Vietnam: Visiting Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Of the three countries we visited, I think K fell in love with Vietnam. My consultancy back in Cambodia was on hiatus, due to financial mangling/wrangling among the health partners collaborating on the survey. It meant that K and I could not schedule ahead our entire visit with each other and instead were at beck and call of the survey's schedule. Thus our time in Saigon was limited. However we found that it was the perfect middle ground between the ordered chaos of the big city of Bangkok and the primitive desperation of Phnom Penh. We spared ourselves the harrowing border crossing and went with a reliable tour company this time!Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City in bureaucratic speak, is such a great city. The Cambodian side of the border is … [Read more...]

Free Trade and Pharmaceuticals

The average NGO or civic group does not have adequate capacity to actively participate in the increasingly complex policy and legal environment of global trade. This puts decisions and actions taking place in corporate headquarters and multilateral assemblies out of reach of the ordinary citizen. Here is the short-version international legal framework for essential medicines, proprietary drugs, and CAFTA.From GATT to the WTOThe end of WWII saw the creation of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to regulate international economic cooperation. These are known as the "Bretton Woods" institutions, named for the town in Vermont, USA, where negotiations took place. The package of trade rules which came out of this … [Read more...]

The Stink of Durian for Newbies, and Adjusting to Cambodia

A royal decree was issued in the night. Everyone in Cambodia who has shoes is to take them off, and they are to do it inside my room. Groan. Below my hotel window (wide open cuz the one AC unit in the entire town was not allocated to this hut) is a fruit stall enterprise specializing in durian, a treat to wake up to at 6am. It is that time of year when foreigners are subjected to Fear Factor challenges involving this foul mishap of creation. It is the season, they are everywhere, and the Khmers must share. There is particular affinity for this fruit, drawing national pride, cherished reverently, like there is a little god inside the paranormal-looking blob. When foreigners are offered a piece of it Khmer radars within a mile radius zero in … [Read more...]

Khmer New Year (Choul Chhnang Thmei)

It's a week before the biggest annual event of the Khmer New Year. Every single baraing (foreigner) I knew already left the country and there are few people at the popular expat bars. My street is lined with huge speakers, stacked one on top of the other, and every night traditional Khmer shrieking pierces the air at full blast. Female vocals have a high nasally pitch to them so thanks to the concrete makeup of structures, the screeching amplifies and reverberates superbly, while the accompanying bass pounds to the core beyond salvation of earplugs. People are on the streets boppin' to the racket.OK so it's one thing to have disagreeable tunes steadily assailing your nerves. Your frazzled system adjusts and the assault can mitigate to white … [Read more...]

Cambodia: To temple To Temple (Angkor Wat)

Despite previous hysterics I've decided there's an alluring charm about this unyielding landscape. It's a tough adjustment, still is. One thing about traveling/living abroad that is nice in the short term is that you're constantly engaged, stimulated, surrounded by people. But for the long haul it's a revolving door of expats-- they're just passing through and do not stay in your life. Absence of the friendly face that knows, understands, or plain amuses you is draining. So I was much excited about the prospect of a friend of a friend coming into the country to see Angkor, though I knew little about this boy beyond his kind streak of saving your wits and handing them back to you when you've lost it in horrible places like POIPET. Happily-- … [Read more...]

Cambodia: “Logic” in My New Life (or Lack Thereof)

(Note regarding last post: I admit naive existence by my reaction to Poipet, of all border towns, and am duly humbled and impressed by y'all's courage under fire. I remain in anticipation of genuine notoriety ahead!)Lunch was a hearty bowl of steaming soup. I dug in. . . . Uh-huh, I don't eat that {{taking out a pig knuckle}} . . . Mmm, chicken feet {{chuck}}. . . Hadn't had innards in a while {{chuck}}. . . What-is--??--{{scrutinizing from different angles. . . chuck}} . . . By the time I was ready to start there were a few noodles left in my bowl and four dogs waiting expectantly at my feet. Meals are a Fear Factor challenge without the prizes. The psychology part can be overcome, it boils down to digestive prowess—and a good medical … [Read more...]

Cambodia: Poipet Border Crossing

First impression via point of entry is a curious introduction to a country. Express arrival through sterile gateways is had at the airport, with greeting that is composed and targeted. Would you like a Starbucks au lait, a shuttle to our white beach resorts, wine and dine at our five star establishments. How modern we are, let us show you (can you tell what parts of the world my travels take me to). The overland route goes through back doors, where a country is less prepared to receive guests, exposing social ills and systemic inadequacies, or perhaps better displaying an old world charm and raw beauty. Given time and energy, I attempt this passage. And then there was Poipet. The train ride from Bangkok to the border town of Aranyaprathet … [Read more...]

Thailand: Embrace the Chaos (Bangkok)

I was standing at a busy intersection waiting amid a large crowd of pedestrians to cross the street, when someone pinched my butt. I glared heavenwards at the asinine behavior before turning slowly around. And looked up. And up. There was a tree behind me. And it honked. Right in the middle of the Bangkok congestion, in rush hour, an elephant is standing behind me waiting to cross the street. Where else would you see this!! Alright, ok, it's still a novel appeal to me. I walked next to the massive creature for a few blocks, touching his trunk, his leg, a stupid smile on my face.Thailand is the only SE Asian country to have escaped the good fortune of Western colonization, a subject of much debate as to why (that was sarcasm). Farming … [Read more...]