Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to travel in Laos

A number of western tourists in Laos carry tripods. They set them up on riverbanks, overlooking postcard-worthy banana tree and monk-graced temple scenes, or on forest paths, looking to catch waterfalls or ethnic minority women in woven farmer hats. And for those looking for the exotic and traditional, Laos is an ideal place. In a world of urbanization, 85 percent of Laos’ population remains farmers. It’s still standard practice for families to have their teenage boys enter a monastery for a handful of years.

As a tourist, it surprises me how easy it is to get off ‘the beaten path.’ You can split Laos into three parts: northern, southern and central. Within central Laos are the tourist haven of Luang Prabang, debauched backpacker town Vang Vieng and the sleepy capital of Vientiane, the closest thing Laos gets to metropolitan. All three are by this point firmly part of the Southeast Asian backpacker circuit, along that well-worn path that winds through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. But step outside of these three areas, and the number of backpacks and Westerners drops off dramatically. The further away from the Big Three that you travel, the more “Laotian” and real the experience becomes.

We got as far as Luang Prabang, which is a charming little town, whose central strip stands a world apart from the rest of the town. There, every shop is a travel agency or Western restaurant flogging omelettes and spaghetti and almost everybody in town is foreign. Like in the rest of the country, agencies peddle treks of varying lengths into the jungle, where you have the opportunity to stay in local villages and learn all about Lao customs. Fair enough, though at 30-40 US dollars per day—in a country where most locals survive on a fraction of that, why not just meet the locals who are living next to your cushy satellite TV-equipped guesthouse?

Backpacking was originally, and still is, about exploring new cultures and getting away from the normal. Drugs, back in the day, were certainly a part of that. But sadly, in Vang Vieng it seems to have devolved into a pot/mushroom/opiate festival of sitting around in bars, watching endless re-runs of ‘Friends’ or tubing down the river in a drunken stupor. The original soul of the town, it is said, disappears, replaced by a tourist economy and all the boozy partying that ensues.

A large part of what makes Laos so great to visit is what it is not. It’s not trying to modernize overnight, and is thus refreshingly free of this deep-rooted inferiority complex China has with the West. Laotians are famously friendly and laid-back, and while ambition and competitiveness are certainly not bad things, it’s wonderful to be in a place where a slower pace, relaxed mindsets and smiling strangers are not diminishing commodities, but rather the way that society has always consisted of and still remains.

But, as many other Westerners visiting the country have asked, will it choose, or even be able to stay this way? We may be seeing the last vestiges of a traditional Southeast Asian society, before the onslaught of television and media images sends its youth heading for the big lights, chasing dreams made up of new, shiny Japanese cars and high-rise condominiums. This is surely still many years from taking shape, but if and when it does, who could hold it against them for wanting what so much of the rest of the world has been chasing?

As the country’s exposure grows amidst the Western backpacker circuit, I hope more people will try to invest in the “sustainable tourism” ideals promoted by organizations such as “Stay Another Day”, which encourage travelers to support organizations that benefit local communities and to respect traditional customs (for example: not sticking camera lenses into the face of monks as they collect morning alms). Also, I hope more travelers will not simply stay in the established tourist main strip, but explore further, spreading their currency into many hands as they go.

There are still a number of deep economic, social and environmental problems that Westerners can lend a hand with, such as enforcing conservation laws and sustainable logging practices. With a little bit of intelligent investment, from the top down to each backpack-lugging, Lonely Planet-wielding traveler, Laos could maintain all the tradition and culture that makes us want to visit it in the first place, while improving its internal infrastructure and services to its citizens.

And, as to whether or not the country becomes the next Thailand or not…that’s a decision that Laos (it’s government, still dictatorially in charge and all) will make itself. The point is for us to demonstrate that it has options, and becoming the next Thailand or China is but only one way to progress in this new century.


More pictures from the trip:*

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coldplay "Lovers in Japan" Acoustic alternate version

"Lovers In Japan" by Coldplay

CAPO ON 5, modeled on acoustic cover by Tyler Herrin

Note: This is in F, but played with the capo on 5 and with the root note as C. It is not tuned to the album version of the song!

The main benefit of playing this way is that it allows for the natural hammer on to mimic the melody of the song. This is achieved hammering on the open and 2nd fret of the 4th string (4th from the bottom).

However, it sounds close (not 100 percent sure) to in tune with this acoustic version of the song by the band itself:

Lovers In Japan

Am7 (x00213)
F7 (133210)
C (032010)
G6 (32000x)
G (320003)
Dm (xx0231)

Intro: VI, IV, I, V // I, V, IV, I

Am7, F7, C, G6 x2 (4 beats each)
G, D6, C, G (all for 8 beats each)

Verse 1: I, V, IV, I (C, G, F, C)

The "hammer on" melody: I play this throughout the verses and breaks, but not during the chorus

C (032010) Hammer on from 030010 to 032010 to create main melody*
G (320003) Hammer on/off from 302003 to 320003 to maintain melody
F7 (133210) Hammer on/off from 133010 to 133210 for transposed melody

Lovers, keep on the road you're on
F7 C
Runners, until the race is run
Soldiers, you've got to soldier on
Sometimes even right is wrong

Chorus: VI, IV, I, V (Am, F, C, G) x2 / VI, I, IV, II, V, VI (Am, C, F, Dm, G, Am)

Am F C
They are turning my head out
G Am
To see what I'm all about
Keeping my head down
G Am
To see what it feels like now
But I have no doubt
Dm G C
One day, we are gonna get out


Tonight maybe we're gonna run
F7 C
Dreaming of the Osaka sun
Ohh ohh...
F7 C
Dreaming of when the morning comes


They are turning my head out
G Am
To see what I'm all about
Keeping my head down
G Am
To see what it feels like now
But I have no doubt
Dm G C
One day the sun will come out

[C till the song ends]

Friday, June 06, 2008

Self-Destruct Chords, What Made Milwaukee Famous

by What Made Milwaukee Famous
from the album "What Doesn't Kill Us"

This song is in F# major but I play it with the capo on the 2nd fret, shifting it to E.

I originally heard the band through KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic podcast and found this haunting, melodic track immediately drawing my ear. It is similar in sound to contemporary British bands such as Keane and Snow Patrol, though the band, based in Austin, seems to have its American Indie cred still in tact!

Key: F# major (Capoed to E major)

Verse chords: E, A

Chorus: "I wouldn't self-destruct..." E, A, B, E-E flat, C sharp minor, F sharp minor, B, E

Verse interludes: E, A

Middle Eight: F#m, B, F#m, B, G#m, C#m, F#m, B

I'd eat your heart out but my teeth are sore
besides I'm tired of you crawling right back for more
E A E, A
cause I usually suffer later from a lack of things to say

don't wanna see the whites of your eyes
don't wanna have to euthanize
E A E, A
you've showed endless indications you'll just dodge the inevitable

E A B E E flat (transition)
I wouldn't self-destruct for anybody else
C#m F#m B E A, E, A
come on, you know you know me better than yourself

I'd just as soon retreat and fail
than be the one behind your sails
E A E, A
you'd never be deficient for the comfort of heeding it
you're aching to get caught up in
the way these problems always begin
there's no use for me to tell you
you refuse to listen
you lack consideration for all the things you're missing but

E A B E E flat (transition chord)
I wouldn't self-destruct for anybody else
C#m F#m
take notes, pay close attention
surely you can tell
E A B E E flat
it's never worth the pain inflicted on yourself
C#m F#m
but I jumped in misery
we love the cry and tell

F#m B
you can try to validate your grievances
F#m B
by severing your ties
G#m C#m
but instead of walking out and moving on
F#m B
you'd rather keep living a lie
say goodbye

I wouldn't self-destruct for anybody else
C#m F#m
if you can't acknowledge that
then just…

Back on Blogger!

For those who may be wondering:

I switched to Wordpress in 2006: /, however I've recently returned to Blogger?

"Why?," I hear you ask.

Because I can post to Blogger from my current home in Chengdu, China, whereas I cannot post to Wordpress, due to the Chinese net nanny. Still, people within China cannot access either blog (without using an anonymizer).

As much as I like Wordpress, Blogger's the one the Chinese government seems to not mind as much, and so in such circumstances, I'm happy to be back!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Itslateagain has moved to Wordpress!

Itslateagain, which began it's career at livejournal, then moved for a while to Blogger, is happily married to Wordpress. Though Blogger was good to him, Mark found it hard to resist Wordpress' more diverse array of templates and smart WYSIWYG language.

That's where he has lived for almost a year now.

Feel free to browse!


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bangin' Down the Door: an Analysis of AIDS Activism at the Toronto AIDS Conference

Prologue: I served as a reporter to the Toronto Youthforce during the Toronto International AIDS Conference from August 10-18th. What follows is a feature article written for the Youth AIDS conference site.

August 17, 2006.

It seemed like business as usual at the main pressroom on Day 3 of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Helene Gayle, President of the International AIDS Society, had just introduced Gregg Goncalves, of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), when the situation began to change rapidly. Gregg ceded his spot to two HIV positive black South African women, Sipho Mthathi and another TAC representative—a highly unusual act in such settings. As Sipho began to speak, a dozen members of TAC stood up together and loudly began to chant slogans and holding signs reading “Gates is not the voice of (People with AIDS)!” and “Media: Activist not ‘Hollywood’ Conference.” The previously somber crowd of mostly press reacted with surprise.

I had been waiting for this moment. Through personal sources, I'd previously embedded myself with a Northern activist organization, the Student Global AIDS Campaign, which provided additional support to TAC during the action. Moving from a protest outside the convention center against U.S. Free Trade Agreements which had taken place shortly beforehand, they had regrouped inside the building and coordinated with their South African colleagues via cell phone, awaiting permission to join the demonstration. A few minutes later, a member of TAC arrived to give them the green light.

“They’re now accepting white people,” Matt Kavanagh, Harvard graduate and executive director of the organization, informed his colleagues, his tone mixing both subtle humor and a sort of knowing liberal consciousness. Symbolic and literal representation of communities they view as marginalized or under-represented is an ever-present, almost obsessive concern for the AIDS activist community. TAC, which is largely comprised of HIV-positive black South Africans, but whose membership includes other ethnic groups, had previously expressed a desire to keep the demonstration as ‘black’ as possible.

Over 60 percent of all people living with HIV are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Africa has more than any other individual nation: 5.5 million, of whom the vast majority of those diagnosed are black.

Upon receiving the green light, the SGAC group discretely slid into the media center, where they joined TAC members in one of the unused interview rooms for a quick briefing on their message and action plan. Then, they walked into the press conference with signs concealed, before taking over and utilizing the entire event to voice their concerns in efficient, if dramatic fashion.

The whole process took about 15 minutes.

It was not the first time they had co-opted an event in such fashion. Rather, it has become a practically expected part of any large-scale AIDS event for activists to take main stage through direct action tactics. Since the inception of organizations such as Act UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in New York and Paris--whose “Silence Equals Death” slogan in the 1980s remains one of the most successful advocacy campaigns in recent history--through to today’s transnational advocacy movements, AIDS activists have played a historic, formative role in shaping the AIDS debate. Battling for media representation, activists have been influential in enlarging the circle of inclusion beyond traditional medical and political fields.

This conference is a case study of this process of consistent evolution. Originally starting as a research-centered conference for the scientific and medical communities, the International AIDS Conference has since grown to become an extraordinarily broad gathering of people involved in HIV from every country and sector of society, including community organizers, peer educators, sex workers, music celebrities, and, of course, activists. It now even boasts its own "global village," a colorful, lively hub of activity where music and street theatre takes place besides sex workshops and fashion shows.

AIDS is commonly described as the petri dish of social issues. It serves to magnify and bring to light a broad spectrum of contemporary social ills, including race, class, sexuality, increasing corporate power, democracy, trade liberalization, and U.S. hegemony. In similar fashion, the AIDS activist movement, with its own complex dynamics and varied worldviews, effectively captures the state and direction of other global social movements, serving indirectly as its own petri dish.

Ms. Gayle, whose glances of consternation towards TAC delegates before the ‘take-over’ suggested that this was not her first activist 'couped' event, attempted to keep the discussion as close to the original agenda as possible. However, following the conference’s unplanned transformation, she struggled to keep discussion on topic, and the majority of questions from the media were addressed to, or at least addressed by Ms. Mthathi, whose articulacy and well-informed response remained constant.

The general theme of Ms. Mthathi and her organization was the continued marginalization and lack of participation of those most affected by the virus: poorer people of color from developing countries. However, she touched on a variety of other issues, including what she viewed as her own government’s misinformation campaigns, difficulty in procuring second line treatment, and pharmaceutical lobby interests in the United States’ HIV/AIDS foreign policy.

Several times during the questioning process, one of the TAC’s leaders, who is a white man, condemned the moderator and several journalists for addressing their questions to Dr. Fauci, an American doctor.

“This is exactly the problem we’re talking about,” he shouted angrily. “Why don’t you ask Sipho to answer the question? Are only people who come from [English-speaking countries] allowed to answer?”

Meanwhile, media ravenously snapped up footage and photographs of the standing protesters, who continued to chant and cheer following particularly prescient points. More media gathered outside the pressroom, shooting their pictures with arms outstretched upwards, unable to squeeze into the now crowded entrance.

I noticed Frika Chiu, the young positive Indonesian woman who had spoken so eloquently at the Opening Ceremony, holding a sign towards the back which read “Face Reality About HIV/AIDS – People Are Dying,” another attack on the ‘celebrity circus’ nature of this year’s conference. This is, some might argue, an inevitable consequence of the more inclusive, populist direction that activists such as Frika herself have championed for the IAC. With increased media exposure comes increased commercial interest, in addition to a watering down, or perhaps more accurately, a “prettying up” of the event for lay audiences.

It was whilst swiveling the video camera around the room that I couldn’t help but realize that this was a perfect “petri dish” moment in itself. Perched at the front sat Helene Gayle, an African-American woman with seasoned roots in the establishment, and Dr. Fauci, from the upper crust of medical circles and representative of the white, educated, male elite in the North. Then, to his left, Ms. Mthathi and her colleague, two young 'community-level' women, aggressively representing the sentiments of the majority of people infected or affected by the virus. Finally, next to them, a Ugandan female minister, representing the oft-criticized African elite.

Before them in the audience lay more fragmented segments of international society. In one pocket stood the TAC protesters: angry, emotive, and black. Seated or kneeling around them, the media: mostly white if slightly more diverse, many of whom are busy in their own career-driven lives--capturing footage on expensive cameras, emailing it back to their bureaus, then flying off to cover another story next week. At the back of the room, protesters from outside South Africa: some of them Northern, others from the South, all very vigorous in righteously supporting TAC, whom they often refer to as their “brothers and sisters,” a glimpse into their model of global citizenship and social equity.

The room had become not only a perfect microcosm of the global AIDS society, but of current society in general. It would have looked fantastic in some introductory sociology or political science class for many a Fall college returnee.

In this heavily discussed globalizing world are mixed notions of choice, freedom and rights. As an activist example: the political and business leaders of the world have the choice to take decisive action in overcoming the epidemic; millions of people living with HIV without access to generic drugs do not have the choice to save their own lives. For them, many governments and pharmaceutical executives are denying the poor and disempowered the human right to life.

An opposing example: Pharmaceutical companies should have the freedom to patent and protect their intellectual property in a competitive global economy; the U.S. government has the freedom to encourage free trade agreements with poorer countries. For such individuals, activists do not understand the realities of macroeconomics or international trade, and their shouting and theatre provide more distraction than positive outcome.

Depending on where one stands, from a merely academic perspective, all of these arguments are relative constructions of the same titanic debate, and neither one nor the other party is entirely correct.

What does not seem to be non-unanimous is the notion of human worth. If human life is valuable, and indeed, the consensus in this AIDS debate is that it is, and if saving lives and overcoming the epidemic should come before profit or ideology or elements of faith, then why is it that 25 years into the epidemic, we’re not even at the point of curbing it, let alone close to eradicating it?

Depending on whom you talk to at this conference, the answer is sure to be different. And the answer will continue to change as new treatments are rolled out, and with new international trade agreements in flux. From what I’ve heard, it seems like we’re finally moving in the right direction. Positive statistical evidence from a recent UNAIDS report also suggests faint glimmers of improvement.

No matter the state of our efforts, however, at least one thing is assured: there will be angry, impassioned activists in whichever direction the AIDS response travels; demanding more minority participation, chastising anything short of universal access to drugs, steadfast in their belief that saving human life should come before all else. As the TAC members left the press conference today to go “tear down” the South African government’s booth, they sang together: it was a beautiful, mournful song which echoed out of the media center and into the main halls of the convention center.

The world’s response to AIDS is much better because of people such as Sipho Mthathi. Activists are just as necessary now as they were during the beginnings of the epidemic, so many years ago. And, let us hope, not too many years ahead. Enough life has been shed for my generation; I dare not to think what AIDS may bode for that of my children.

Mark Hiew is a reporter for the Toronto YouthForce. He can be reached at mark(dot)hiew(at)

Pete Yorn at Olssons

August 7, 2006.

Tonight, I filtered into a packed Olsson's in Dupont Circle to hear Pete Yorn play an in-store acoustic set. I was a little late getting in, and by the time I did, people were flowing right up to the front doors, squeezed in along book aisles, backed up along sight lines.

I put down an Orwell biography to find Pete, hair long and unkempt, shuffling up on to the small elevated stage Olsson’s uses for such events. He wore a faded black tee and a small, closed smile. After many unsuccessful occasions, it was nice to finally see the man behind one of my favorite records of my college years perform.

What struck me most about the show is how intimate and willing to open himself to strangers Pete was, given the circumstances. It was as if he opened up a big ole ‘Can of Truth N’ Love’ for us, or something similarly wonderful and rare in this town. He started with “Just Another Girl,” a beautiful ballad from his first album which he later explained to be about the down-to-earth character of a famous friend, rather than a brush-off towards a former flame, as I’d previously guessed. He followed this with an unreleased track which, struck me as unremarkable, but Yorn still struck nuggety gold with that slightly off-tune signature croon and the sort of breaking lines and Dylan aches that in a lesser vocalist comes off merely as overly affected.

Following a rollicking blues cover, he played “Bandstand in the Sky,” which he explained was written following his hearing of Jeff Buckley’s passing. Now there are many, many songs inspired by this influential artist—the album version of “Fake Plastic Trees” came following a Jeff concert in London, Rufus Wainwright, Jamie Cullem, Chris Stills, and so on have been vocally influenced, have covered or written elegies to him—but Pete’s is up there as one of the most poignant.

The second verse reveals Jeff as the song’s protagonist: “So come with me to a river I have seen/On the way, we can wash off in the stream/Time is waiting for the lightning to arrive/You can take my life but I’ll never die/You can tell that’s the way I’ll survive,” Pete croons, before launching into a full-bodied harmonica middle eight. I closed my eyes, partially to block out the buffoon browsing books during the performance, but mostly to imagine Jeff tuning in from wherever he happens to reside these days. A few days ago, I had re-watched the ‘Making of Grace’ documentary, and that tousle-haired, chanteuse-lipped muse I can picture so clearly swam into vision once more. It was a gorgeous performance, and the crowd was suitably gracious.

By the fifth song, Pete was asking the crowd for ‘fun songs to play.’ Instinctively, I called out “Strange,” and following a quieter voice closer to the front calling for the same tune, Yorn agreed to our joint request. “Strange Condition” is by far my favorite Pete Yorn song: a masterful combination of tunefulness and catchy narrative, it is one of the better pop songs of recent memory, beautifully constructed and simply bursting with musical ideas and economical instrumentation. He didn’t disappoint, though his calls for the crowd to sing along were met—this being after-work Washington—with little response.

I couldn’t have been more pleased. A Jeff elegy and the one song I’d hoped to hear…what could he possibly play now to top it all? I’d spoken too soon. Referring to the 1969 March on Washington and the Peter, Paul and Mary show which it included, Yorn was cloy: They played ‘If I Had a Hammer’ then this song…”

The first thing that jumped to my mind, alas, was “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But no, this was a protest song, and “no matter what side you stand on,” the crowd was completely struck when Pete leapt into his gut-wrenching, drawn out version of “Blowing in the Wind.” I closed my eyes once more, and recalled those pure, unadulterated feelings of activist idealism that flowed through my friends and I during protest after protest prior to the invasion of Iraq, some four years ago.

Later, as Pete signed my album and after I’d finally discovered how he came to write the key modulation in “Strange Condition,” I told him how much his version of “Blowing in the Wind” meant to me.

“ I took a look at the lyrics, and I just couldn’t believe how true they are today,” he explained, with an earthy candor that I found particularly rewarding. “Particularly in the last couple of weeks.”

I thought of a particularly prescient line from the song: “How many deaths will it take, ‘till he knows that too many people have died?”

And this, with a President who continues to play “Point the finger” from his vacation home, with thousands more troops entering Iraq, and an entire Middle East descending into tenuous chaos.

How right Bob and Pete are. Both then and now. Which leads me to ask:

Where are our Dylans and Baezes now, in this hour of need? Who will stand up as the Peter, Paul, and Mary of our generation?

Monday, July 24, 2006

New blog, same fop.

Howdy friends:

I have started a new blog about living in Shaw. It's called A Shaw Thing, and you can find it at the far more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly free blog host, wordpress, at

I'll still be updating this blog periodically, perhaps with less lengthy pieces and more brief riffs and links on music, politics, and the like. But look for more consistent writing at the new blog, focused on the theme of class, race, and identity in Washington. What else is new?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summertime in DC

Ahh, Summertime.

Where the rivers of love, bile, and sweat flow freely from genitalia, political institutions, and unlikely-to-second-date brows…

Where sun and urine-meets-sewerage-like light beer mixes with barbeque conversation, where crime rates soar, and 7-11 slurpee cups leave bright, corporate tags across the sad graffiti of post-Borf Washington…

Into this world step Colonel Noah and Seargent Mark, shipmen of the Q, anchor of the free world’s free radio waves: carrying with them to DC’s humor-droughted rank and file: ITSLATEAGAIN:The Podcast Series. V - Summer in DC!

Featuring the following delicious additions:

- A guide to white people in Shaw-Howard neighborhood

- Mark’s infamous “Ching Chong” story

- ITSYOUROPINION! A 2 minute debate on Global Warming

- Perfectly hummable summer melodies from Lilly Allen, Jorge Drexler* (gracias mi hermanita), The Zutons, Keane, Brazilian Girls, and my secret weapon: a Piaf-meets-Bjork temptress named Camille. She’s so perfect in fact that I mess up attributing “Ta Douleur” to her, instead re-citing Lilly. Apologies.

NB: What you hear during the intro is not a hurricane, nor an approaching earthquake. It is our fan.

My love and sweat to you all!