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Letter 4 from Eric Arnow                                Arnow Letter Index

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Eric Arnow has his own web site now. For years I've been putting his letters from Asia here. From now on they'll go on his site, the Bumble Buddhist which also now has all the previous ones from cuke and photos more. - dc

Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004
From: Eric Arnow <>
Subject: Shangri- La or just LA?

Hello everyone:

Well here I am in Mae Hong Som. My course of antibiotics is just about finished, I feel pretty good, and have been sloughing off for a month or more, what with my travel to Laos to get a visa, and then getting a nasty and persistent cold. Lots of people are sick here.

Yesterday, while waiting for the bus Pai to Mae Hong Som, a woman in her mid 70's I'd guess was standing nearby. She is from Belgium, and a traveler.  She says she has been all over Asia, is on her way to Cambodia, spent time in Burma, but her next big leg of the journey is to go to Mongolia.  She goes by busses, rents bicycles, lives simply but is a really "savvy traveler" (to borrow the phrase from an NPR commentator.)

I asked her in a kind of oblique way, what is her idea, traveling alone at her age.

She scoffed and said, "what am I supposed to do, stay home and watch television like everybody else?" What about getting sick? A couple of people have told me about getting quite sick in Burma.

No Problem!! She knew of a 30 year old guy who was ALWAYS complaining about this or that ailment. NOT HER. Who'd let a little pain set one back?

She said in Burma, it is true that food bought on the street could be dirty or spoiled. Many people in Asia make a living selling food from little roadside stands.

She just eats at inside restaurants, pays more--like 2 bucks a meal, rather than one  buck on the street. Only drinks bottled water. She's never had a problem. Good advice. She also has one heck of a good attitude, which we could all emulate.

So the bus to Mae Hong Som was an hour late arriving in Pai, and I got to this small town of about 7000 at "rush hour" on the main street through town. You can see as you travel on the narrow, two lane road through the mountains--it reminded me a lot of driving on Highway One on the California coast, with a top speed of maybe 30-35 MPH--that there is a tremendous amount of smoke from fires, presumably because after the rice is harvested, they burn the chaff. So the air is not clear at all, at least at this time of year. Was I  in Shangrila or just LA?

Once I got to Mae Hong Som, my throat started burning and I started thinking "escape".

But as sunset came on, I went to a small lake in the center of town, where, each night, the locals bring out their goods for sale. Many are handcrafted, and you even see the vendors stitching away at their embroidery.  

As it got dark, the restaurants around the lake turned on their lights, and kerosene lamps lit up the lake edge. Parents and their kids, old people, lovers, schoolgirls and boys go down there and vendors supply all kinds of mostly Thai food. The local Temple had its lights on too, a very beautiful sight.

Wandering from stall to stall, I had spring rolls, a kind of coconut cake, baked chicken on a stick, and soup, which you can spice to your own level of hot with chili paste or red pepper.  If my nose runs I know the chilies are doing their work!   Not the healthiest, I admit--no fruits or vegetables, but I do get enough of those.

The restaurants serve a smorgasbord fondue, from what I could see, which is where I go after I finish this missive.  And local bands play live music, too. A festival every night it seems.

This morning I got a taste of typical Thai helpfulness. I came here to get information at the local immigration office, which is well marked on a couple of maps. But it isn't there. So I showed the map to one fellow who pointed in the opposite direction (near the lake) and pointed to his motorcycle, which 80% of Thais use for transport.  I get on, and we tool down town, where he drops me off at the Post office. Anyone know where immigration is? (think, no one knows English making this conversation even more creative.)

Someone points at the Tourist Info office. Good idea! Any one know where the Immigration Office is?  So Sorry! So I start tracing my way back up town, and stop at one of the local trekking companies, where you can book a walk in the mountains, to a hill tribe village, explore the large caves nearby, or ride and elephant. Hell who needs Disney World, folks, this is the REAL DEAL (to steal the phrase from Mr. WasteOurTime, John Kerry) (I had to get that dig in).

So sorry! The immigration office closed. it's not in Mae Hong Song--go to Chiang Mai (6 hours away by bus, or Chiang Rai,7 hours, or spend $40 to take a plane back to Chiang Mai, which isn't a bad idea.

So I wander back to my guesthouse, and tell the innkeeper his map is wrong. But I try one last thing, and walk across the street to the police station. Our total shared vocabulary of English and Thai is about ten words, but I get across the idea "immigration". Voila. One of the guys hanging around the office takes me to his truck and we take a two mile drive just out of town to the brand new immigration office. I only had to ask 5 people all of whom were very helpful--and dead wrong!   

My Russian Grandmother, Nana Goldforb once told me, you can ask your way to Kiev. She sure was right this time. I finished my sightseeing today with a nice walk of about a mile up a steep mountain with a pretty temple with a wonderful view of Mae Hong Som and the surrounding mountains smoky air, fires and all.  

As I close out I would like to suggest you see a rather over the top website,

Now I understand if people  get offended by his clearly anti Israeli language. Set that aside, and consider some scenarios that are alternative to mainstream news of Iraq.

He was the first to describe in detail how the Iraq Republican Guard would be a disaster for the US, even though the quick win in 2003 indicated otherwise. He also alerted me to the fact that Russian military technology far from old. The US is far more vulnerable than we are led to believe.

He also pointed out that after Hugo Chavez got wind of a plot to down his plane on a visit to the UN, he decided to sell Venezuelan oil to China. That is a huge geopolitical event. I am not saying he is gospel, but he will get you to think, rather than swallow what you are fed by US media.

I raise this because people here need to know what other ideas are. If you are willing to accept the fact that the USA media is deliberately skewing the news, reading from other sources is critical.  There is a strong likelihood that a replay of the energy crisis of the 70's is unfolding. Be prepared.

I will not be writing for awhile, so please take good care of yourself.



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