<- Christmas day, 1999. Small village on the banks of the Mekong, 400 klicks south of the capital. I don't really feel like writing this. It's all so visual right now. Setting sun. Two water-buffalo amble past, followed by a man on a bike. Herding. Four kids go past. Smiles.

-> Thailand-Cambodia ferry. All these kids to wave to. Why do they do it? Surely it can't be that much fun. My arm hurts from waving so much. A few just look sulky. A couple of drunks were lary. I can identify with that. Makes a change form the blaring propaganda. I was missed by 5 foot by a falling coconut this afternoon. And I was licked by a dog. Rabies from an overenthusiastic puppy. That would be interesting.

<- Bangkok. In round 2 Blue drew blood, kneeing Red in the forehead. The ref wouldn't stop it. Blood everywhere. End of round two. Then the violence moves up a notch. Round three. The crowd are betting furiously, hands waving like the Singapore stock exchange. The fighters lock. One knee, two knees. Elbows. Up on the ropes. The trainers start shouting. More blood. Red goes for revenge, kneeing continuously. Blue is on the ropes again. Then the gong sounds. Game over. Red wins.

-> Laos. The border is just beyond the river. Saw a barefoot bloke in shorts with an AK slung over his shoulder. If security is bad this side... Everyone here says no, too dangerous. The embassy said that too, but they're not exactly local.

-> Long boat journey. Every so often a kid climbs down off the roof to bail the ballast. Once in a while we pull into the bank to drop or collect someone. Everyone is eating chicken(?) on a stick. Except me. Wish I hadn't lost my Truman Capote book. I don't think I've spoken more than 10 words of English since Bangkok. I guess my French was getting rusty though. This guy shared round his lao-lao, the local spirit. Wow. Like vodka, only stronger.

-> Vientiane, sleepy capital, city of roadside bonfires and stray chickens. Had some food and feel much better. Spent some time playing with local kids, made paper aeroplanes and tried to light a cigarette with a lens. They loved it. (Give them pen and paper and they don't know what to do.) Later I passed a locked church (1923), then a school, the only sound, very loud raucous laughter. In every classroom, children were laughing and squealing. The occupants of a girls classroom come to the window, wave, try their English - I love you!

Towards the border. The country is dead flat. Naked children wade ponds collecting water lilies, bikes race past us with live pigs or chickens strapped to the back. Monks with umbrellas cross the fields, off begging for rice in some remote hamlet. <->

-> Just down the road is a mall dedicated to the Thai vision of computing. Girls dressed as Santa peddle Cannon scanners across the aisle form guys selling pirated software. Random Buddhist monks drift past with monitors under their arms. I bought about £7000 worth of CDs. Their biggest selling hardware is uninterruptable power supplies, followed by clock chips and hot-rod type boards. No computer is obsolete. It just gets upgraded till they have to take the back off to accommodate all the extra parts.

Pictures of his majesty ever-present. What's he doing with that camera? Does he go around photographing his subjects? His family? Why depict him with a camera? Weird symbolism. Maybe it's like to say "Your king is watching you". I can't get used this place, not having children wave at me. Michael Jackson syndrome. <->

© J D Perkins 2000