Patuxai and Post Offices | Vientiane, Laos

What can I tell you about Vientiane, Laos? Not a lot, actually, because I was only there for a day. I think I mentioned the hellish journey out of the city once or twice… Anyway, what I did see was really nice!

Patuxai, Vientiane, Laos from outside

This is Patuxai, which is a war memorial dedicated to those who died fighting during Word War II and for Lao independence from France in the late 1940s. It was broadly inspired by the Arc de Triomphe (ironic) and was built between 1957 and 1968 with cement donated by the USA that was intended to build a new airport. Apparently some people still call it the ‘vertical runway’.

The mural on the ceiling is of the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Indra, according to Wikipedia. I love a ceiling mural. If I ever own a house there will be some serious gold leaf-adorned illustration on the kitchen ceiling.

You can also go up on the roof (after walking through a couple of floors are not-quite-finished and mostly full of people selling souvenirs) and enjoy the view of the city. GOD IT WAS HOT. POSSIBLY MY MEMORIES ARE CLOUDED BY THE HELLISH JOURNEY THAT FOLLOWED THIS LITTLE EXCURSION.

The only other part of Vientiane that I really saw was a scrummy Indian restaurant which introduced me to the god blessed beverage of soda water with a slice of lemon, and the post office. Which looked like a post office. I should have taken a photo, in retrospect, because every post office I’ve ever been to abroad is nicer than the ones in Britain. The one in Hoi An in Vietnam had furniture decorated with mother of pearl. Saigon’s main post office looked like a train station. One in Barcelona boasted ceiling murals. The one in Southend is attached to a WH Smith and its main decoration is a glass case with limited edition stamps.

I feel a post dedicated entirely to post offices on the horizon.

I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

Next up in the occasional SE Asia series: Phuket and the Soi Dog Foundation!

Look, a Goat

Afternoon. I’m going out in a minute but my intrinsic need to post something every single month and/or week to stop my life losing meaning is flaring up, so HERE I AM. I put a dress on earlier but it’s cooler than I thought so I’m also wearing a hoodie and trouser-sized leggings. You scoff but the Kardashians will have a line of dress leggings sooner or later, guarantee it.

I don’t actually have much else to say, which is why my ridiculous desire to post to a schedule needs to fuck off. I’m busy writing dragonnovel to a deadline so I’m probably not going to be online much until it’s finished. I’m trying to motivate myself by sharing little bits and pieces about it on Instagram, so head there for stained glass windows, goats and the occasional actual snippet. My Patreon is here if you want a free copy when it’s finished and/or a character named after your good self, blah etc.

Yeah, wasn’t kidding about the goats. There are also twin characters named Molly and Clarissa, like the Mindless Self Indugence songs, so I’m really hoping someone pledges soon so I can save the names for a novella about two women who bootleg gin and steal cars.

Gotta go and change my leggings now!

The Tale of Three Errands

Afternoon! Today I had probably my most advanced day of adulthood so far, to the point where I feel like it actually deserves to be spoken about even though, in true adult fashion, it was boring as hell.

First of all, I drove to Halfords because I needed – wait for it – windscreen wipers and car wash soap! I don’t think the outside of the Mini has been washed since I bought it, basically because I have previously been too nervous a driver to take a trip to Halfords – a full 15 minutes away from my home – by myself and I am too cheap to go down the car wash. But I was heading that way, so I took the initiative. I also bought a giant cartoon sponge, a large bucket and one of those windscreen chip repair kits because those Autoglass chip repair ads, ironically, inspire me to smash something. I’ll use your service when your radio commercial doesn’t make me want to crash my car into the nearest lamp post, mates.

Then I took a detour off London Road, which if you are not from Southend is the longest, most traffic light-populated two lanes to exist in the town. It goes on for bloody miles and there are 8,000 shops and showrooms and Places of Interest that I can only vaguely keep track of when I’m not navigating the traffic lights. Halfords is down there. So was everything else I needed to do today. Anyway, the detour. Francesca’s Words is doing the Youth Market at Leigh Community Centre in July and I had to drop off a deposit. I should add here that unless I’m going to work I have my satnav in the car, even if I kind of know where I’m going, because it calms me down. This morning in a fit of idiocy I wiped the British map from its system and had to get the app on my phone instead, which is way less acceptable to glance at when you’re navigating the one way system in Leigh. I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW COMPLICATED IT WAS TO TAKE THE DETOUR. I looked at a map yesterday and thought ‘I barely need a satnav, it’s a four second detour!’ Nope. I arrived shaking. Leigh was built about a century before they invented the automobile. But my deposit got paid, so I got back on London Road and headed on to my most adult appointment of the day…

… a contact lens check. My eyes are fine, thanks for asking. I nearly didn’t get there though because I got stuck in another one way system. The satnav app yelled at me four a full five minutes, which was bullshit because I actually already knew where I was going so I ignored the instructions, but then it turned out I didn’t actually know how to get to the car park I was aiming for so I ended up in a supermarket car park with about 500 elderly people. Did some shopping. Almost lost the Mini on the way back. It was hidden behind some sort of people carrier. I will never voluntarily shop anywhere with more than six aisles.

Thelma and Louise car driving off cliff gif

But it gets more adult, dear reader, because while I was in Halfords my phone rang and it was a work thing and I consciously thought, ‘I wish they weren’t playing Kaiser Chiefs so loudly, it’s rather a distraction.’

Just buy me carpet slippers and an electric blanket for my birthday, cheers.

Coincidentally, later on I’m going to rediscover my twenties by going down the pub with my friends on a work night. I’ll probably order a tonic with extra tonic.

10 Things I Can Tell You About Dragonnovel

I’ve been working on my book most of the morning and I started writing a quick update for my patrons, but there are only two of those currently and one is a close relation, so I thought I might as well share it here. The text is still a bit too draft-y for me to share any substantial paragraphs in case I change them further along, but I realise I’ve been telling everyone I’ve been writing a book and refusing to say anything else, which is not conducive to people’s support of said book. So here are ten things I can confirm about dragonnovel!

  • I recently Googled ‘constitutional monarchy’ for fact-checking
  • Someone wears a pink dress
  • The book passes the Bechdel Test (I mean I’m at 17k words, the text should be able to pass a driving test by now)
  • Stained glass windows feature heavily
  • There is definitely a dragon
  • I have counted one (1) joke about a hangover
  • I have counted two-three (2-3) jokes about posh people
  • One paragraph includes the word ‘cerulean’
  • I think I might have borrowed UKIP’s policies for a plot point
  • A girl rows a boat

And, as a bonus:

  • The dragon is not a metaphor.

As another bonus: this spectacular cave formation and cerulean sea in Zante is what I was thinking of when I wrote the scene with the girl rowing a boat:

Light rock arch over vivid blue sea at Blue Caves, Zakynthos, Greece

I was aiming to get the final draft done before I go backpacking in the Ionian islands this August, but I think I might have to bring the trip forward. You know, for research.

If any of that picqued your interest, you can have a character named after your good self and read actual snippets of the story by supporting me on Patreon. Literally pledge a dollar and boom, a character bears your name. Or someone else’s name, I’m happy to leave that up to you. I’m basically offering you immortality. For about 74p! Cheaper than a past-it’s-best-before-date bagel.

Can you tell I’ve been editing?!

Royal Wedding Retrospective

So I was watching the Royal Wedding earlier and thinking about how much has changed since William and Kate got married (please come back, Obama) and I was sure I wrote a blog post that day. It turns out I did, but I’m not link it to you because my writing style back then made absolutely no sense. None. I think I was going for some sort of teen-narrated family sitcom or something. I was rude about Eugenie’s hat. I mean, I was rude about her hat today as well, but I was such a dick back then! If someone from the Internet had looked up ‘entitled white girl with a strong sense of her own opinions’, this site would have come up.

At least part of that sentence has changed.

So I suppose if I’m ever famous, someone will probably trawl this blog to find all 15-year-old me’s badly-phrased skeletons and then drag me on Twitter. It’s tempting to go back over all those posts and dissect them. I mean, it’s good to go back over old posts for SEO purposes but I feel like there’s a discussion to be had on the Internet generally about personal growth. So many minor celebrities have their homophobic jokes from 2009 dusted off and are suddenly ‘cancelled’, but it’s not as though the people doing the cancelling were born making civil rights speeches. We’re supposed to grow as people.

Gerard Way shrug gif
from sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

Anyway. I liked the Royal Wedding. It’s always nice to see a ginger marry well. I’m knackered and got distracted by at least two Facebook posts between the last full stop and ‘I’m’ so I should probably go to bed. I’m procrastinating because tomorrow the news will be back to being five headlines of horror with a quick mention that summer’s on the way. But I finished my Open University course last week, so I can concentrate on finishing dragonnovel before Prince George gets married. Have I mentioned you can have a character in dragonnovel named after you? I really enjoyed my course, but it will be nice to focus on something else for a bit. Speaking of royal weddings, actually, there might be a hint of royalty in the story somewhere. Maybe. You’ll have to help fund it to seeeee….

Read, If You Like: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

Full disclosure: I was sent this book by the lovely Nina Douglas, a PR aficionado  I met at YALC a couple of years ago. I used to be a bit uppity about accepting books and things for reviews, but then I decided that a) this blog is a hobby, b) reading is a hobby so, c) LET’S READ EVERYTHING. Also, I’m not exactly the sort of blogger to shy away from blatant honesty just because I got a product for free.

Second full disclosure: I first started reading this book in January. If I had realised that writing a book was going to make it much harder to sit down and read books, I may have started dragonnovel. I suppose I have a reason to hurry up and finish it, ha. Anyway, I really struggled to get into A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars. I could blame the first person narrative, which is not my favourite narrative, or the general writing style which I found hard to follow on occasion, but to be honest I think if I had taken book to a beach holiday and read it in a day, I would have enjoyed it much more. My bad. I need to finish dragonnovel and go on holiday immediately. Right, the review:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe (2017)

Read, if you like…

  • Circuses
  • First person narrative
  • Ghosts
  • Ghanaian folklore
  • Beautiful book covers. I mean, look at that embossed gold type. I want to frame it
  • Spain
  • Books that aren’t all about white people doing the same white people things you’ve read about in 80 other books
  • Stories about people trafficking, but not like on the news
  • So, humanised stories about people trafficking. Stories where people have names and ambitions and family members and that sort of thing
  • Magic
  • Really shady adults
  • The sort of family you choose for yourself
  • Birds
  • Precocious teenagers
  • POC and LGBT rep, but not in a way that swallows up the whole book. This is a book with people of colour and LGBT people, in the same way as it’s a book with magic and ghosts and circuses. It’s there, but it isn’t preachy and it isn’t tokenism. WE NEED MORE OF THESE BOOKS PLEASE AUTHORS. AGENTS, PLEASE SIGN MORE AUTHORS WHO ARE WRITING THESE BOOKS. THANKS.

No seriously I wasn’t kidding about the cover. I would usually go for some sort of background for #bookstagram goals but no adornment is necessary:

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe cover on white background

I saw online that the novel isn’t available on the US, but I’m not sure if that’s still true (or if it ever was true) so if you want to read it, I reckon you should either hit up Google or ask Ms Badoe about stockists on Twitter.

Tubing & Chocolate Bars in Vang Vieng, Laos

How do I describe Vang Vieng, Laos? Well, it’s the one with the Friends bars. The one with the tubing. The one with the famous nightlife that got toned down a few years ago because backpackers kept accidentally dying. I’m going to be honest with you, reader, in case you’re a discerning tourist who neither drinks heavily nor enjoys Friends: you don’t absolutely need to visit Vang Vieng unless you really want to go tubing or have enough money to do an eco-tour type trip.

A brief bit of history: Vang Vieng had an infamous toxic party scene in the late 1990s and 2000s, because someone had the idea to rent old tyre tubes to backpackers who could spend a couple of hours floating on them down Nam Song, the Song River. Backpackers were well into the tubing, so a bunch of bars opened up along the riverbank for them to get sloshed and high while they took a break from bobbing along the fairly shallow but fairly speedy river. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to accidentally drown in fairly shallow but fairly speedy water, especially when you are wasted and especially when you have fallen from a shitty zipwire or dodgy rope swing. So in 2012, after pressure from a bunch of foreign ambassadors who were tired of dealing with the families of accidentally dead backpackers, Vang Vieng cleaned up its act. Most of the riverside bars are abandoned and there are signs in hostels saying ‘OI MATE IF YOU’RE CAUGHT WITH MARIJUANA THIS HOSTEL IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR 6 MILLION KIP FINE.’

6 million kip, by the way, is about $60. In Lao terms, 6 million kip is a shittonne of money. People still do all the drugs and booze, just quietly.

So, we went to Vang Vieng to go tubing. Well, I went tubing. Maxim got ill and didn’t, although he did have a pair of shoes stolen. I went tubing by myself and it was nice for the first 45 minutes, when I was being all zen and thinking cool thoughts – the landscape, like all of South East Asia, is breathtaking – but then I needed a wee and my waterproof bag was not as waterproof as advertised and dickbag tourists on kayaks kept splashing me then I almost got swept away by a feisty little current that showed its face about four metres from the part of the river where you’re supposed to get out. I watched one lady float on past, and I have always wondered what happened to her. Apparently the river empties into a reservoir, so at least she didn’t end up in the South China Sea.

So, if you’re not into the tubing, you’ll have to go for the eco tour stuff. I was too poor to, but according to The Guardian there are villas and farmhouse rooms to be rented, stunning treks to be undertaken lots of fancy food to eat.

It sounds like I’m bashing Vang Vieng: if you’re into tubing, it’s a must-visit! Unusually, I actually had a good time chilling out, writing to you guys and hanging out with people – there was this Aussie guy Travis who explained the intricacies of the Australian car industry, and a French guy, Pierre, who I will one day write into a book. I have a feeling Pierre is still in Vang Vieng right now, sleeping off moonshine and cursing at every other word.

The nicest thing about Laos for me was how quiet it is compared to Thailand or Vietnam: we saw the same two Canadian blokes in Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. An American guy from our hostel in Luang Prabang turned up in a cafe in Phonsavan. So did a Finnish guy. There is no fork option at the dinner table, only chopsticks and a little spoon, and the night is black as pitch.

The downside to the quiet was the provisions. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but Vietnam does not do cheese. There are Dairylea triangles and that is it. It does do American chocolate, though, and Kellogg’s. Thailand is full to the brim of 7-Elevens, which are full to the brim with overpriced Evian and Nature Valley bars. Cambodia had American chocolate, if I remember correctly. Laos’ food sticks in my mind for two reasons: one is the heavenly Indian food we had in Phonsavan and Vientiane. The other is that, although I remember seeing those Cadbury’s Dream bars for sale (remember them? In the Heroes boxes?), Lao chocolate is vile. I bought a locally-produced bar for the minivan from Vang Vieng to Vientiane, and it tasted like actual sawdust. I have never thrown away a chocolate bar before and hope never to again.

You live and learn, I guess.

Next up: Vientiane!

Oh I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside…

This morning I saw Southend-on-Sea mentioned in not one but two legitimate news stories. In the first, Southend made a list of the UK’s most polluted towns and cities. But there’s a coast right there with a strong wind to blow away all the fumes! It’s not even as crowded as most cities! I hear you say. Have you ever sat in a mile of idling traffic on the A127 at rush hour? I respond. If you open a window your snot will turn black. Also, have you noticed the number of housing developments in the borough? There’s about half a cubic foot of air per person in some of those flats. 

The second story was worse: Southend has the lowest rate of pay in the UK. I kind of feel like that might be down to the fact there are only really two main industries, hospitality and public services, and neither of those are famous for paying any more then they are legally forced to. I would have added retail to that sentence, but Southend high street has more closed shops than it does open ones… I saw a link to a spoof article the other day about Southend being closed for good in 2020 and my first thought wasn’t ‘oh, a spoof!’ it was ‘they’re planning on waiting until 2020?’ Walking down the high street for some shopping is like braving a weed-tinged apocalypse.

I can’t find statistics to back this up, but I recently heard a rumour that Southend has the highest number of start ups in the UK, so I suppose there’s that. Obviously as soon as these innovative new enterprises get funding they will move to Hackney or Salford and spend the rest of their days telling people that they’re from ‘just outside London’, by which time Southend’s public parks and cemeteries will have been bulldozed to build luxury flats for commuters who have no other choice but to move to somewhere with high pollution levels and no high street, because every London borough will be full of empty houses registered to owners in Panama.

Has anyone thought of building flats on the end of Southend Pier? It would lessen the need to cross the QEII bridge into Kent everyday… Or perhaps we could apply for a change in housing regulations, so families could live in the beach huts on the seafront. I mean, it’s not as though Millennials need living rooms. Just chuck us in a shed on stilts and we’ll work out the rest…

I’m not generally a fan of Morrissey, but I’m going to leave this here – it’s a reminder of the good old days, when you could take a car into the centre of town without applying for a bank loan: