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Entries in environment (161)


Beginning BS

There was a traveller. He was invisible.

IT - Invisible Traveller not Internet Technology.

He wandered Earth helping people discover their English courage, doing street photography and writing.

In April 2013 while polishing a new book, The Language Company in Seems Ripe, Cambodia with eagle-eyed daily discipline from 6-10 a.m. to be independently published in late 2014, he applied for a volunteer teaching position with Buffalo Strange (BS) an English school and Cuban charity in NE Laos.

He communicated with Dark, the co-founder.

The traveller first visited Laos in 2010 for a month, sailing north up the Nam Ou River for three days from Luang Prabang to Phongsali in the wilderness bordering China and Vietnam before wandering south to Pakse and entering Ratanakiri, Cambodia.

By 2019 Chinese financed damns block the flow. Electricity is sold to Thailand. 60 million people downstream in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam suffer from the economic and environmental impact.

In Cambodia he met Rita, author of Ice Girl in Banlung. They collaborated life stories forming the frame of a self-published novella.

He returned in 2011 helping grades 6 & 7 develop character and critical-thinking skills with curiosity and humor at a private school in Vientiane before graduating to a Montessori School in Luang Prabang to practice ABCs with new young friends.

In May 2013, before going to BS he went to Mandalay, Myanmar for ten weeks with Montessori kids at a private school. Ineffective management.

It didn’t meet his psychic needs. Burmese children taught him see say understand I am a miracle.

He learned. He wrote it down. He did documentary photography work. He left. He returned to Seems Ripe.

Dark contacted him in June 2013 in the off chance he was still available and interested. They talked specifics. IT went to Never-Never Land, Laos in August.

19 degrees 27’ 36” N, 103 degrees 10’48” E

A Little BS


Riverside, Laos

Tourists passed through Riverside in north Laos.

They stayed 2-3 days exploring villages up river, crawling through deep dark unconscious caves where Lao lived for nine years when Americans bombed them back to the Stone Age; trekking through mud with leeches sucking hemoglobin, climbing vertical granite mountains overcoming unknown fears and relaxing.

Lao became refugees in Thailand. 200,000 plus immigrated to Minnesota. Colder than the Plain of Jars in Jan you wary.

This is the life, said an Italian girl morphing into a blue, yellow and white monarch butterfly with wings of light. She flew away on a soft breeze.

Tourists find. Travelers discover.

Traveling isn't fun, said a French father to his whining son, it's an adventure. Yeah, yeah, said son, smashing his fragile heart on a sheer granite stone face rising over a roaring brown river feeling loss and confusion leading to wisdom and delight.


What am I doing in this primitive natural place dancing with orange, blue, black, brown, white fluttering butterflies? I could be home playing with electronics. My dad drags me around Earth. Life's a bitch. Fat chance said dad. We are here to get out of our comfort zone. Shake rattle and roll.

How did I grow said a fluttering black and blue butterfly. White orange sunsets gathered clouds for a conference. Sky mind, cloud thoughts.

Three neurotic American women sat in the restaurant one morning. Dalao the cook said, the buffet is here, gesturing to the sideboard. Oh, said one woman, we were waiting for someone to bring us something. So it goes in their prejudicial world of expectations, sense of entitlement, profound paradoxes and innate lazy stupidity.

Ha, ha, said laughter laughing, life's fateful joke is on you. Do it yourself.

The stranger said eating well is important for a balanced diet. They found this funny. Momentarily. Time stopped.

Lapsing into personal quicksand they loaded up china with apples, bananas, dragon fruit, bacon, potatoes, eggs, yogurt, and bread. Expectations slathered their small short Laos experience with anxiety. They resumed looking at gadgets. No speak.

Lost human connection.

Isolation, alienation, boredom and fear's patience noted their neurosis.

I feel alone, said Isolation staring at a mirror seeking Beauty who had no tongue. She was the mother of death.

I don't fit in, said Alienation. Smiling talking visitors appear to know someone. Nobody talks to me or likes me.

Boredom said, don't be fooled by appearances, they are all strangers to themselves. Schizophrenics seek solace in the company of other strangers. I'm bored. Pure and simple and I need an AI electronic fix.

What's AI, said Fear's Patience.

Authentic individuality, said Boredom looking for time. I know it's around here somewhere I know I packed it. I should travel lighter being light.

Space-time folded.


The Yankee Doodle Dandies plugged personal electronic gadget DNA into a wi-fi signal. They ignored each other. Now we feel human.

One morning a Spanish man said, my boys love playing in the mud here. We don't have mud in Barcelona only cement. I've never seen them so happy for hours.

A relaxed European man seeing life's river flowing smiled, This is my Shangria-la. There have been a couple of places where I feel this. I don't need to go anywhere. I sit contemplating the river, mountains. I explore. I meet the people. I experience the essence of real life here. I slow. Down.

A French father of two kids said, this is a positive experience for my children. They've seen people making things with their hands; baskets, clothing, boats, bamboo walls for homes, slingshots for hunting birds. My kids' artificial world is pre-packaged junk in supermarkets and department stores with labels, "Made in China." They've seen the real world here. How people live.

One morning the English facilitator watched the man and his wife, son and daughter eating. The boy, 15, got up walked around the table and gave his father a hug. The father's right arm embraced his son. They held each other for eternity. The stranger cried seeing this love.

We are decompressing from cities, said a French mother of three, 4, 10, 12. Sharp mountains wearing forests welcomed floating clouds. Rising water above, flowing water below.

How wonderful, she said, three weeks with no electronics.

The stranger and French family with three kids sailed up the Nam Ou. They stopped near a village in a jungle. They walked through sand and up a steep path. The four-year old studied trails of black ants.

Bamboo homes, orange satellite dishes, packed earth, forests, community. Local girls gravitated to new friends, holding hands, laughing, plaiting French hair and sharing flowers. Language lived outside boundaries. Childhood. Instinct.

Village girls walked new friends to the shore to wave goodbye. Our future is now. They returned to the jungle past footprints collecting memories.

Kids sailed through narrow passages of streaked rocks, past rising karst formations, thick jungles and tenuous black gnarled roots submerged in rapid brown water to Supjam, a weaving village.

Shy women displayed their cotton and silk scarves, rainbows of color waved on bamboo poles outside homes. Soft sell smile.

Sky watered Earth. Shelter from the storm.

Rain lashed everything. Looms clacked as girls compressed threads. Black and white ducklings waddled through puddles enamoring kids. Mother bought a white diamond silk scarf. The facilitator discovered a blue piece. Children mesmerized by looms, hands and feet playing gentle treadle rhythms. Music.

Water melodies danced off PSP roofs.

Puddles muddy paths. Life.

The world is a village.

Cry me a river, I'd like to see you cry me a river.

I'm tired of crying a river over you.

Now you say you love me.

The current carried them down river through rapids. Father snapped images of jungles, trees, mountains, river, moments in time. We'll look at these memories when we get home. Freeze a memory.

They evolved in a Zen painting.

Be the water.

Be the brush.

Be the ink.

Be the paper.

River said, where are you going?

Children sang, row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.

Mountains, clouds, forests, spiders, butterflies joined the chorus.

A Little BS


Lao Dwarf - Ice Girl

Chapter 19.

At that moment following a 90-minute chakra body massage in Luang Prabang, a Disneyland of world heritage culture filled with French and German and Italian babbling idiots staggering on medical canes while craning arthritic necks toward cold European winter memories and grasping creased maps filled with blood red dots depicting guesthouses and casinos featuring obsessive oval tongued storytellers without maps, canes, awkward packs, widows, orphans, or land mine survivors piloting bomb boats down the Nam Ou river and recycling Grade A ordinance, a foreigner put a pile of gold on a table in Laos. He turned to a one-eyed squinting old man. “I will give you this pile of gold for your daughter.”

  “I want more,” said the man. “Her face and body and heart are Lao. She has Vietnamese blood. It’s supply and demand. Business is business. Politics is business and business is politics. It’s all about value. No plastic. Cash only. See this machete?” waving it in the man’s face, cutting him off.

  Nearby, two American males hadn’t decompressed. Trying to communicate in complete sentences was impossible. One released sounds, nouns, impressive words, past and present participles, guttural phrases, heavy deep real sentences and, like a game of chess, war or blind love showing no respect, the OTHER cut him off at the throat with a sharp sophisticated verbal annunciated machete.

  Frustrated and grimacing, he suffered severe irreparable brain damage. Short circuit. Transmission lines went down. Thud. Crash. Burn.

  The two Yankees were fresh off the banana boat. They’d sailed out of NY, past the oxidized tall green torch lady, diverted through the Suez Canal, picked up palm oil in Goa, and translated the lack of wind into thermal icecaps near Ceylon surveying tea plantations harvesting vast green high grade qualities of pure logic in a scientifically approved coherent genesis. The ship’s captain texted his mistress in Kuala Lumpur, “I’ll be late for dinner.”

She was engaged to a dour celibate hypocritical monk disguised as a novice meditating in an isolated cave on the Tibet-Bhutan border at 21,451 feet. She missed his calm sense of (purpose) intention and clear motivation. She prayed he’d complete his destiny to be One With Everything, leave the cave and travel south living fearless inside fatigued winds to meet her at an undisclosed location. This was her secret desire, wish, dream and consistent memory. 

   She imagined him bargaining his flesh-covered skeleton in a brief temporary life condition. He negotiated passage using Sumerian script etched on clay tablets. Brushing shard dust off shard dust revealed time-lines, sharp indentations, incomplete circles, zigzag lightning bolts and fingerprints of whirling dervish dancers. 

  Whorls reflected afternoon light into somnambulistic retinas.

  A middle aged male Laotian dwarf in a well cut gray suit coat, black baggy pants and sturdy green army issued tennis shoes walked past. Pink sky streaked sunset. He’d been walking all day. His stride was steady. Other than a bowl of noodles near the Mekong he’d been raising dust. He was headed home, passing golden Wats, shimmering pots of food cooking on clay burners fired by kindling, blaring TVs, noisy greasy engine repair shops, bamboo pavilions and a sleeping tuk-tuk driver. 

  He passed a teashop chalk sign:

Smile. We Will Help You Practice.

  He walked across a narrow red iron bridge above a river and down a dusty road to his bamboo home complete with a single watt bulb surrounded by dancing omnivorous insects.

  His shoes went near the door. Slapping his jacket against a wall released day’s dust. He hung it up. He splashed water on his face and smiled at his incomplete reflection. He poured a cup of green tea, ate a handful of sticky rice and prepared his table. 

  He spread out a large sheet of rough handmade beige paper, camelhair brushes and black ink.

  Memory spoke: After they cut my tongue out during my Re-education through shit labor experience I started writing script. I found a compressed black Chinese ink stick with yellow dragons breathing fire.

  I added a little water to a recessed gray stone surface. I placed the ink in the center. Then, using my right hand, as Master Liu in Chengdu taught me, I rotated the stick in a clockwise motion. Black ink ebbed into liquid as a drop of water rippled a pond.

  After collecting ink I picked up my long thick brown brush with white wolf hair. After soaking it in water for three minutes to relax it’s inner tension I spread out thin delicate paper. I placed my right foot at an angle, left foot straight, with my left palm flat on the table and fingers spread.

  I dipped the brush in the recessed part of the stone to absorb ink and slowly dragged it along an edge removing excess. I savored the weight and heft. My brush has it own personality and character. There are 5,000 characters in my written language.

  My Chinese script is about unity of mind and spirit. I have much to see and a long way to travel with this unknowing truth. I know what I don’t know. I don’t know what I know. The more I see the less I know.

  My teacher recited a poem.

A mountain loses its spirit without cloud,
loses its peculiarity without stones,
loses its elegance without trees,
and loses its life without water,
and in painting,

one should concentrate the mind,
and hold the breath,
with concentration of the mind,
serenity is maintained, with the breath held up,
preciseness is attained.

One should be as serene as an old monk in meditation and be as precise as a silk worm in spitting silk.
The spirit and real fun of painting are from nature and beyond brushes and paints.

  I stood up straight, took three deep breaths and exhaled into emptiness. I centered my unconscious on the blank paper filled with nothing. Respect the white emptiness.

  My wisdom mind of intent became water. It was quiet, calm and still with concentration and focus. I listened to brush, ink and paper. I am a conduit. Be the brush, be the ink, be the water, be the paper.

  Each essence is pure, free, clear and luminous.

  My useless tongue flapped like a prayer flag in Himalayan winds. Stories and songs are nightingales. I heard children laughing and singing. They greeted each other in the babble of playful nothing with laughing word pearls.

They dream with their eyes open. When we are asleep we are awake.

  Life gave me art and I used art to celebrate life.

 Ice Girl in Banlung


Life Lesson #5 - Ice Girl

Chapter 18.

I’m a big seven as in 7, said an omniscient reliable Lao narrator.

  Your life is a test. It isn’t a dress rehearsal. If it’s an actual life your invisible friend will protect you from ignorance and fear.

  My dad’s not very smart. It’s probably his DNA. A string theory of letters. Genetics. Gee. Net. Icks. 

  Let me give you a kind-hearted example of his stupidity. It's the rainy season here in Vientiane. Slashing squalling delicious rain. Soft, cool, soothing. Like tears. Cry me a river.

  Rain pours like honey. What’s dear old dad do? He washes his silver van in a downpour. Smart eh? Yeah, he’s trying to impress dry watchers with his intelligent hose running wealthy water over poor rain. Cleaning. He ignores me mostly.

  It’s amazing what people do when they have nothing to do. Maybe it’s an innate creative instinct. Like milling around. Anyway I’ve learned there are three kinds of people in the world.

a) people who make things happen

b)people who watch people make things happen

c) people who don’t know what the fuck is going on

  My grandmother sits on our 1924 austere colonial dark brown balcony folding banana leaves for a ceremony. Every day is a ceremony. Every morning at dawn she walks to the muddy road near the Mekong and offers wandering Buddhist monks a handful of rice. She earns merit in this life. She burns incense at the family altar. She nurtures her shrinking garden after her son decided to plant a cement parking lot. What a clever little man.

  Grandfather stares at rain collecting in pools.

  Father’s very busy. He disappears for hours. Drinking beer with friends. Playing around with a secret squeeze in dark places. She’s starving for affection and cash. A poor girl from a poor family needs to make a living, poor thing.

  My mom’s also really smart. What’s the difference between smart and clever?

  After the rain, when it’s dry and the smallest full moon of the year rises above the Mekong before a river festival filled with floating orange flowers and yellow flaming candles she burns all the plastic garbage. Burn baby burn. Light my fire.

  It’s a sweet smell let me tell you. Like that Duvall character said, I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Kind of like that smell. What’s the word? Acrid. 

  When she’s not burning plastic trash she sweeps. Broom music. Stone cold. She cooks. She pretends to be busy. She’s a baby machine. What’s another mouth? In China I’m worth $3-5K on the stolen kid market. My sister would have been aborted.

  Mom ignores me mostly. She’s very busy doing her humble mother routine. Later, she squawks. She’s a soft kind later.

  People like parents and teachers and lazy humans love to pretend to be busy. I guess it gives their short life meaning.

  Milling around is an art form with style. Hemingway had style. Fitzgerald had style and class.

  Lao people are soft and gentle. We have good hearts. We are not as mercenary as the Vietnamese. We drift through your sensation, perception and consciousness with the speed and grace of a cosmic Lepidoptera.

  The trick is to tolerate, with kindness and patience, your great teacher, the bland empty-eyed star gazing hustlers. Bored after five minutes they lose interest and leave you be. Zap, like a white zigzag lightning bolt. Gone.

Vietnamese plant rice.

Cambodians watch it grow.

Laotians hear it grow.

  The kid continued: For cultural, historical, educational, environmental, emotional, intellectual and economic reasons milling around is a popular daily activity. This unpleasant fact cannot be denied or ignored or forgotten like a missing leg.

  I used to complain I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.

  This fact needs to be up front because it is a clear immediate danger and way of life.

  Limited opportunities, unregulated population growth, substandard education, expensive medicine, no hope and inconclusive futures enhance milling around.

But what do I know?

  Milling kills time alleviating boredom, the dreaded lethargic tedious disease. Milling around kills the human spirit. No initiative. Period. How sweet. How charming. It’ll take another generation to get educated. Cambodia and Lao and Vietnam are alive with ghosts.

  A human’s existence is one long perpetual distraction.

I’m too young to know much. I know what I don’t know. I don’t know what I don’t know. Anyway, I need to go and finish my school paper on developing moral character with social intelligence, grit, self-control, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.

  How do you build self-control and grit, asked Leo.

  Through failure, said the boy. There are two kinds of character.

  What are they?

  Moral character is fairness, generosity, and integrity.

Performance character is effort, diligence, and perseverance.

Kids need challenges to grow. Like hardships and deprivation. Yeah, it’s trial and error and taking risks.

  Thanks for the life lesson, said Leo. You are the future of Laos.

Ice Girl in Banlung



Li - Ice Girl

Chapter 16.

Hi. My name is Li. I am almost 14. I am H’mong. I speak excellent English.

I finished nine years of school in my village and learned what I really needed to know on the street. What I really needed to know to survive. What I really needed to know to make money. I use really a lot. As someone said, “You don’t want to let school interfere with your education.” 

Tourists visit Sapa. It’s in the mountains close to China. I’ve never been to China. I met a boy named Leo who used to live there as he passed through life as we all do. He said he had a crappy job there.

Someday I plan to go back to school. It’s good to have a plan. Plan the dream and dream the plan. 

I’m not talking about the hungry, angry, crazy, confused day-trippers from Hanoi or HCMC or Bang Cock. They never talk to us. They are busy eating, drinking, fooling around with special friends at nightclubs and buying cheap Chinese stuff. They don’t buy from us. They buy a lot of junk. They must be rich.

They make me laugh because you can always tell who they are: 1) they arrive on big white buses 2) they wear bright red tour baseball hats so they don’t get lost 3) they travel in packs like scared animals 4) they stay in local government hotels and eat at local Vietnamese places 5) they ignore you.

No, I’m talking and I speak excellent English about the foreigners. We, my friends and I, who work the street selling, politely pestering visitors to buy our handicrafts and offering guided treks, don’t call the foreigners travelers because they are only here for 2-3 days. It’s weird. It’s such a beautiful place and they don’t stay long. Tourists find and travelers discover is what I say.


They have a vacation schedule. I think a vacation means free time. Time is free isn't it? They eat, sleep, wander around and maybe take a trek to a local village and then, POOF! like magic they disappear. 

And then the tourist machine spits out more tourists and visitors for us to sell to, pester and offer treks to our village.

For instance, all the Vietnamese hotels (H’mong people don’t own hotels or guesthouses) charge a tourist $25 for a day trek. So, let’s say they get 10 people. Do the math. $250. The hotel guy only gives me $5-10.

I am smart. I meet them the day before and agree to take them out at a discount before they pay the hotel. I show up early. 90% of life is showing up. I heard a foreigner say that.

I take them out, down hills, up hills, across rivers, through valleys and forests into villages and we have lunch with my family. Foreigners love it. They discover how calm and beautiful nature is. They sit and talk with people. They take some snaps.

Then we walk trails through pristine forests, through rivers, along rice paddies, climbing up and down hills and I bring them home. They are happy and tired. They are happy to pay me for their experience. This is why I deal direct with the tourists and trekkers.

I am a smart, aggressive little businesswoman. I eliminate the middleman. Ha, ha.

I’m learning more English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Urdu, Pashto, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, Arabic, Swedish meatballs and Italian from them since I was a kid tomorrow. I love pizza. With cheese. I learned this from tourists with cameras, Say cheese.

  It’s fucking hilarious.

They say cheese and freeze. They stare at a little black mechanical viewfinder box. What’s up with that?

Some really get to know us. They are intelligent and thoughtful and seem to really care about us, how we live and work, play and evolve and grow as human beings. They want to understand why we are considered minority savages by the Vietnamese and get screwed. Literally.

Many are super friendly. They don't leave a mess like trash and stuff.

I’ll tell you a secret. Many of us stay in Sapa overnight. We share a room for $20 a month so we can get to the hotels early and meet tourists who want to go trekking. It’s more convenient than going all the way home that takes two hours and…you understand. 

My friends and I have a lot of fun in the room. It’s simple. Beds and toilet. We talk, sing songs and do our embroidery work.

I’m a great little trek leader. I am a private operator. It’s nice to do what you love and love what you do. Nature is my teacher. 

Life is good in Sapa. See you in the next life.

Ice Girl in Banlung