my accommodation. I am being put up by lovely Doug and Sue, happy to share their house with a stranger for 2 weeks for the sake of the greater good.. Sue’s a teacher at the university and Doug’s a baker… he makes the best bread I’ve tasted in my life (brown whole weat with walnuts and cranberries in it).. The house is 5 mins walk from the office and Dug’s bread for breakfast is the yummiest stuff ever, and just about the most nutritious food this town has to offer!

There are five devoted members of the Obama Bloomsburg office, of which I am now one. Charlotte (my little sis) is based in another town at the moment where her organizational skills are in greater need. Charlotte’s friends Muffy and Catherine have been here for 3 weeks already, and have been working closely with the other two, Jeremy and Sam. J and S are both recently out of college.. Jeremy wears glasses, has thick curly black hair, and hasn’t shaved in weeks (not sure whether this is his look or because he simply hasn’t had time – I mean, he forgets to eat he is so Obama obsessed – it wouldn’t surprise me..) He sways from side to side when standing up... the maternal side of me comes out with Jeremy – I do wish he’d give himself a proper meal one of these days, and maybe more than 5 hrs sleep at some point before the election… but it’s not going to happen. Sam is just as intensely focused on the mission and just about the most deadpan person I have ever come across in my life… I can’t wait to see them both drunk on election night… I suspect the best of their characters won’t quite squeeze through the thick skin that lines their ‘Obama must win before anything else’ phsyche until then. They are both sweet and intelligent boys though, this is for sure.

Since arriving in the office on Tuesday night, I have been assigned several different jobs so far. I was worried I’d be stuck in the office all day everyday as my sister had warned me might be the case… As I’m English there was a worry that any voter contact might be misinterpreted as condescending or cocky – well… so far its been quite the opposite. My very English accent has so far only been a positive asset, and many people seem humbled even that I have come ‘all the way from England’ to help them make a decision that will count towards the future of their country.

I spent three days last week at the campus of the university here with Sam. We based ourselves outside the food hall with posters and flyers, approaching students with roughly the following script:

(With big smile) “ Hello! Can I grab you for two seconds?”

Mixed reactions to this bit… If they are a die hard McCain fan, seeing our badges and posters, they usually look terrified, avoid eye contact at all costs, put their hand up and veer away from me mumbling “no,” “I don’t want to talk to you,” or proudly announcing “I’m a republican!’ or worse “I hate liberals!” or “I’m voting for a president not a ringleader!”… Of the few steadfast republicans I’ve actually managed to engage with in conversation, even fewer seem to have any idea why they are republicans; a couple of reasons I’ve been given are “because that’s what I am,” “I’m pro life!” or, referring to Obama, “He’s gonna take away my gun…” “He’s a radical,” or “He’s a socialist!”

However, I’m glad to say that these people are definitely in the minority. The Obama team here, and indeed thousands of teams all across the country, have done an amazing job of informing, educating, and motivating hundreds of thousands of students in America to a)become aware of the fact that their world lies beyond the small town they live in and that they can, and must, play a part in it, b) register to vote. The stage we are at now is c) think about who they will vote for, and next week they will, d)(touch wood) vote for Obama.

Because this movement has come from a Democratic initiative, these students are mostly inspired by the democratic voice, the voice of Obama, and I do believe for the first time since the 60’s that the youth are starting to think ‘outside the box,’ and realize that their country really does need CHANGE!

So, if they are not Republican, and are not running late for class, on the whole I have had a positive response: “I’m already voting for him!” is regular, to which I respond with a genuine smile and ensure that they know exactly where their polling station is, giving them posters and stickers to take with them.

There are plenty who have registered (because Sam and Jeremy have bugged them enough over the last 6 weeks to do so – good job), but haven’t given much thought at all as to who they will choose, and I suspect are not actually planning on doing so, only to queue for 2-3 hours on election day when they could be lying in bed watching Frasier or playing Grand Theft Auto. This is where I come in…
“Please do vote – its very important… you’re country is about to go in either one direction, or another, and the whole world in watching you... this is a moment in history!” They look quite goggle eyed at this point… Once engaged, I go in for the kill… “I’m English but have lived in New York for 7 years. I love America, I love Americans, but when I go home it upsets me that people rarely have positive things to say about you guys… Bush has given you a bad rep, which you don’t deserve, and I think you need someone who can change things, and I think the only man who can do this is Obama … I don’t know if you know what’s going on in the middle east at the moment, but the Iraq war was/ is a disaster, and you don’t need another one of these…" if they’re interested I divulge the different foreign policies that McCain and Obama have on Iran, and compare the situation to two kids fighting in a playground… “do you separate them, put them in two separate rooms and never let them speak to each other again, or do you sit them down, make them talk, and see if they can come to a resolution?..." I go on to tell them about Obama’s plan to make their education more affordable ($4000 credit a year in return for 100hrs public service), and how health care will be within their means – “I know you don’t need to worry about this now, but once you’re out of college you will, and believe me, at the moment it’s not cheap!”

It’s just about the best feeling in the world when one of them walks away looking enlightened, saying thank you, and that they think they’ll vote for Obama.

If you haven’t already realized, Obama has slightly become my god over the past few days… if I was supportive of him before, I am now mildly obsessed… the more I learn about him and his policies, and the more I compare him to McCain and his policies, and the more people I speak to, the more I realize that the future of this country lies on him being elected. Most inspirational are the people I am working with. Jeremy and Sam, both 23 and recently out of college, have done nothing for the last two months but live, sleep, and work this campaign. They have no social life what-so-ever, and are focused only on doing everything in their power to ensure Obama is elected president… they are relentless… it is exhausting… but the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever been part of in my life!

This weekend I knocked on about 200 doors in the three towns nearest the office. Trapsing around these strange streets (especially in the pouring rain when I did start to question my sanity) I remind myself I am just one of thousands and thousands of others doing exactly the same thing all across the country as part of this mammoth operation that will hopefully get Obama into the Whitehouse. It was quite terrifying at first, walking up to the door of a total stranger, especially with all their bloody Halloween garb they have hanging outside their doors… I mean my god! They really do take it very seriously this whole Halloween thing over here! Pumpkins, stuffed scarecrows, witches, spiders, ghouls, white wispy cotton stuff hanging from pegs, ghosts, all adorn each and every house much more than Christmas decorations do most of ours in England. That and the American flags – EVERYWHERE…( amazing how many people are so patriotic and yet are not registered to vote! ) so yes.. anyway, you can imagine some of these doors are quite intimidating to say the least!



Again, however, the rewards are substantial. Walking away having swayed someone in the right direction is a great feeling. Ronda Macey lives in a dilapidated little house and answered the door with three toddlers at her feet, a baby in her arms, and two young teens behind her. As I introduced myself as a campaigner for Obama, she immediately cut me off – “I ain’t voting for that man!”… I gently asked her why, she said “I ain’t voting for nobody… all politicians are liars and none of them can help me…” I asked her if she knew about Obama’s plans for education and for health care… her eyes lit up and she let me tell her his benefits… she took my flyers with an appreciative smile and thanked me for my time. I’m going to watch her… might even offer to look after her children on the 4th while she goes to the polling station…

Other than this canvassing business, which I must say takes its toll, I’ve been busy inputting crucial data into the system and making phone calls to potential out of sate volunteers… which brings me to you lot in NYC… if you are at all enticed to come here to PA, do your bit for the campaign and help with the essential canvassing next weekend, please get in touch asap! I promise you you won’t regret it, and we need all the help we can possibly get.

Must go to sleep now… big day tomorrow… lots of love to you all xxx Jax

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

TRAVEL CHAPTERS EDITED

Excerpt from TRAVELS, Chapter 3.

Bathing Tribal. Northern Laos. Written 3rd March 08 in Vientiene, Laos.

Muang Noi was absolutely stunning. After the long, arduous journey from Luang Probang, I finally found what I consider to be the real Laos: rural village life. As we got off the boat we were welcomed by lots of "Sabaai Di"s (“hello, good day”s) from women and children who lined the dirt street that wiggled through the village. The houses, typical of rural Laos, were in the form of bamboo huts on stilts, one per family. They all sleep in the same open planned room at the top of the steps and have a little balcony from which they can peer down at the rest of their community. In this quaint township, chickens, dogs, ducks and pigs outnumbered the people, just as the locals outnumbered the tourists, by far (finally)! Muang Noi was still on the tourist trail, but more a comfortable base for the intrepid adventurer, than a back packer hot spot like Luang Probang, where every house had become a hotel or a restaurant and every sight for miles around already discovered. I rented a little hut for $5 a night that looked out onto the Nam Ou river below and mountains the other side. It had a little bathroom (cold water only - no accommodation had anything but) with a hammock outside.

The next day Bec, Stu and I hiked through paddy fields and mountains to another much smaller village two hours away. Most of the people there had never seen a car; it was pretty remote. There were, however, three other travelers who were staying the night there, and the atmosphere was so divine that I decided to do the same (the others went back to Muang Noi that afternoon). One family rented me a little hut to sleep in for the night for $1. It was very basic - four walls, a thin foam mattress on the floor and blankets to keep me warm.

I spent that afternoon hanging out with the village people, and sucking in their culture. I wondered through the village's dried up paddy fields (they’d been harvested already) and marvelled at little girls digging in the banks for beetles. They dug into the dirt with sticks, extracted the little creatures, and placed them in a little wicker basket that they carried over their shoulders. They later put them on a skewer and fried them for dinner as if they were marsh mellows! Generally, the village people of Laos eat whatever they can catch: fish, monkey, snake, dog… pretty much anything that moves, and they wear whatever keeps them warm, however old, grubby and holey it might be!

One of the other travelers, a thirty year old Austrian man called Chris was an anthropologist who spoke Lao, which made communicating with the people FAR easier than it would have been otherwise (although I must say I am getting rather good at the old sign language). We sat around a fire on the ground that evening and chatted with the locals. The tone was soft, quiet, and completely unrushed against the soothing sound of the crackling fire. There were long silences, but they were never awkward. The eldest son of the family who had put us up had just returned from a trip to the capital where he'd found and married his wife. He was 20, she was 15. He'd paid her family a million kip in order to marry her, and had brought her back to his village where they'd spend the rest of their lives. He asked Chris how much he'd have to pay for a wife where he came from - he didn't know what to say, and ended up telling him he'd be paying for the rest of his life! The boy didn't really understand this concept.

They wanted to know all about me. I got the usual piteous looks when I told them that no, I was not married. For a girl in their society to be 26 and single would be a big worry, and seeing as they knew nothing about where I come from, they assumed the same burden would apply to me. I have to say though, I do wish they wouldn’t look quite so sorry for me! It is just a little unsettling!

Towards the end of the evening, a doddery old man wondered over smoking opium from a pipe made from banana leaf. He peered at us with smiling eyes and offered us each a toke (I politely refused). Chris explained to me that most of the old guys do smoke the stuff. After a long and successful life it is accepted, even expected, that they spend the last few in a state of blissful oblivion!

By 9 pm the whole village was silent, and I sank into a wonderful deep sleep on the floor of my hut. I was woken at 5am by the cockle doodle doo of several roosters, and the hustle and bustle of the village getting up to go about their daily chores. The men went off into the forest to hunt, the women fed their ducks and chickens and pigs, and children played everywhere.

Pretty dirty and in need of a toothbrush, I walked back to Muang Noi that afternoon on my own. I walked through hilly grassland and sunken paddy fields and passed the odd farmer watching his water buffalo as they munched away at the dried crops. I felt very alone in the world, but not lonely; it was quite wonderful being so in-the-middle-of-nowhere. I was at this point a four hour bus ride, a two hour boat ride and a two hour trek from the nearest town that had internet (let alone a hospital)! Everything for miles around me was calm and serene and life on that hike back to Muang Noi took on a different pace and a different meaning. I felt perfectly safe, although I had taken a big stick from the village with me just in case I came across any stray dogs along the way!...

[about a week later]

...As we entered the village, about twenty colorfully clothed children came running up to have a look at us. We literally had a stare off for about 10 minutes. This village had only been visited by tourists three times before. We were enchanted by them, they were fascinated by us. We were soon shown to other side of the village where we found a little bit of heaven on earth... a pristine white sand beach lining the Mekong, where we bathed our very sweaty bodies as the sun went down behind the mountains. We were put up by a family in the village, all sleeping on the floor of the main room inside their bamboo hut. A fire blazed in the middle as they cooked us our dinner. They don't really take the meat off a chicken in the same way we do… rather they just chop it up willy-nilly, bones and all, and dump it in a saucepan to boil. You're left to tear whatever meat you can find off the various lumps of bony, gristly bits of the animal. This combined with sticky rice and boiled beans was our food for every meal of our trek; Pretty disgusting actually, but it didn't taste too bad at the time, we were all so exhausted and hungry!

The next day we trekked for four hours up hill the whole way under midday
sun. There was little shelter as sadly most of the trees for miles around had been chopped down by the Chinese to build rubber plantations. The effect that this process is having on the local communities in Northern Laos was very apparent and quite horrifying, but I won’t go into that now – it needs an entire essay! Anyway, this part of the trek was absolutely the most exhausting experience of my life! I was carrying warm clothes for the evening (cold at night) and all my camera equipment (including an extra zoom lens) which weighed my bag down considerably. By the time we reached the second village my legs felt like lead but my head was giddy from the endorphins released by exercise. Actually, I felt so high that I made a decision right then that once back home I will exercise more!

This next village was inhabited by 'Acka' tribe people, they’re the ones who wear the amazing silver sequined head dresses and beautiful garments of bright pinks, blues and greens. They were even more infatuated by us than the first. Their source of water came from a pipe that stuck out over a square bit of cement - this was the village's bathroom. So, me and the girls, in dire need of a shower, went to wash ourselves... well what a spectacle we were. It warns in the Laos guide book always to keep a sarong on when bathing or swimming, so as not to offend the locals, so we went about the rather complicated procedure of undressing and keeping our bodies hidden by our sarongs at the same time. With our sarongs wrapped around us we washed as best we could. Within seconds, 10, 15, about 20 children all gathered round to have a look at these three western women trying to wash the Laos way. They gawped and giggled, and when we went behind a hut to change back into our clothes they poked their little heads round the walls to spy on us! As we came out finally back in our clothes, three Acka women were scrubbing away, showing us how it’s done, baring all apart from their bottoms.. they cupped their breasts and jingle jangled them at us and laughed hysterically - we and our modesty were well and truly taken the piss out of. The whole episode was very funny.

There was no electricity, neither were there any loos, in either of these villages - we were pointed in the general direction of where to go and do our deeds. Dodging other excrements along the way to an appropriate bush became quite tricky in the dark - thank god for the head torch. In each village, at first is was impossible to take photos. Every time I even put my camera round my neck the locals would run away and hide as if I'd pulled out a gun. I figured out a way round the issue. I'd take a picture of myself, and then beckon the bravest of the bunch to come forward and have a look at the image on the back of the camera. When they saw it they gasped in surprise, and then using sign language, I showed them that I could do the same of them. Once one child let me take their photo, I'd show them themselves on the back, which they LOVED, and then found that several more would gather to be part of the experiment. Soon I had lots of little faces eager to see their faces staring back at them from the screen on the back of my camera. The women were more tricky - most of them too suspicious and too proud to give in to the game, but I managed to get a few…..


Excerpt from TRAVELS, Chapter 5.

Bird Attack. Central Vietnam. Written 13th April 08, in Galle, Sri Lanka.

After almost two and a half weeks in Vietnam, I must admit that I was not in love with the country yet. I was in Hoi An, which is beautiful, but I was starting to get a little tired of being hassled the whole time, and constantly having to beware of being ripped off, whether for a room or for a pack of cigarettes. I was missing the Laos people. However, I felt an urge to get off the beaten track. I needed to check that there wasn’t more to the Vietnamese than the ones I’d come across so far in the relatively touristy parts of the country. I was desperate to get on a motorbike and head off into the Central highlands but I needed someone / some others to do this with. I quite desperately networked the Hoi An social scene each evening trying to find other travelers who'd be interested in doing the trip from Hoi An to Pleiku, to no avail. It turned out I was traveling against the flow… anyone motorbike friendly had already done the trip but in the opposite direction, or, they were on a budget, and couldn't afford the extravagance.

Finally though, I met a dutch guy who told me about the 'Easy Riders,' a group of wise old Vietnamese men who take people off on excursions into the highlands on the back of their motorbikes, and guide them through tribal villages along the way. Well, I thought - fuck it... if no one will come with me, I'm going to do it on my own! I spent a morning investigating, to find a real Easy Rider (i.e. not one of the hundreds of men in the city who own a bike and pose as one). I found my man. He was called Mr Chau (pronounced Mr Chow), a 51 year old, skinny man with kind eyes and a face that creased up brilliantly when he smiled. I sat with him on the side of a road and I got a good vibe from him immediately. He spoke good English, and his character was gentle and witty. So the next afternoon, off we went; it was the best decision I made during my whole trip.

As we left the city of Hoi An and headed into the mountains, I felt an amazing sense of freedom… we drove into the night, into the unknown… I felt as free as a bird as we passed through stunning landscapes, and smelled the jungle that passed us by (occasionally I put on a bit of Leftfield on my i-pod to enhance the experience even more!). I get a real high off mystery; not knowing where you’re going and seizing every moment as yours and yours alone. Some could say I’m a little crazy to go heading off into the mountains with a Vietnamese man I’d only met the day before!... But hey, I’d been traveling for 2.5 months, and I felt my instincts by this time were trustworthy. They told me Mr Chau was a good man, and they were right.

At the beginning of our trip, I had the most extraordinary experience. Mr. Chau and I stopped at a road side cafe to get a bite to eat. As I entered the cafe, there was a flurrying at my feet. I looked down to see a bird flapping and hopping around. Well, my first thought was that the poor little creature must be crippled or blind but anyway it was in a panic and trying to get outside. So I stepped aside, but as I did so, I felt a sharp peck on the middle toe of my left foot. It then became apparent that the thing was intentionally going for me. After a few seconds of panicky squealing action, I looked up to find myself back on the pavement, and the bird perched at the back of the cafe on top of the wall (no ceiling) looking rather pleased with himself. It was about the size of a large sparrow, dark brown, with a white marking around its neck, and a large yellow beak. Mr Chau and the locals were laughing at me and ushering me back into the cafe, telling me it was ok, the bird is over there now.. all ok. I was bewildered. I couldn't believe that the bird had actually just attacked me... I told myself, Jax, its a bird... not a dog, a bird. Don’t be so silly.. go back inside the cafe.. the bird has nothing against you.. Well, it turned out it did.

For each step I cautiously took back into the cafe, the bird took a hop from one table to another in my direction. And then, before I knew what was going on, my arms and legs were flailing in all sorts of directions... it was War. With my helmet in one hand, I frantically lashed out at the most evil creature I have ever come across in my life. I was ready to kill, and so was he it seemed. He had very fast wings that enabled him to hover like a helicopter above me and then take diving sweeps towards my vulnerable body and feet. I must have looked a real sight, kicking, squealing, spinning around, lashing out... a few seconds later I found myself back on the pavement again. Believe it or not, this happened once more before Mr Chau finally agreed it might be a good idea to go somewhere else to eat. I walked away feeling utterly defeated and totally bewildered... still am!

Mr Chau and I sped through lush green mountains along the Ho Chi Min trail and he taught me about the war and what happened in various places that we visited along the way. It was really haunting, but amazing at the same time. Mr Chau explained to me that most of the villages that we visited didn’t exist during the war; the various tribes we came across would have been tucked away in the mountains at that time, only moving inland and taking advantage of the new road, the Ho Chi Min trail, in the mid 70’s.

We visited several villages each day where - finally - people wanted nothing from me but a wave or a smile. Mr Chau taught me enough Vietnamese for me to be able to introduce myself and engage on a basic level. Their faces lit up as soon as I said hello, I am from England, I am 26… One woman gave me a bracelet as a gift followed by a big smile and a hug. She didn't want anything in return, which was very rewarding indeed considering how corrupted by tourism most of the Vietnam I’d seen so far was. I had many magical moments, whether sipping rice wine with chiefs or eating pineapple from a farm lady’s back yard.

One encounter though was not quite so peaceful. As I tentatively approached one village, that flanked a large river and was surrounded by green fields, an old man came rushing up to me out of nowhere. As he got closer I saw that he was missing a hand. He hailed himself into a dramatic sign language explanation of how the war had lost him his hand, all the while accusingly pointing at me and asking,
“You?... America?”
“Neung Ang! Neung Ang!” I replied in my best Vietnamese, “I’m from England!” And I must say I’ve never been quite so glad to be able to say that in my life! He angrily pointed to the sky and then enacted bombs falling from planes. Then he’d point at his stubbed arm, at the ground, and then enact the bombs exploding, shouting America… America! He also did gun shots, getting hit, and falling to the ground. I wasn’t sure by which means he’d lost his hand until Mr Chau appeared after about 25 minutes and was able to translate. He’d walked into a left over land mine in 1980.

Vietnam has forgiven America for the atrocities it caused, and for the most part, the people there are looking into their exciting future rather than dwelling on their tragic past. However, that afternoon resentment towards America and the effect that she had had on this man’s homeland was right there, staring me in the face. In the markets of Hoi An I had felt it; the older men and women wouldn’t look you in the eye, but here in the highlands, where tourists didn’t make anyone wealthier, where there was no beneficial reason to keep your mouth shut, feelings and expressions were honest. Just as every smile was real, so was this man’s sorrow.


LIFE. Chapter 6. The Bum Wiggle. Written April 24th ’08. New York.

Well, here I am back in New York. My last week of my ‘travels’ was spent back in Sri Lanka where my Mum came and met me for a week’s holiday. We stayed in a beautiful villa and drank wine every night with our English friends who we were staying with. I was, in a way, already back in civilization as far my living conditions were concerned. It was a real treat to have fresh clean sheets on my bed and loo paper in the bathroom, even if we did have to watch out for the occasional scorpion that wondered round the house in the evenings.

I then flew back to London where I stopped for two nights before coming back to this crazy and wonderful city. My point is that I weaned myself back into first world society progressively, which I think helped a lot as far as ‘culture shock’ goes. It’s been great getting back and seeing all my friends, all of whom I missed while away and appreciate even more than I did before, now that I’m back.

It’s been quite strange though I must say… I mean I wasn’t gone for all that long, but I was in a different world on my travels, and now I’m back here and everything is very much as it was before. I don’t know what I was expecting… did I think the man in the deli would suddenly have blue hair? Or that all the buildings would all be ten stories higher? No, but here’s the thing: In life, you experience something new everyday - even if you don’t necessarily notice or acknowledge it, you do… but when you travel, especially if alone, you discover new people, new places, new attitudes, new kinds of foods, new types of transport, new animals, new streets, EVERY DAY, and you notice them all. You’re eyes are open wide and you are a sponge sucking in every new thing that is around you. So when I went into the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, and I found myself reaching for the same Pinot Grigio as I always did before, and the man behind the counter asked for my ID in the same tone, with the same small smile as he always did before, I felt in a strange way as if I’d just woken up from an amazing dream (you know when you have one of those really long story telling dreams that you can’t believe your brain was clever enough to make up? – a bit like that). And now I’ve woken up, and here I am, back in my life in New York, and everything is (to use the invaluable Asian expression), “same same, but different!”

That is NOT to say that there isn’t a hell of a lot going on in this ever evolving city. I mean, actually there is SO much going on everywhere around you it’s almost too much to take it all in… no wonder people rush down the street looking down in front of them as if they have blinkers on… it’s all a bit much really! All sorts of people are everywhere, all around you, all of the time, and there is a hell of a lot to think about and concern yourself with. What to wear, how to do your hair, your first meeting of the day, whether you should go to this event or that, whether you should renew your gym membership even though you’ve only used it about ten times in the last year, relationship problems (yours or your friends), rent / mortgage, taxes, plans for the weekend, and as if this wasn’t all enough to set your head spinning, how many different kinds of bloody toothpaste can Colgate produce?! Max Fresh burst Flouride, Sparkling White Flouride, Total Flouride, Total Whitening Mint gel… I mean for fucks sake! - I just want some toothpaste! Too much choice can be overwhelming.

Anyway, that’s enough of my traveler-come-back-to-reality spiel! Now for New York; I love this city. And I realized last weekend just how diverse it is here. A friend of mine’s company was sponsoring a party last weekend for Bobby Konder’s birthday bash. It was held in a club called Mars 2112, on 51st Street and Broadway, a far cry from the Rose Bar at the Gramercy I can tell you that. It was a hip hop / funk party, catering to a massive following of African American ghetto living people… ‘Massive B,’ ‘Funkmaster Flex,’ and ‘Reggae Boyz’ (I’d never heard of them before) all performed, and it was quite an experience! The queue outside curled around the block, and the security at the door was rigorous. “Stand there!” “Ladies this way, men over there..!” We were herded from one spot to another until finally we were let in through the doors of the club. The six of us were the only white people there, literally, and the only ones who didn’t know every word and every move to every song that boomed from the speakers.

Conducive to the name of the club, the ceiling was starry and the walls fake stone. We walked through the bar area onto a huge balcony that circled over the dance floor, and we peered down. I was mesmerized. A heaving body of people danced and stuck their hands up in the air like I’ve never seen before. They were celebrating their culture, their history, their music, their way, and every one of them exuded a powerful sense of pride for being part of it. I went to the ladies feeling ever so slightly intimidated, half expecting to get glared at… but oh no – they couldn’t have been less interested. They were consumed by each other, their fellow brothers and sisters, and the energy that together they were creating… they were flying high off the night that they’d been waiting for. The DJs would turn off the music mid song and the whole club would finish it off word for word. The lyrics, in my opinion, left something to be desired… they were mostly about bitches, sons of bitches, hoes and fucking. Never the less, the vibe was exhilarating.

Back on the balcony, I started to observe the flirting tactics of this fascinating culture. Where at the Gramercy, the female species might charm their way into a man’s arms by polite conversation, sexy shoes, the right friends or the right colored lipstick, at Mars 2112, it was all about the bootie. I never knew bottoms could move so much in so many different ways! Looking down from above, I saw how the female species, looking for a mate, would arch their lower backs, stick out their bums and gyrate them around, to the side, up and down, in and out, all in perfect beat to the music. They all wore short skintight dresses or very short shorts with fluorescent skintight tops, just to make sure every curve of every bit of their bodies was on display for the male species to admire. The male would walk around the room, keeping a cool beat to the music, until he found a female whose moves and whose bottom he found particularly attractive. He’d then slide up behind her, and provided the female did not reject him with a flick of the arm or a sweeping step to the side, he’d put his arms around her waste, press his hips into her backside, and then the grinding would start. He’d grind, and grind, and grind, and she’d wiggle and wiggle and wiggle, and there it was; two members of the opposite sex had found each other. It was a very raw kind of romance.

I spotted two of my friends on the dance floor (it wasn’t hard) and thought I’d better go and join them.. a little voice inside my head was crying out “get into it Jax! Stop gawping and get in there!” I went down the stairs and found them in the middle of a swirling pool of people all funking it out like there was no tomorrow. I felt a little stiff at first, but soon the music and the atmosphere picked me up and carried me to that other place that people go to when they dance like they just don’t care. I fully surrendered myself to the music, I got my ghetto groove on, but only for about five minutes as then an incident happened that brought everyone around us back down to reality. A fight had broken out about twenty feet away from us and suddenly everyone around us paused to gage the situation. The music that everyone had one moment before been so consumed by was suddenly a background noise that no body was even aware of. It was crowded and dark, no one could really gage anything; and so then - panic. My friends and I found ourselves swept up in a rush of people running up the stairs of the club. There was a sudden fear in the whites of everyone’s eyes, as people grabbed hold of their friends and shouted “Go, go, go…” They knew what they were doing. You don’t hesitate when a fight breaks out… you don’t know who has a gun… you get the hell out of there!

The sprawling panic only lasted about five seconds; its amazing how long those seconds seem to last, and how many people can move from one place to another in that short time frame! We made it halfway up the stairs before the DJ told everyone through the microphone to relax, the situation was under control. We all stopped, and let a HUGE bouncer guy carry the aggressor up the stairs, passed us, and out of the club. The grooving, the singing, the grinding and the bum wiggling continued into the night, and I left at about 2am feeling as if I’d just been traveling again.

Since Saturday night, I’ve been seeing friends for dinners and coffees, I’ve had a few meetings, had my hair colored, and gone through a meter high pile of mail full of nasty bills and letters from the IRS. I saw my accountant and paid my over due taxes, and spent two hours going through my credit card bills and marking what was deductible – yes – of COURSE Duane Read is deductible! If I don’t buy shampoo, I can’t wash my hair, if I can’t wash my hair, I will look grubby and won’t get booked for my modeling jobs!

It is a very different world over here, a far cry from the villages of Laos and the highlands of Vietnam, but I’m glad to be back, and you can always find an adventure, wherever you are!

Xxxx Jax

LIFE. Chapter 6. The Bum Wiggle. April 24th ’08.

Well, here I am back in New York. My last week of my ‘travels’ was spent back in Sri Lanka where my Mum came and met me for a week’s holiday. We stayed in a beautiful villa and drank wine every night with our wonderful English friends who we were staying with. I was, in a way, already back in civilization as far my living conditions were concerned. It was a real treat to have fresh clean sheets on my bed and loo paper in the bathroom, even if we did have to watch out for the occasional scorpion that wondered round the house in the evenings.

I then flew back to London where I stopped for two nights before coming back to this crazy and wonderful city. My point is that I weaned myself back into first world society progressively, which I think helped a lot as far as ‘culture shock’ goes. It’s been GREAT getting back and seeing all my friends, all of whom I missed while away and appreciate even more than I did before, now that I’m back.

It’s been quite strange though I must say… I mean I wasn’t gone for all that long, but I was in a different world on my travels, and now I’m back here and everything is very much as it was before. I don’t know what I was expecting… did I think the man in the deli would suddenly have blue hair?, or that all the buildings would all be ten stories higher? Ummm.. no. But here’s the thing: In life, you experience something new everyday - even if you don’t necessarily notice or acknowledge it, you do… but when you travel, especially if alone, you discover new people, new places, new attitudes, new kinds of foods, new types of transport, new animals, new streets, EVERY DAY, and you notice them all. You’re eyes are open wide and you are a sponge sucking in every new thing that is around you. So when I went into the liquor store to buy a bottle of wine, and I found myself reaching for the same Pinot Grigio as I always did before, and the man behind the counter asked for my ID in the same tone, with the same small smile as he always did before, I felt in a strange way as if I’d just woken up from an amazing dream (you know when you have one of those really long story telling dreams that you can’t believe your brain was clever enough to make up? – a bit like that). And now I’ve woken up, and here I am, back in my life in New York, and everything is (to use the invaluable Asian expression), “same same, but different!”

That is NOT to say that there isn’t a hell of a lot going on in this ever evolving city. I mean, actually there is SO much going on everywhere around you its almost too much to take it all in… no wonder people rush down the street looking down in front of them as if they have blinkers on… it’s all a bit much really! All sorts of people are everywhere, all around you, all of the time, and there is a hell of a lot to think about and concern yourself with. What to wear, how to do your hair, your first meeting of the day, whether you should go to this event or that, whether you should renew your gym membership even though you’ve only used it about ten times in the last year, relationship problems (yours or your friends), rent / mortgage, taxes, plans for the weekend, and as if this wasn’t all enough to set your head spinning, how many different kinds of bloody toothpaste can Colgate produce?! Max Fresh burst Flouride, Sparkling White Flouride, Total Flouride, Total Whitening Mint gel… I mean for fucks sake! - I just want some toothpaste! Too much choice can be overwhelming.

Anyway, that’s enough of my traveler-come-back-to-reality spiel! Now for New York; I love this city. And I realized last weekend just how diverse it is here. A friend of mine’s company was sponsoring a party last weekend for Bobby Konder’s birthday bash. It was held in a club called Mars 2112, on 51st Street and Broadway, a far cry from the Rose Bar at the Gramercy I can tell you that. It was a hip hop / funk party, catering to a massive following of African American ghetto living people… ‘Massive B,’ ‘Funkmaster Flex,’ and ‘Reggae Boyz’ (I’d never heard of them before) all performed, and it was quite an experience! The queue outside curled around two blocks, and the security at the door was rigorous. “Stand there!” “Ladies this way, men over there..!” We were herded from one spot to another until finally we were let in through the doors of the club. The six of us were the only white people there, literally, and the only ones who didn’t know every word and every move to every song that boomed from the speakers.

Conducive to the name of the club, the ceiling was starry and the walls fake stone. We walked through the bar area onto a huge balcony that circled over the dance floor, and we peered down. I was mesmerized. A heaving body of people danced and stuck their hands up in the air like I’ve never seen before. They were celebrating their culture, their history, their hardships overcome, their music, their way, and every one of them exuded a powerful sense of pride for being part of it. I went to the ladies feeling ever so slightly intimidated, half expecting to get glared at… but oh no – they couldn’t have been less interested… they were consumed by each other, their fellow brothers and sisters, and the energy that together they were creating… they were flying high off the night that they’d been waiting for. The DJs would turn off the music mid song and the whole club would finish it off word for word. The lyrics, in my opinion, left something to be desired… they were mostly about bitches, sons of bitches, hoes and fucking. Never the less, the vibe was exhilarating.

Back on the balcony, I started to observe the flirting tactics of this fascinating culture. Where at the Gramercy, the female species might charm their way into a man’s arms by polite conversation, sexy shoes, the right friends or the right colored lipstick, at Mars 2112, it was all about the bootie. I never knew bottoms could move so much in so many different ways! Looking down from above, I saw how the female species, looking for a mate, would arch their lower backs, stick out their bums and gyrate them around, to the side, up and down, in and out, all in perfect beat to the music. They all wore short skintight dresses or very short shorts with fluorescent skintight tops, just to make sure every curve of every bit of their bodies was on display for the male species to admire. The male would walk around the room, keeping a cool beat to the music, until he found a female whose moves and whose bottom he found particularly attractive. He’d then slide up behind her, and provided the female did not reject him with a flick of the arm or a sweeping step to the side, he’d put his arms around her waste, press his hips into her backside, and then the grinding would start. He’d grind, and grind, and grind, and she’d wiggle and wiggle and wiggle, and there it was.. two members of the opposite sex had found each other. It was a very raw kind of romance.

I spotted two of my friends on the dance floor (it wasn’t hard) and thought I’d better go and join them.. a little voice inside my head was crying out “get into it Jax! Stop gawping and get in there!” I went down the stairs and found them in the middle of a swirling pool of people all funking it out like there was no tomorrow. I felt a little stiff at first, but soon the music and the atmosphere picked me up and carried me to that other place that people go to when they dance like they just don’t care. I fully surrendered myself to the music, I got my ghetto groove on, but only for about five minutes as then an incident happened that brought everyone around us back down to reality. A fight had broken out about twenty feet away from us and suddenly everyone around us paused to gage the situation. The music that everyone had one moment before been so consumed by was suddenly a background noise that no body was even aware of. It was crowded and dark, no one could really gage anything – and so then - panic. My friends and I found ourselves swept up in a rush of people running up the stairs of the club. There was a sudden fear in the whites of everyone’s eyes, as people grabbed hold of their friends and shouted “Go, go, go…” They knew what they were doing. You don’t hesitate when a fight breaks out… you don’t know who has a gun… you get the hell out of there!

The sprawling panic only lasted about five seconds, its amazing how long those seconds seem to last, and how many people can move from one place to another in that short time frame! We made it halfway up the stairs before the DJ told everyone through the microphone to relax, the situation was under control. We all stopped, and let a HUGE bouncer guy carry the aggressor up the stairs, past us, and out of the club. The grooving, the singing, the grinding and the bum wiggling continued into the night, and I left at about 2am feeling as if I’d just been traveling again.

Since Saturday night, I’ve been seeing friends for dinners and coffees, I’ve had a few meetings, had my hair colored, and gone through a meter high pile of mail full of nasty bills and letters from the IRS. I saw my accountant and paid my over due taxes, and spent two hours going through my credit card bills and marking what was deductible – yes – of COURSE Duane Read is deductible! If I don’t buy shampoo, I can’t wash my hair, if I can’t wash my hair, I will look grubby and won’t get booked for my modeling jobs!

It is a very different world over here, a far cry from the villages of Laos and the highlands of Vietnam, but I’m glad to be back, and you can always find an adventure, wherever you are!

Xxxx Jax

Travels Chapter 5. Bird Attack.13th April 08

Hello hello,

Well, Sapa I found quite disappointing. I was ripped off on my train
ticket, and found myself not in the 'plush' 1st class cabin I'd paid
for but in a nasty dirty one instead. Whatever - I could still liedown flat and sleep which was the main concern, so that's what I did
and woke up in the mountains the following morning. I was there for 4
days and it rained every day, was cold, and so foggy you couldn't see
any of the 'spectacular' views that surround the town. From the
moment I got off the bus (from the train station) to the moment I left
there were kids and women surrounding me the entire time wanting to
sell some trinket or other. "You buy somethieen from meeee?" -
everywhere.
I was surprised by this because I'd been told by countless other
tourists "Go to Sapa if you want to get away from it all.. its less
spoilt and less discovered bla bla bla.." Well their standards
obviously weren't as high as mine were having just spent 5 weeks in
Laos, a country where no one hassles you at all and where getting off
the beaten track really means that!
Anway, I was impressed by how well the H'Mong and Zoau tribes people
dress.. I mean.. they got style. Embroidered and colourful skirts and
fitted jackets, black velvet leg warmers, and awesome things on their
heads.. H'mong - black cylinder shaped pieces, and Zoau - plaited
bright red woolen creations... they really go for it.. they all wear
the same get up and are proud of it and it looks amazing!

I visited a few nearby villages and was relieved to find a couple of genuinely nice moments with some tribeswomen. I realized that the only
way of engaging with them so that they saw me as being a person beyond
just a means of making money, was to learn a bit of their own dialect
(not Vietnamese). Once I could say just a few bits (hello, thank you,
beautiful) their faces lit up and with sign language I was able to
tell them how old I am, how many sisters I have, no I am not
married...etc etc) One woman gave me a bracelet as a gift followed by
a big smile and a hug... she didn't want anything in return.. which
was very rewarding indeed considering how corrupted by tourism most
that area was.

I had a nasty moment in Hanoi when I arrived back from Sapa off the
overnight train at 4:30am.. I hadn't planned very well.. humm..
thought the train got in at 6am, and the plan was to go and find some
cafe or hotel somewhere that I could sit at and have a coffee until
the city awakened.. however, the whole place was DEAD, apart from the
scuttling of a few rats in the usually hectic streets. Feeling a
little daunted, I told the taxi I was in to take me to the poshest
hotel I could find the guidebook... When we got there he short changed
me by about $20, and refused to give me my money back.. when I started
to raise my voice he got out of the car, threw my bags out onto the
pavement, and drove off, leaving me a a bit shaken standing in the
middle of the road alone in the dark! The hotel didn't have a room
for me, but the sweet receptionist took pity and found me one
somewhere else.. all ok in the end.

That night I had another overnighter, this time a bus, to Hoi An. I
was exhausted by the time I got there, but rewarded by the BEAUTIFUL
surroundings I found myself in. I busied myself getting lots of
dresses tailor made by the very talented tailors that Hoi An is famous
for. It was a bit like doing fashion week in a way.. over the 4 days
I was there, I had about 6 fittings! Much better of course because it
was I that was choosing the fabrics, the colours, the style, telling
the sweet seamstresses 'a little more there, a little shorter there..'
it was a lot of fun..

I ran into a Dutch couple that I'd met in Laos 5 weeks before who I'd
got on really well with. We hung out for most of my stay, and met
some other fascinating people along the way.

After almost 2.5 weeks in Vietnam, I must admit I was not in love with
the country yet. I was starting to get a little tired of being
hassled the whole time.. I was missing the Laos people. Most other
travelers I met were going from Vietnam to Laos, a much better way of
doing it I think. However, I felt an urge to get off the beaten track
just to check. I knew the only way of doing this would be to find
someone / or some people, to drive into the highlands with on a
motorbike. I quite desperately networked the Hoi An social scene each
evening trying to find other travelers who'd be interested in doing
the trip from Hoi An to Pleiku (where I was flying to Saigon from, then
back to Bangkok), but it turned out I was traveling against the
flow.. anyone motorbike friendly had already done the trip but in the
opposite direction, or, they were on a budget, and couldn't afford the
extravagance, bloody backpackers!!!

But then I heard about the 'Easy Riders,' a group of wise old Vietnamese men who take people off on
excursions into the highlands on the back of there bikes, and guide
them through tribal villages along the way. Well, I thought fuck it..
if no one will come with me, I'm going to do it on my own! So I spent
a morning trying to find a real Easy Rider (i.e., not one of the
hundreds of men in the city who own a bike and pose as one). I found
my man. He was called Mr Chau (pronounced Mr Chow) . I got a good vibe from him the moment
I met him... 51, spoke good English, sweet and gentle and quite funny.
So the next afternoon, off we went.. it was the best decision I made during my whole
trip. As we left the city of Hoi An and headed into the mountains, I felt an amazing sense of freedom… we drove into the night, into the unknown… it was dark by the time we reached the first town that we’d be staying in. I get a real high off mystery… not knowing where you’re going, being alone, seizing every moment as yours and yours alone.. some could say I’m a little crazy to go heading off into the mountains with a Vietnamese guy I’d only met the day before!... But hey, I’d been traveling for 2.5 months, and I felt my instincts by this time were trustworthy… They told me Mr Chau was a good man, and they were right.
I ended Vietnam on SUCH a high... We sped through jungly
mountains along the Ho Chi Min trail and Mr Chau taught me about the war and what happened in various places that we visited along the way. It was all quite haunting but amazing at
the same time. I felt as free as a bird as we passed through stunning landscapes, occasionally
putting on a bit of Leftfield on my i-pod to enhance the experience
even more. We visited several villages each day where - finally -
people wanted nothing form me but a wave or a smile... I had many
magical moments... I'm running out of time, and want to save some
stories to tell you in person when I get back, so I won't go into all
of them now..

Just one though...

At the very beginning of our trip, I had the most extraordinary
experience. Mr Chau and I stopped at a road side cafe to get a bite to
eat. As I entered the cafe, there was a flurrying at my feet. I
looked down to see a bird flapping around. Well, my first thought was
that the poor little creature must be crippled or blind but anyway it
was in a panic and trying to get outside. So I stepped aside, but as
I did so, I felt a sharp peck on the middle toe of my left foot. It
then became apparent that the thing was intentionally going for me.
After a few seconds of proper Jax panicking squealing action, I looked
up to find myself back on the pavement, and the bird perched at the
back of the cafe on top of the wall (no ceiling) looking rather
pleased with himself. It was about the size of a large sparrow, dark
brown, with a white marking around its neck, and a large yellow beak.
Mr Chau and the locals were laughing at me and ushering me back into
the cafe, telling me it was ok, the bird is over there now.. all ok.
I was bewildered. I couldn't believe that the bird had actually just
attacked me... I told myself, Jax, its a bird... not a dog,
a bird. Don’t be so silly.. go back inside the cafe.. the bird has
nothing against you.. Well it turned out it did. For each step I
cautiously took back into the cafe, the bird took a hop from one table
to another in my direction. And then, before I knew what was going
on, my arms and legs were flailing in all sorts of directions... it
was War. With my helmet in one hand, I frantically lashed out at the
most evil creature I have ever come across in my life. I was ready to
kill, and so was he it seemed. He had very fast wings that enabled him
to hover like a helicopter above me and then take diving sweeps
towards my vulnerable body and feet. I must have looked a real
sight.. kicking, squealing, spinning around, lasing out.. until I
found myself back on the pavement again. Believe it or not, this
happened once more before Mr Chau finally agreed it might be a good
idea to go somewhere else to eat. I walked away utterly defeated and
totally bewildered... still am!

OK.. I have to go.. will see you all very soon I hope.. although I am
quite depressed its all over I CAN'T WAIT to see you all!!

To NY this week, Back in London beginning of May..

xxx Jax

Travels Chapter 4. Biker Jax. March 22nd 08

Dear All,

Finally in Vietnam; about bloody time..! 5 weeks in Laos I think was
just starting to chill me out a little too much, although my last two
weeks there with Alex was a LOT of fun. I read and wrote less and
smoked more.. she was a bad influence on me (well, ok, we both were on
eachother).. in a brilliant way. I even got drunk one night for the
first time in 5 weeks.. We had some great experiences...

It started with the overnight bus to Pakse from Vientiane. We'd asked
the travel agent to give us the best seats, which he did.. We'd
smoked a joint just before boarding, and were so stoned and so smug
about our seats that we couldn't stop giggling.. we were right at the
front with a huge ledge in front of us on which we could spread out
our legs, while every other tourist on the bus (it was a 'VIP' bus -
ie - very touristy bus)was squashed into a very average seat. We
giggled away in our stond euphoria, took half a sleeping pill (which
Alex cunningly brought with her from UK) and woke up in Pakse.. of
course neither of us had any idea where we were going when we got
there - we'd forgotten to make a plan before the sleeping pill.. so
there was about 20 minutes of bleary eye'd panick as we skimmed
through our Lonely Planet while buses to various locations loaded and
threatened to leave us stranded.

We ended up jumping on the last one to "4 thousand Islands" just
before it left, sat on it for 5 minutes, realized we were part of a
herd of western backpackers all going the same way, and so jumped off
again after about 30 minutes and took a tuk tuk, a boat, a 2km walk,
and then another boat and ended up on a beautiful island called Dong
Deang on the Mekong River. It was very rewarding and we felt very
proud of ourselves.. The island was lined the whole way round by a
vast white sand beach on which hundreds of water buffalo sunbathed
while they weren't cooling themselves off bathing in river. I must
say.. THAT is what I'd like to be in my next life.. a water buffulo on
Dong Deang Island. I mean they really have it easy.. sunbathe, graze,
cool off, sunbathe, graze, cool off.. There were no other tourists on
the island and we cycled around having wonderful little moments with
the villagers, who were the loveliest I'd come across in Laos so far,
and that is saying a lot (because the people there are ALL LOVELY).
Every single one that caught our eye greeted us with a "Sabaii Di!"
and a huge smile. We stayed in a little 'Eco Lodge' hut and were
cooked for by a very sweet family for two nights.

Next day visited Wat Phu.. amazing temple ruins near Champasak.. a bit
like a mini Ankor Wat.. mysterious and beautiful.

Then off to 4 thousand Islands - We had one rather messy night. On Don
Det we sipped 'Happy Shakes' and sat round a fire on a beach with a
mass of all the people we'd run away from three days before. Suddenly
it was very dark and late and we had no way of getting back to Don
Khon (the quieter, much more sophisticated island we were actually
staying on). We were drunk and stranded. A sweet Laos guy who worked
at the bar that we'd been drinking at all night, and who'd witnessd
our 5 hours of transforming from reasonably sober sweet girls to two
drunk western messes, told us we could sleep in his bed: he was happy
to sleep outside... we gratefully accepted.. but then got to the bed -
it was in a shed, STANK of petrol and general grubbiness.. had no
mattress, and we could hear the rustling of rats running around the
place. humm. We had no torch, just a lighter which we used to guide us
down a narrow track towards the sound of late night after partying
tourists coming from a bunch of bunglalows.. luckily, one of the
bungalows was open and empty and had a beautiful clean bed in it on
which we passed out until it was light enough the next morning to take
a 'boat of shame' back to Don Khon.

Ok, from then on we were sophisticated again. After discovering more
little beaches and an amazng waterfall, we got off the Islands and
headed to an Eco Lodge surrounded by marsh lands where we rode an
elephant into the jungle for a couple of hours. The lodge served red
wine which was so excitng, and good pasta dishes. I only realized
then how sick I was of rice which I'd basically been eating for every
meal for a month, and enjoyed that meal very much indeed. YUM. I
wasn't Bar Piti but it was pretty dam good.

Then to Tha Keck, central Laos.. now here was the real highlight of
the Jax/Alex Laos Adventure. The two of us rented a motorbike each,
spent an hour spinning up and down a dirt track teaching ourselves how
the ride them, and then went on a 400km road trip! Oh yes.. biker
Jax. It was definitely up there in one of the top 5 things I have
ever experienced in my life. We sped along empty roads for miles and
miles, and wound our way round jungly mountains and gauped at stunning
scenery that passed us by. I was grinning the whole way.. it was SO
FUN!!! We were as free as the wind on our bikes.. I am hooked.. I want
to tour the world on one...
Our final destination was an oasis if there ever was one. We arrived
at this huge turquiose water rock pool that was empty and just sitting
there in the jungle waiting for us. We stripped off our biker gear
and took a dip before finding somewhere to say for the night.. a hut
next to a river flanked by enormous limestone karsts tht jutted out of
the otherwise very flat landscape.

The next day we took a boat through a 7km cave which was absolutely
astounding. So dark you couldn't see your hand in front of you..
vast, eery and mysterious.

On the way back I got a puncture which was easily resolved by some
lovely boys in the nearest village who repaired it for $1.. we were in
the middle of nowhere but somehow they had all the equipment and know
how to fix the thing in 20 minutes.. everything about that trip just
sort of 'worked.'

We went on a two day trek with a funny little man, our guide, called
Mr Mee.. who thouroughly enjoyed finding red ants nests along the way,
ripping them off the tree, scrunching them up in his hands before
putting the wriggling half dead little cretures into his mouth and
eating them. He also very much liked beetles, all differet kinds..
they were all good for something - head aches, tummy aches etc.. I
was tempted, but only because I wanted to be able to tell you all I'd
tried one, Alas, I couldn't do it. And besides, my head and my tummy
were fine thanks very much Mr Mee.

Alex flew back to England and here I am now in Vietnam. I arrived in
Hanoi 4 days ago and was a deer in headlights, trying not to get run
over by the thousands of motorbikes which rush along the narrow
streets of the 'Old Quarter,' a district buzzing with various
activities.. street vendors, shoe markets, silk markets... I couldn't
quite deal with it to be honest.. I mean I thought I might actually
get run over.. so I immediately booked a boat trip to Halong Bay.

You can't do Halong Bay on your own.. you have to book a trip through
a tour agency.. and its a 3 day trip on a boat.. so you can imagine
how apprehensive i was as to who the hell I might be stuck on a boat
with for 3 days.. well I was lucky.. Within the group of 12 people,
there were two punchy irish lads (Greg and Martin), a native new yorker
chick, called Tamar, and her gay best friend from London called Robi.
The five of us had a blast. We sat on our deck drinking wine and
playing poker while sailing through the bay's extordinary scenery..
limestone karsts again but this time sticking out from the turquoise
ocean.

I got on very well with all of them, but especially my fellow new
yorker! She knew how to party and that we did on Cat Be Island where
we stopped for one night. Now - I hadn't danced for 3 months, and we
were both determined, on this strange little island, that we would
find somewhere to get our dancing shoes on. The five of us heard some
thumping music and followed our ears.. and found a big club which was
empty apart from about 10 Vietnamese boys dancing their little socks
off.. when I say little.. they were TINY.. They were about 17 years
old and very little indeed, and were jumping up and down doing some
very groovy dance moves I have never seen before. The strobe lights
were on in full force, the music was cheesy house, and Tamar and I
found ourselves having the time of our lives dancing, surrounded,
quite literally, by midgets. I will never forget it, and the boys
(from the boat) say the same thing.. the image of us (and Tamar is
tall as well) raving with 10 tiny boys bouncing up and down on the
dancefloor... was quite a spectacle. Well what can I say? A good
boogie is a good boogie. That was the night of Dancing with Midgets.

OK if you have reached the end of this e-mail.. respect. Sorry they
are so long.. just so much to tell and so little to leave out!

I'm back in Hanoi now.. a very charismatic and wonderful city of
what I've seen so far.. And I'm a little more together and adapted to
the traffic! Will NOT get run over..
Will be visiting 'Uncle Ho's' dead body in a few days.. first though
I'm heading to the mountains in the north to a place called Sapa to
visit some tribal villages there (and maybe rent a motorbike and have a
little spin.. hee hee).. .Taking an overnight train tonight.. I love
trains, and apparently they are amazing here.. I've booked a seat in
the first class sleeper cabin.. plush!

xxx Jax

Travels Chapter 3. Bathing Tribal. 03 March 08

Well well well... I was looking for an adventure and I found a few.
After sending my last update I got bed ridden for 24 hours with a
fairly bad case of hummm.. having eaten something funny, which meant
my trip was delayed again for a day. This actually worked to my
advantage as I'd found myself wedged into a group of people whom at
first I was glad to meet but after a couple of days had started to
find really annoying. They were a strange mix of brits and aussies.
Its funny traveling alone - You meet people all the time and get quite
good at figuring out quite quickly whether you want to hang out with
them or not! If not - there are various ways of tactfully ditching,
one is to fake a fever last minute and let them get on a bus without
you.. well this is what happened except I didn't need to fake it..
Instead I took a bus the following morning, 4 hours to Nong Khiaw, and
then an hour’s boat ride to a beautiful town called Muang Ngoi. On my
bus I met a lovely australian couple (they do travel a lot the
aussies) called Bec and Stu who are on their one year honeymoon
traveling the world. We got on very well and spent the next week
together picking up a few other friends along our way...

Muang Ngoi was absolutely stunning - I finally found what I consider
to be the real Laos - rural village life. As we got off the boat we
were welcomed by lots of "Sabaai Di"s (hello, good day) from women and
children who lined the dirt street that went through the village. I
rented a little hut for $5 a night that looked out onto the Nam Ou
river below and mountains the other side. It had a little bathroom
(cold water only - no accommodation had anything but) with a hammock
outside. On the street chickens, dogs, ducks and pigs outnumbered the
people; just as the locals outnumbered the tourists (finally!).

The next day we hiked to another village two hours away through paddy
fields and mountains. There I met 3 more travelers who were staying
the night there, and the atmosphere there was so devine that I decided
to do the same (Bec and Stu went back to Muang Ngoi that afternoon).
A family rented me a hut for $1 a night, and I spent that afternoon
hanging out with the village people, and sucking in their culture.
One of the other travellers was an anthropologist who spoke Lao, which
made communicating with the people FAR easier than it would have been
otherwise (although I must say I am getting rather good at the old
sign language). We sat around a fire on the ground that night and
spoke to the locals. The family who put us up had a son who had just
returned from a trip to Vientiane where he'd found and married his
wife. He was 20, she was 15. He'd paid her family a million kip in
order to marry her, and had brought her back to his village where
they'll spend the rest of their lives. He asked Chris (the
anthropologist) how much he'd have to pay for a wife where he came
from(Austria) - he didn't know what to say, and ended up telling him
he'd be paying for the rest of his life! The boy didn't really
understand this concept.

Most of the poeple there had never seen a
car.. it was pretty remote. I was woken at 6am by the cockle doodle
doo of several roosters, and the hustle and bustle of the village
getting up to go about their daily chores. The men went off into the
forest to hunt, the women fed their ducks and chickens and pigs and
children played everywhere. The village houses in Laos are in the
form of bamboo huts on stilts, one per family. This village did have
a loo (a hole in the ground inside a lone little hut). They eat
whatever they can catch: fish, monkey, snake, dog..

I wondered around the village's paddy field and marvelled at little girls digging in the
banks for beetles. They dug into the dirt with sticks, extracted the
little creatures, and put them in a little basket they carry over
there shoulders. They later put them on a scewer and fried them for
dinner as if they were marsh mellows!
Pretty dirty and in need of a tooth brush, I walked back to Muang Ngoi
the following day on my own. I felt very alone in the world, but not
lonely.. it was quite wonderful being so in the middle of nowhere -
and I'd taken a big stick from the village just in case I came across
any stray dogs along the way!

I spent another couple of days in Muang Ngoi, and tried to find some
troops to accompany me to Phongsali, to no avail. The word was out
that it was bitterly cold up there and too foggy to see any of the
views anyway. I did tell a few of you that I would 'be careful,' and
made the decision that venturing off on a two day journey to get up
north, on my own, would be perhaps a little unwise, so I decided to
follow Bec and Stu to Luang Nam Tha, a beautiful province in the north
west, instead. It took us a day and a half travelling on three
different buses to get to the town of Muang Sing which we made our
base from which to go on a three day trek.

So, we found two other eager beavers, a very sweet, if painfully shy
welsh guy called Glen, and a french woman called Marine to accompany
us on our adventure. The five of us and two guides hiked for 4 hours
the first day to a village in the middle of the mountains, right next
the Mekong river. As we entered the village, about 20 children came
running up to have a look at us. We literally had a stare off for
about 10 minutes. We were enchanted by them, they were fascinated by
us. This village had only been visited three times before by
tourists. Here we found a little bit of heaven on earth... a pristine
white sand beach lining the Mekong, where we bathed our very sweaty
bodies as the sun went down behind the mountains. We were put up by a
family in the village, all sleeping on the floor of the main room
inside their bamboo hut. A fire blazed in the middle as they cooked
us our dinner. They don't really take the meat off a chicken in the
same way we do.. rather they seem to just chop it up willy nilly,
bones and all, and dump it in a saucepan to boil, so you're left to
tear whatever meat you can find off the various lumps of bony, grissly
bits of the animal. This combined with sticky rice and boiled beans
was our food for every meal of our trek.. pretty disgusting actually,
but it didn't taste too bad at the time, we were all so exhausted and
hungry!



The next day we trekked for 4 hours up hill the whole way under midday
sun - it was absolutely the most exhausting experience of my life - i
was carrying warm clothes for the evening (cold at night) and all my
camera equipment (including an extra zoom lens) which weighed my bag
down considerably. I hated my bag, hated it.. actually considered
just chucking it half way up.. and screwing the photography.. but
towards the end my things were saved..
I was also carrying a pair of extra trainers with me (a really ugly
pair I found in the market which were a size too big) as I was worried
my old favourites might not last the trip.. as we reached the bottom
of the last very steep hill that we had to climb, we were joined by
two fishermen returning to their village (the one we were going to)
after a days fishing. Well I traded the trainers for one of them to
carry my bag.. both sides were very happy indeed.

The second village we stayed in was inhabited by 'Acka' tribe people..
they're the ones who wear the amazing silver head dresses.



They were even more infatuated by us than the first. Their source of water came
from a pipe that stuck out over a square bit of cement - this was the
village's bathroom. So, me and girls, in big need of a shower, went
to wash ourselves... well what a spectacle we were. It warns in the
guide book always to keep a sarong on when bathing so as not to offend
the locals, so we went about the rather complicated procedure of
undressing but keeping our bodies hidden at the same time.. as we
washed, 10, 15, about 20 children all gathered round to have a look at
these three western women trying to wash the Laos way.. they gawped
and giggled, and when we went behind a hut to change back into our
clothes they poked their little heads round the walls to spy on us!
As we came out finally back in our clothes, three Acka women were
showering away, showing us how it is done, baring all apart from their
bottoms.. they held out breasts and jingle jangled them at us and
laughed hysterically - we and our modesty were well and truly taken
the piss out of.. the whole episode was very funny.

In each village, at first is was impossible to take photos. Every
time I even put my camera round my neck the locals would run away and
hide as if i'd pulled out a gun. I figured out a way round the issue.
I'd take a picture of myself, and then beckon the bravest of the
bunch to come forward and have a look at the image on the back of the
camera. When they saw it they gasped in surprise, and then using sign
language, I showed them that I could do the same of them.. Once one child let me take
their photo, I'd show them themselves on the back, which they LOVED,
and then found that several more would gather to be part of the
experiment. Soon I had loads of little faces eager to see themselves
staring back at them from the screen on the back of my camera.. The
women were more tricky - most of them too suspicious and too proud to
give in to the game, but I managed to get a few.. the men were quite
easy but not quite so interesting!



There were no loos in either of these villages - we were pointed in
the general direction of where to go and do our deeds.. dodging other
excrements along the way to an appropiate bush became quite tricky in
the dark - thank god for the head torch. Neither village had
electricity either.

Bec and Stu crossed the border to Thailand after the trek, and I
needed to come back to Vientiane, where I am now, to meet my wonderful
friend Alex Llewellyn who has come to join me for 2.5 weeks of my
travels. It took two and a half days, including one 15 hour bus ride
over night. I was the only tourist on the bus, and one of only 4
women. The bus would stop quite regularly, and the men would all jump
off to pee on the side of the rode - not quite so easy, or fast, for a
girl.. so terrified that the bus would leave without me if I dared to
run off to try and find a hiding place, I hardly drank any water the
whole way (!) and as a result have been feeling dehydrated and a bit
sick since I got back here to Vientiane!

Anyhow, Alex and I are off to explore Southern Laos this evening - a
10 hour bus ride over night.. I'm meant to be on my way to Vietnam
already but I can't get enough of this country - its amazing.. the
people are so gentle and relaxed.. I mean, SO chilled out! Coming here
direct from New York would be a head fuck - most of the time the food
you order is something quite different to what arrives.. buses leave
when they are full, schedules don't mean much, and they don't seem to
understand the meaning, or point, of a raised voice - ever.. I've
leaned to just go with the flow, and its great.

I've loved receiving you're e-mails.. please keep them coming.. thank
you so much..
Miss you all and sending loads of love,
Jax xxxx