28 January, 2007

Brothel Art: a heart-warming story...
"From Bedroom to Boardroom"

Once Upon a Time (last month, actually) there was a little Thai girl who lived with her family in a poor village in a remote region of rural Thailand.

She could have had a choice of any Thai husband she wanted because she was very pretty, but she wanted Power (= Money) much more than mere Matrimony. She promptly high-heeled it off to the Foxy Lady Bar in the tourist ghetto area of Chiangmai, and trawled for dumb foreign bogans oozing big bucks.

She spun all of them the sob-story about how Sad and Vulnerable she was, how Lonely and Weak, and needed Protection so much from a Big Powerful Man ("U 1 dring, mis-TAah?"). She reinforced the myth by cunningly air-brushing a large tear on her portrait on the day-time roller-door. They fell for it every time she promised she was a virgin.

Now she could exert Power without restraint, and get to sleep in too (with air-con), which had never happened when she worked planting rice back in her village. She ended up marrying one of her decayed old pear-shaped lard-tub clients, inheriting the lot (amazingly, after only a week!), buying the Foxy Lady Bar outright, and living happily ever afterwards.

Thai AMULETS will protect you.
Relax! You can forget insurance, hard work, ducking bullets, or stopping at red lights.

A recent collectors’ sale at Chiangmai.
The seated guy had a jacket heavy with amulets.

Amulets (pendants, medallions, charms) serve a similar analogous function as Rosary beads or a small cross might to a christian. They supposedly confer protection and good fortune, and are sold everywhere here in Thailand. Business is booming in the current climate of political uncertainty.

Back in 2003, about 6000 amulets were given to the 443 Thai troops sent to Iraq (on humanitarian duty). General Sarayud (yes, now Thailand’s interim Prime Minister!) awarded each soldier clay Buddha images wrapped in sacred cloth. They wore them around the neck for protection, just as christian soldiers put faith in a St George Cross. Some carried a hem from their mother’s skirt – which is believed to disable weapons.

We recently chanced on a massive amulet collectors’ market here in Chiangmai (see top photo). There must have been the best part of half an acre of stalls, teeming with buyers… people peering through magnifying glasses to check the style and facial detail of the carving. Age bumps up the value, not to mention which revered Buddhist monk has ritually blessed it. The styles and historical periods are as well known to them as the differences between Colclough and Coalport to a porcelain specialist on Ebay, and there’s a hum of intense conversation amid courteous and knowledgeable bargaining in that intimate space between buyer and seller.

Many amulets feature the Buddha’s image, but not all. Some are representations of highly venerated monks. A few treasured ones are made for or even by past Thai kings using their own hair, requiring no further blessing from any monk. Some are made of clay mixed with ashes of palm-leaf scriptures or betel-nut chewed by a respected Buddhist abbott.

With the current political tension in Thailand, many Thais seek refuge and support to assist themselves to cope with the worry. As a consequence, the Deva amulet, better known as the "Jatukam", is becoming a hot item as it is believed to bring fortune to its owners in the blink of an eye.

Jatukam is named after a prince of the Srivijaya kingdom in southern Thailand who lived around 1,700 years ago. When his kingdom was threatened he managed to defeat his attackers. As a result, people worship Jatukam when they feel insecure.

One amulet retailer says customers tell her the Buddha amulet does not answer their wishes immediately and they have to strictly continue to do good deeds, unlike the Jatukam, which customers claim enables them to fulfil their wishes virtually instantly. Anything for a quick fix or a free lunch in times of trouble.

A Jatukam amulet, 5cm diameter.

Read more detail in this article from Thailand's Nation newspaper, from which I stole some info.

April 2007: click here for a gruesome update on this post.

24 January, 2007

IRAQ: Bowing out like Beckham, Bush and Blair

At this stage it’s all about bullets and too little about ballots. Beckham has beaten both Bush and Blair in the race to the Wax Museum of immortality. May god speed the other two rogues – she’s let them stay in office far too long.

Neither Bush nor Blair is eligible to run for office again, due to fixed-term leadership rules, and neither has a close friend or colleague to whom they wish to pass the baton. Bush hired a puny cardiac catastrophe as vice-president and Brother Jeb prefers golf and girls. So you might logically expect this to be Bush’s historical opportunity for selfless statesmanship, yes?

Welcome to Reality. Instead of statesmanship, we are now witnessing the sort of immoral eccentric leadership you get when there is no longer any need to grease electors’ palms. Would Bush have sent the extra troops to Iraq if he or Dick Cheney were running for office again in 2008?

No. Both Blair and Bush think they owe loyalty only to Posterity, their image in the Wax Museum. But one has to ask why they’re not making morally-considered selfless statesman-like decisions in the interest of their nations and of the world. Answer? They're under huge pressure from the BIG MONEY who put them in their positions of power.

Instead, you have dead-duck leaders making dumb military decisions against all military advice and phone-in polls. Result - more dead soldiers and civilians.

So apparently Human Nature comes down to this: Do you want to die by the bullet or the ballot? Perhaps these fixed term leaderships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In the eyes of the non-western world, Democracy sure ain’t lookin’ good, dude. Now that’s what I call Irony, Georgie. Betraying your own flag, shitting in your own nest... call it whatever you like.

And here's yet another Bush photo-gallery: hey, we’re all continuing to allow ourselves to be LED by this stupid guy and his Blair/Howard suckholes. . .

(Hey buddy - the lens-caps are still on)

Here's our hero, indulging in nasal-digital excavation at a public function.

.....and as for Australia’s puny little Annointed One...

Dubya Ducklips eyes his legacy.

...and after seven more terms in office, just as rising
seawater begins lapping at the Dandenong foothills:

22 January, 2007

Colonising CHINA:
STARBUCKS gets luckier than the VATICAN.

The Starbucks Coffee franchise inside Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Xing Ba Ke = ‘Starbucks’ in Chinese (Xing = star, and Ba Ke is pronounced
like ‘bu-ck’). The familiar Green logo is visible inside, but not from outside.

The astute observer will not only find the presence of a Starbucks Cafe in Beijing’s Forbidden city somewhat incongruent, but may also notice the area's distinct lack of a catholic cathedral - an obvious inconsistency in Chinese foreign policy. By the end of this article I will have proposed a simple solution.

First up, let me be frank: I neither like nor buy Starbucks’ coffee. I don’t respect what they stand for. I reject the use of the Artificial Growth Hormones they feed to the cattle which produce their milk. OK cool, I’ve shown my hand: now I can proceed.

Starbucks Coffee has finally achieved what the East India Company, Colonialism, and even the British Empire’s greedy Opium Wars never fully managed throughout 19th century: it has actually succeeded at infiltrating China. Not only that, they’ve recently managed to sneak one franchise right into the heart of Beijing’s sacred “Forbidden City”!

Tourist guidebooks routinely note the paradox that such an American cultural icon should spring up not only inside a crowning glory of Chinese civilisation, but in what was for centuries the place where emperors did their best to shut out the outside world. The Forbidden City was so called because no commoners (let alone foreigners) were allowed into the palace unless they were officials or concubines.

So, is this just a storm in a coffee cup? Not at all - at long last there is a deep stirring within China. One brave Chinese–language blog-site has attracted an avalanche of half a million hits in support of removing Starbucks from the Forbidden City. Nationalist sentiment has whipped up a froth and forced authorities to re-consider its embarrassing symbolic presence, especially in the run-up to the Olympics. Everything’s different now that China is coming to grips with the realities of “Market Economy”...and has a growing community of netizens. Sovereignty and Pride, they are saying, are being sacrificed on the Altar of Money.

Speaking of altars, another sinister repetition of Chinese history is simultaneously underway. Roman catholicism, rejected by China’s communist government after WW2, is seeking to make a comeback. But that’s hardly news - the latest pope has always been hell-bent on ‘spreading the word’ among Chinese in order to save their poor endangered souls (The wise cardinals all knew that full well when they elected him with a puff of ambiguous grey-ish smoke.) Benedict is annoyed that the catholic faith in China is state-controlled, electing its own bishops against Rome’s will. Learn more here. (As far as I’m concerned, they have a sovereign right to do that: dogma, rules and rituals vary even among western catholic countries.)

The pope, in disguise on his symbolic mobile pulpit, tries to look
as Asian as possible as he pedals off to rescue Lost Souls.

I need to be frank at this point, too: I cannot agree with any country’s culture being infiltrated and deliberately trampled by another, be it by coffee dregs or catholic dogma. That’s rude cultural colonisation, callous and disrespectful. Just because we’ve become accustomed to those attitudes doesn’t mean they're somehow OK. Evangelical christian missionaries here in Thailand, for instance, have done more harm than they will ever comprehend to the fragile Buddhist under-pinning of Thai culture, as I once expressed in a letter to the Nation newspaper in Bangkok:

Dear Sir,
To you Pious Preachers who smugly hand out Christian leaflets here in Chiangmai: Have you learned nothing from the catastrophic lessons of Colonial History? Have you considered that the consequences of your actions might be devastating for those same people whose souls you are seeking to save? The very fabric of this accepting and gentle Thai society is mainly spun from the silken threads of Buddhism. Unravel those and Thailand will fray at the edges. Thailand has grimly clung onto its integrity and culture, whereas many countries in Asia have imploded from insensitive assault (and even attempted invasion) by the West, ie, you. Might you not feel rather affronted if Buddhists descended on your own country and tried to convert you to the Dhamma? Might not such feelings of resentment be fuelling anti-Western sentiment?
Wrong Way - Go Back. Please, Love Thy Neighbours enough to cease interfering and disrupting. Breaking free of your Christian herd mentality might be the hardest (and the most caring) thing you’ll ever achieve.

However, we in the West still continue to stick our uninvited fingers into other people’s pies. The parallels and close co-operation between Colonial/secular invasions and Religious invasions of the past are obvious to those with open eyes. Like it or not, british (and especially american) values arose out of the various christian faiths and became the bedrock of modern political thinking - on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, un-invited interference in other countries' affairs has found its ultinmate expression in Bush's policy of Pre-Emption.

As historical evidence of the close link between Secular and Sacred, check out the prominence of the Cross of St George in the original Charter of the ‘Honourable’ East India Company (set out by England’s William and Mary) in the year 1600:

… then compare it to an early version of the flag of the East India Company:

You can draw your own conclusions as to the significance of the stripes (read more here). The St George Cross is now integrated into England’s better-known flag, the Union Jack (but nevertheless persists to this day as a tribal icon of British soccer hooligan face-paint).

This intimate symbiotic link between Colonialism, Commerce, and the Church is clear enough if you choose to look. Missionaries, in their simplistic passion and occasional naivety, were often used by those in power as persuasive puppets of commercial insurgency, 'innocent' flag-bearers of colonial infiltration. The process was – and still is – a constant re-run of the Crusades with an ever-new cast. The very motto of the East India Company was Auspicio Regis et Senatus Angliae which means "By command of the King and Parliament of England". You may recall that England’s Monarch was also the head of its own Anglican Church, just like the early Portuguese royalty bankrolled the catholic church in China’s Macao district.

In logical conclusion, FunkyPix2 suggests that ALL would-be Colonialists should be treated consistently in today’s globalised world. With this in mind, the Chinese government could:

1. Permit christians to build cathedrals inside Beijing's 'Forbidden City'

2. Replace Starbucks with a Chinese-owned Tea shop.

Whew, solved at last. Jeez, I need a coffee . . .

Be watching FunkyPix2 for next week’s exciting instalment...

“The Burgers that Ate Beijing”

The Scene of the Crime at the start of the movie:
McWontons Nightclub, Beijing.

08 January, 2007

SADDAM HANGING gets top viewer ratings, prompting establishment of.... . .
~~~ “The EXECUTION Channel” ~~~

FunkyPix2’s Indian reporter discovers Saddam asleep
on a beach at Puri, Orissa, India.

First it was the DISCOVERY Channel, then the HISTORY Channel. Now the latest specialist station is to be the EXECUTION Channel.

Viewer ratings for Saddam Hussein’s execution video were so sky-high that FunkyPix2 executives and Mr Thaksin Shinawatra were inspired to invest in a new TV satellite channel devoted entirely to capital punishment and torture. Theme music: “Pictures at an Execution”, by Kevin B. Mussorgsky.

Their new partnership will amalgamate leading website FunkyPix2 with Mr Thaksin’s company Ample Rich2, which still boasts discount access to an Asian telecommunications satellite. Executives predict a total rout of the viewer-ratings battle, saying that the state-sponsored murder of Saddam attracted over 980 million online viewers, not to mention flow-on television news footage rights.

“It is irrelevant whether the individual viewer agrees or disagrees with the death penalty”, said a spokesperson for FunkyPix2. “What matters is that they have the opportunity to view salacious raw footage of gory deaths, if only as a means of helping them to arrive at their own moral stance. Obviously you cannot achieve that without first consulting the facts”, he insisted. “The EXECUTION Channel shall provide this essential public service. The government is failing to provide it by insisting on censoring executions, so we have to fill the void out of our own budget”.

Mr Thaksin declined to say whether he would claim tax-exemption on the grounds of 'Donations to Charity'.

An 1820 woodcut of a mass public hanging at Newgate Prison, England.

Mr Thaksin pointed out that there once was a time (not long ago) when hangings in England and America were public events. Some were formal, some were lynchings, but each was treated as public entertainment, complete with seating, food-stalls, souvenir sellers, buskers selling broadside song-sheets about the victims, etc.

“Executions should be brought back into the Public Sector”, he argued. He recalled the quaint English habit of yelling out "HATS OFF" moments before the hangman was to pull the lever. This was not out of respect for those about to die, but rather because the people further back demanded those at the front remove their hats so as not to obscure their view (True! Read more
here, and see the pictures... bwaaha ha ha ha ha…)

Mr Thaksin said he intended to set up a Pay-As-You-Listen Phone line (dial 1-2-3-HANG) where recordings of the last requests and sounds of execution of prisoners could be heard in hi-fi stereo. In this regard he said he was negotiating a bulk deal with China, which executes up to 10,000 prisoners a year. However, Mr Thaksin dismissed allegations of complicity with the illegal trade in body parts in China. “I always leave that side of the business to others because I’m a moral person. Buddhist and all that”.

Local media spin in Thailand, 2003, making out that it was Burma’s fault that the War on Drugs failed, despite more than 2500 extra-judicial summary executions by Thaksin's police. He had been a policeman himself.

“Also I have an enormous private archive of films showing graphic street shootings during my highly successful War on Drugs”, he pointed out. “Our viewers will always have brand new episodes… no dull re-runs like National Geographic Channel”, he added.

“In particular, the Execution Channel Live NewsHour will keep our viewers roped to their screens, unlike our competitor’s programming. We have qualified, sadistic reporters stationed in Baghdad, Gaza, Texas, Guantanamo and LA. All of them are former executioners themselves”.

Mr Funky added out that potential advertisers had expressed enormous interest, especially in really BIG capital punishment events. He had already had enquiries from Paintball Clubs, Funeral Parlours, the Second-Coming Association, the "We-Hate-Diana" Club, the American Gun Lobby, and Tory Fox-Hunters UK Inc., as well as generous offers of sponsorship from the Republican Party in Washington.

“You can’t get a fairer balance than that”, he suggested. "We’ll run promos on Fox, too”.

07 January, 2007

ETHIOPIA & SOMALIA: another USA oil war by proxy, with cheap AFRICAN UNION security

Could signs like this could be found on the road from Ethiopia to Kenya? Probably not, but hey, it's exactly what the Global Village Idiot dreams of right now.

Let's cut straight to the chase. Anyone who’s in any doubt as to the agenda in Ethiopia should realise that the strife represents just one more sucking arm of the global USA oil-seeking octopus. There’s oil-bearing real-estate in the north of Africa... there’s your clue.

Northern Africa's energy resources are gaining in strategic importance as the USA's other suppliers dry up. Iran is being prickly. Venezuela and Bolivia are nationalising their oil and gas with a view to restricting its flow to america. Doors are slamming. Anything could happen if the Saudi regime zigs instead of zagging. Bush and his cigar-sucking corporate sponsors are panicking.

(Hey, I thought oil was black. Not so in Africa, it seems.)

Some years ago, the USA suffered a humiliating defeat by the warlord General Aideed and tail-between-the-legs withdrawal from Somalia – remember the dead body of the US Marine filmed being dragged around the streets of Mogadishu? At ALL costs, Bush wants to avoid a re-run of that humiliation, especially in the aftermath of the recent Republican Congressional rout at home.

BUT he still DESPERATELY wants to secure the oil. Solution? Follow the same strategic blueprint set recently in Lebanon – ie, pay someone else to do the dirty work by proxy, then come in afterwards, clean up, collect. In Lebanon, Bush’s hired attack dog was Israel, but Olmert botched the job. Bush's latest war, this time in Africa, is being outsourced to Somalia and Kenya: apparently their boys are more expendable than america's. His basic strategy is:

STEP 1: Shove any opposing team well away from the oil-fields, then
STEP 2: KEEP them away, ie, get someone to 'guard the loot'.

To achieve Step 1, Somalia and Kenya have been armed to the teeth by the CIA: the orders would have come straight from the Oval Office...


…hence the speedy crushing of the Ethiopian Islamist forces (code-named 'Operation Shockin' Whore, maybe?). This traditional Ethiopia/Somalia feud has been limping on for years, so how else could there have been so amazingly quick a rout this time? But the trouble is that these pyrrhic victors are the very same warlords who terrorized the Ethiopian population in the past, and local memories will be verrrry long. But nevertheless, blinded by its own lust for oil, the USA has yet again backed a regime which, by its own definition, is ‘terrorist’. And as in Iraq, the Ethiopian stage is set for another descent into a ‘failed state’, jihad, anarchy, etc.

‘Mission Accomplished’ (what, again?). Well, even though the Battle is supposedly won, the War is not yet over (familiar story?). America and its mercenaries are busy rounding up any straggling Islamist 'insurgents' who might try to escape to sea in small boats. The image of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier and a squadron of Attack helicopters chasing down a few dhows (=canoes) is both comic and tragic. Also Kenyan soldiers, quietly bank-rolled by the CIA, are blocking the Islamists’ exit over the Kenyan border (see mock photo above). So Step 1 in the plan has been achieved – at least in the short term... which is, as usual, all that matters to Bush.

The western media spin is designed to make the US look like the good guys wearing the white hat. Never mind that the USA's controling "back-room" role up to now has been minimised in the media… even though it’s an open secret to those with eyes. There has been hardly any mention, for instance, of the US Aircraft Carrier conveniently parked off southern Ethiopia (near potential escape points, by sheer co-incidence). However, now that the immediate dirty work of the fight is finished, our western media whips up a frenzy of stories harping on about the US’s 'contributions' in benevolently 'assisting' the African Union to establish a rapid-response 'Peace-keeping Force' in Ethiopia.
Sounds rather like the propaganda equivalent of an advertorial for grandma’s wholesome apple pie.

The African Union is mighty useful to Dubya at the moment, because it’s basically an organisation independent of the UN, even though they (of course) have diplomatic links. Kofi Annan made a recent speech buttering them up wholesale - maybe that wasn’t just a co-incidence... just maybe. But be in no doubt that Bush would prefer the African Union to do the “guarding of the loot” rather than the UN or NATO. The UN has recently has gathered too much dirt on its hands, and is increasingly interpreted as biased in favour of the West. Which it is why else are the UN's head-quarters located in New York, in that collossal 'Tower of Babble' UN building?

So – yet again – Bush gets low-cost out-sourced "security guards". Yippee... no american boys have to get into harm's way. This represents
Step 2: Bush wants his newly-gained oil-fields safely secured without being seen by the world as the ‘The Occupying Force’, as is the case in Iraq. He’s not intrinsically interested in ‘peace’, but only what peace [read: "suppression"] offers him financially.

And he’s also frantic for a quick victory – ANY victory - so he can dangle it before the eyes of opposition Democrats at this very sensitive time of transition of power in american politics. Once again, however, Dubya is being a Bush in a china shop: he hasn't learned a thing from Iraq. He needs to realise (but quick) that stability in Northern Africa would serve the USA's energy interests better than violence. Prepare Ye for Jihad, Northern African-style.

FunkyPix2's new ACTION-PACKED thriller Out of Ethiopia
....directed by Biggles Jnr .....coming SOON to a small screen near YOU !

04 January, 2007

FunkyPix2 reveals draft questions from leaked internal memo to Amanda Vanstone

 Ducklips Howard tries one last desperate elimination strategy.
SCOOP!!! FunkyPix2 has obtained access to a leaked internal memo from the office of the Australian Foreign Minister Amanda Vampire. It contains proposed questions for the Citizenship Exam for perusal by the Minister; after each question there are comments and rationale to assist the Minister's approval in the event that she isn't sure which answer is correct.


Recipient: Immigration Minister.
Instructions to Candidates:
1. You have 3 minutes to answer 10 very simple questions.

2. Use a pencil to write your answers.
3. Afterwards, you can all come to a free BBQ if you wish.

1. A ‘banger’ is a
[a] sausage
[b] detonator
[c] mythomaniacal unicameralist

Remarks: If they haven't brought a pencil, they fail.
If they answer [a], they are sympathetic to English culture, so don’t deserve Australian citizenship. Automatic fail and convey candidate to British embassy under armed guard to apply for UK refugee status.
If they answer [b], they fail, get arrested, searched and deported within 24 hours.
If they answer [c], they’re clearly cunning enough to avoid the risks of answering [a] or [b], but are probably guessing the meaning of the words, so should fail. The answer is wrong anyway. If they DO know the meaning, they are likely to become constitutional dissidents or illegal Green/Labor voters, so should also fail by dint of Clause 5(e) of the Discretionary Citizenship Test Assessment Act, 2006.


2. How many states are there in Australia?
[a] 8
[b] 2
[c] 51
[d] liquid, gas, and solid

Remarks: Unless they put up their hand to ask if the number 7 is missing, it will be a mandatory fail, even if they are technically correct by selecting [d].

3. Which one of the following is more liberal in its philosophy regarding Australian politics?
[a] The Liberal Party
[a] Labor Left-wing scumbags
[c] the Guilty Party

Remarks: If they should happen to guess the correct answer [b], they should fail anyway [see 1c].

4. How many stripes are there on the Australian flag?
[a] 13
[b] 44

[c]  Pie Floater with mashed peas

Remarks: If they answer [a], they are sympathetic to American culture, so don’t deserve Australian citizenship. Automatic fail, and convey candidate to American embassy under armed guard to apply for Green Card status or political asylum.
If they answer [b], they’re guessing, or know the telephonic country code for the UK. Fail and deport to any other convenient Commonwealth country, except maybe Fiji.
The only possible way to pass this one is to put up their hand to ask if the correct option (ie, “No stripes”) is missing. If they do raise their hand, the Supervising Officer can contrive to be slow to respond, thereby using up valuable time and putting the candidate at a disadvantage on the rest of the test. It’s a Win/Win for Immigration.

5. Write A for Agree, or D for Disagree:
[__] Schools should install a prominent flagpole and fly an Australian flag.
[__] Secular schools should employ a chaplain.
[__] Good citizens must be able to recite excerpts from the Qu’ran.
[__] Good citizens should know off by heart and be able to defend Clause 7a of the Border Protection Act, 2004.
[__] Good citizens should oppose Euthanasia and Abortion.
[__] The presence of Australian troops in Iraq represents the spreading of Freedom and Democracy to the entire Middle East, and is therefore worth the sacrifice of Pre-Emptive Defence.
[__] Individual Workplace Agreements are better than Collective Bargaining because Unions are by their nature evil and always corrupt.

Remarks: These are straightforward and balanced; no comment necessary, even for you. The correct answer sequence is AADAAAA.

6. The earliest genuine Australians were
[a] illegal Boat-people
[b] illegal Canoe-people
[c] lawful, hard-working, responsible settlers who arrived in ships from England in 1788

7. How many coldies is it from Brissy to the Gold Coast in a Torana travelling at 130 km/h? (specify brand, size, %)

8. Mateship is
[a] everybody pulling together
[b] a weekend 'boys-only' cruise to Hayman
[c] your friend’s hip
[d] a carpet designed for boats

9. In 25 words or fewer, precisely define the term ‘conical spiral’.


Remarks: Minister, just about all of them will fail this one – it's really difficult to express in words, AND it's an open-ended question. Have a go at it yourself, Mrs Wankstone! If they resort to a diagram, they fail because they haven’t exactly addressed the requirements of the question. Passing or failing this one is completely up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer who marks it hehehe. Got ’em!

10. A ‘crow-eater’ is a
[a] citizen of South Australia
[b] peasant from Vietnam
[c] Victorian AFL forward

Remarks: Minister, this last one is a fair and balanced ‘cultural content’ question in the unexpected event we get accused of bias.

...and finally, the BBQ elimination strategy:
In the rare event of candidates passing, they can be arbitrarily eliminated by a panel of judges watching the secret CCTV recording of the BBQ. If the candidate does not know what a BBQ is, they fail. If they choose not to attend the BBQ, they fail. If they do attend, but don’t behave in appropriate Aussie ways, they will also fail (see below). Finally, if necessary, we can ensure a fail by altering their responses on the written part of the test. That's why we specified pencil (lol).
Required BBQ behaviour criteria:
(1). Must volunteer to be the chef and look/ask for an apron (deliberately concealed);
(2). Crack at least one sexist joke; NO political jokes tolerated;
(3). Not associate with the opposite sex unless briefly necessary to fulfil (2);
(4). Consume at least 2 stubbies (or equivalent). Must select full strength;
(5). Candidates should take active steps to steer clear of the Tomyum, Shawarma, Mlokhiya, and especially the Kibbeh, Maamoul bi Tamr, and Arabica coffee.
(6). Say "Cheers, mite" at least ONCE, raising the arm through a minimum of 105°.

Valued FunkyPix2 Reader, now that you (as a qualified Australian citizen) have probably failed this test yourself, console yourself by watching this brief animated cartoon by Peter Nicholson of the Australian Newspaper.

....and here's FunkyPix2's Cartoon Page to further raise your spirits and prepare you mentally for the next Strayan Feral Election:

FunkyPix2 Employment Classifieds:
Wanted: Radio Talkback Host, appearance not important, preferably ex-minister at feral gumment level. Must be more heavily right-wing opinionated than John Laws, have a proven racist track record, and be able to rebut any critical questions with quick populist wit, distraction and ridicule. Must be able to fit behind existing console at 2UA or be prepared to pay for re-modelling. Lawsuit insurance essential, cost borne by applicant.

02 January, 2007

Photo essay of LAOS (Chapter 3 of 3):
Vientiane, the capital

Patuxai. Vientiane’s own “Arc de Triomphe”.

Monumentally hideous but vaguely impressive, this cross-bred French-Laotian Roman arch was built by the French in nostalgic reminiscence of Paris. It has 4 arches, not 2. It was built in the 1960s with cement purchased by the USA with intentions to construct a new airport – hence it’s known locally as ‘the vertical runway’. Once you get closer, you realise it remains unfinished. And beware the thousands of t-shirts on sale as you wend your weary way up the stairs to the top to get a panorama of the city.

Interior decoration in the Patuxai. Not quite Versailles.

From the top of the Patuxai you look in the direction of the Mekong River down the broad boulevard intended to be the equivalent of Paris’ “Champs Elyssees”. I felt the vandalised iron-work was the perfect mataphor for the cultural and political confusion of Laos' last 100 years.
The view down Lan Xang Road, Vientiane's "Champs Elyssees".

At one point of the war, the leaders of two Laotian factions joined forces, and in their enthusiasm to herald the event with a big parade, decided to lay new tar on Lan Xang Road (above). They got soldiers to do the job the day before the parade. Trouble is, it rained that night, so the tar remained un-cured by the time of the parade. When the troops came marching down, their boots collected more and more tar until finally most of them were too heavy – or bogged – to proceed. So most soldiers left their boots behind, still glued to the road, and continued barefoot. Hundreds of vacated boots must have been a humorous sight.

But I digress... Vientiane’s all rather French, with an Asian twang... all that’s lacking is the Tour Eiffel and a gendarme or two. But you do spot some voitures typiquement français like ziss vun:

Oh la la! …c’est un Citroen CV2, n’est-ce pas?
Madame Marie la Belle falls in love and considers making an offer.

…and another charismatic old French maison with a herbacious roof.

While we’re on architecture, check the Lao National Culture Hall. This is the 'Show Pony' of Lao government buildings, most of which are pretentious facades of affluence. This consumately ugly-weird monolith hosts everything from cinema to dance, but there’s no publically available schedule of events… there's not even a phone number! Whenever we walked past, it was locked. The Vientiane times apparently does print occasional announcements.....
The National Lao Culture Hall. Frank Lloyd Wright, eat your heart out.

More traditional Buddhist wats are, by contrast, an aesthetic relief to the eye. Here’s a very old one, built before the roads were planned, so it was left jutting out into the road with the white fence in an unusual position. Marie can be seen strolling past on the footpath, bottom left:

(Sorry, I don’t know this Wat’s name - there were so many)

These bundles of silk threads were in the local morning market ('Talat Sao') on the "Champs Elyssees":

Finally, adjacent to the main market was a grubby little precinct set apart as if it were a contagiously diseased poor cousin. Its roof was a faded patchwork of layers of plastic or tarps, frayed and aged with grime, supported on bamboo poles leaning drunkenly in all directions. I had to bend double in places as I picked my way along the rough earthen floor, squinting in the shadows to avoid tripping over the wet-season stepping-stones.
I finally worked out that it was the Traditional Medecine market, piled with hundreds of plastic bags of herbs, bark, dried possum spleens, medicinal roots, powdered reindeer antlers, and plastic screw-top jars of prepared potions. This was the Medibank Private of Laos:

Note the animal horn, bottom left, clearly a coveted item.

Overall, Vientiane's not got the charm of Luangprabang, but it is a good spot to chill out and slow down. Find a restaurant on the bank of the Mekong and watch the sunset reflected in the river. There are some decent buffets along the river road too, particularly one upstairs place. The best coffee? Try the latté at the Jo-Ma Cafe or the Scandinavian Bakery, both near the Nam Phu fountain, but do check your change carefully - the Laotian 1 looks like our 9. Also, on Setthathirat Road near the That Dam ('Black Stupa') there's a new fresh fruit juice bar with good deals and NO MUZAK - woo-hoo!

Click here if you’d like to see more of our photos from Laos.

01 January, 2007

Photo essay of LAOS (Chapter 2 of 3):
The Plain of Jars: a 4000 year-old mystery

Chicken Licken and minor Communist officials do the official Meet-and-Greet as we arrive at Phonsavanh airport. The province of Xiengkhouang is the real Laos, promising plenty of parish-pump parochiality.

The Laos Airlines plane is scheduled to arrive at 4.10pm. It is always late. Quite co-incidentally, the uniformed chaps at the ‘Visa-on-Arrival’ counter have a dot-matrix printed sign on a tattered piece of A4 which reads:


At the stroke of 4.30, up goes the sign with 2 exhausted pieces of yellowed sticky-tape. When we laugh, they can barely disguise their feigned seriousness – they know we know they know it’s a scam…

Check-in to hotel. Go for walk to afternoon market. Most streets aren’t yet paved. Dry and dusty now that it's 'winter' and the Wet is over. Those roads which are paved date way back to the years of the French occupation, so there’s not much paving left between the pot-holes. We pass the barber-shop:

Market stalls are no more than pieces of tired tarpaulin on the ground, stacked with veggies, Vietnamese biscuits, flax brooms, second-hand clothes, chopped meat, etc. There’s no refrigeration – nor any ice, so turnover is (hopefully) quick. A large hand of ladyfinger bananas cost me 2500 kip …and that was probably the inflated tourist price. Who cares? ...that’s about 31¢ Australian. I’m well capable of bargaining aggressively in Thai, but would have felt guilty at that price. I gave her 3000 kip, with a gracious mâi bpen rai, khop jai. Trouble is, tipping always makes me feel like a patronizing pretentious post-colonial power-crazy prat.

Phonsavanh market. There are satellite dishes even in these small towns – ironically, CNN is their lifeline for information from the outside world. Like Burma, Laos is very closed, but doesn’t mind the tourist dollar. There were only 2 other westerners in town during our 2 days, though. We felt like it was US who were the exotic items on display.

Among the stalls we noticed dozens of dead animals and birds for sale – pheasants, squirrels, frogs, toads, chickens, sparrows, eels, insects, and what looked like a weasel (?) with a sort of exotic puffy grey feather-duster on the end of its long tail. In the 1970’s the Lao learned from the Viet-Cong the art of eating absolutely anything that moves. We’ve seen evidence in Hanoi on menus. You know the line... "Tastes a bit like chicken..."

Then we spotted what we fervently hoped was not the very last Civet (?) Cat on the planet:

Then it was off by mini-bus to the “Plain of Jars”, a short trip from Phonsavanh. Many hundreds of these chunky carved stone jars are strewn over a large area of Laos, especially on this chilly elevated plateau of Xiengkhouang province. They are between 3,500 and 4000 years old, the only remaining fingerprint of a long-vanished culture. What were they for? Why did these forgotten people obviously consider it so important to painstakingly carve these enormous things – each one originally with a lid – then drag them by elephant from quarries about 20 kilometres away? Learn more here.

Peter follows a hunch and searches for telltale traces of pre-historic Vegemite.

I concocted various theories, including my ‘Prototype Wheelie-bin’ theory. Also, I had read about the Lao taste for eating fermented swallows - in fact, we had been shown some swallow traps during a trek between jar sites. I pondered whether the giant jars were intended for storing giant fermented swallows (maybe swallowdactyls?). Finally, I stumbled on the real answer – Laos was an ancient colony of Australia!! Here’s irrefutable proof:

The numerous bullet holes in the jars prove that many people objected to Vegemite. Clearly an intelligent bunch of people, yes/no?

Apparently, there was a misunderstanding about the age of the jars about a hundred years ago. The French occupiers claimed they were dated about 2000 BC. The Lao didn’t understand the concept of "BC", of course, so just assumed the age was 2000 years. The French had failed to explain that, as our Lao guide expressed it, BC stands for “Before Christmas”. Ho ho ho.

Later that evening, at the restaurant, our candle-holder turned out to be a (rocket-propelled?) grenade”(or was it a ‘bomblet’?), a melancholy souvenir of the American War. This war is still quaintly referred to locally as the Vietnam War… like, sure, as if Vietnam had been the aggressor! More biased spin from the pens of historians. Should be the CIA War. When locals speak of the war, they talk of the CIA rather than 'America' in order not to offend any american tourists present.

Godammit if the grenade didn’t still have its detonator burning… We immediately ceased giggling about "BC" and dived bodily through a glass window and flung ourselves to the ground, just like in Exterminator 2. Sorry, no photos ;-)

We were amazed to discover a Lao-Hmong resistance fighter who didn’t yet realize the war was over. She was cowering in a bomb-damaged jar on the edge of a bomb crater. She said her name was Mah Lee Buh Low, and that her secret weapon was imitating a jack-in-the-box to scare the 'Cong to death.

Bomb craters like this pock-mark the entire region like acne, along with the grass-filled zigzag-ing lines of former infantry trenches (originally disguised by natural vegetation as camouflage before it was poisoned by Agent Orange spray). The whole country and its psyche have been shattered by the trauma of the war – for them, it ain’t over yet, especially the Hmong tribe. But they get on with life, because they can’t not get on with life.

But the injustice stinks. After having fought alongside the CIA against the Vietnamese, the Hmong have recently been denied entry to the USA because Bush has labelled them as 'terrorists' under the post-2001 definition. The truth is that america simply doesn't want any Asians, even if it means breaking Lyndon Johnson's 1975 promise of asylum in case Vietnam won. So now, thousands of Hmong - and their children - have become persecuted refugees in their own country, hiding in the jungles in the mountains north of Phonsavanh. Read about the betrayal here. No wonder they're angry with the USA. How can they now bring themselves to trust tourists? Answer? Cash.

Back to our trip. We noted that, unlike Luangprabang, there is not a single structure left at the site of the pre-war town. It was bombed flat by the CIA, as were thousands of other villages (and people), so was re-built in a different location (possibly to help erase memories?) and re-named 'Phonsavanh'.

DISGRACEFUL FACT #476: During the American War, the CIA (aka ‘Criminal International Assassinations’) tried to souvenir one of the largest jars by attempting to lift it with 3 helicopters. As if they had nothing better to do... Of course the klutzes accidentally dropped it, and to this day the forlorn jar lies on its side, now in 3 pieces. Surely, was this not cultural violation at its most thoughtless and crass?

UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) litters the countryside. Here is an unexploded cluster-bomblet next to my 1-litre water-bottle. Trust me when I say I placed the bottle gently.

I’m pretty sure that some items of UXO were actually defused and deliberately planted for the benefit of tourists… you know, the ‘wow’ factor. Otherwise it would have been long ago collected and sold as scrap metal at the going price of 1500 kip per kilo. An old Russian tank, for instance, had been stripped of every possible removable part. This suggests that local villages and tour operators have realized that it is worth more to them to strategically position some de-commissioned bombs near tourist trails. Villagers can sell bowls of noodles and drinks to tired trudging trekkers.

Nevertheless, permeating through Laotians’ daily lives is endless genuine evidence of grisly wartime atrocities. On average, American aircraft dropped a bomb every eight minutes, 24 hours every day, from 1968 until 1973. This adds up to more than 2 million tons of explosives – fifteen hundred pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. Laos remains the most heavily-bombed nation in history… and there was scarcely a mention of it in the american press at the time, in order not to lose votes. It was later dubbed as america’s “Secret War”, often using de-commissioned warplanes which had been ‘retired’ and ‘sold’ with engine numbers removed. Read more about the media deception and atrocities here.

Thatched village huts are often supported by old USA bomb casings.
Talk about making lemonade out of lemons.

Hotels and cafés often use old weaponry as prurient displays for tourists to perve at, or convert them into bench seats, fences, etc. Welcome to Laos, the little country of only 3 million people that President Kennedy deemed to be a "danger to american national security"… propaganda eerily identical to that echoed by Bush Jnr some 40 years later.

Never - but NEVER - walk anywhere in the Laotian countryside without a local guide who is intimately familiar with UXO locations.

As will be evident for many years to come, most of this formerly fertile region (even its rice paddies) was sprayed with Agent Orange herbicide [a] to destroy forest camouflage, and [b] to deprive the Viet-Cong of food. Ain’t war grand?

On this Phonsavanh hillside (and hundreds of others) UNESCO has detected and removed UXO along a narrow walking path to a comforting depth of 1.5m. Bomb craters go deeper than that, though, so are ‘off-limits’. Some other areas have been cleared only down to a depth of about 3 inches (which normal metal detectors can do), and others merely visually checked on the surface - but it’s often not clear which is which. Care for a stroll?

A little surprise lurking just under the surface, now marked with a white stick and awaiting removal.

The UNESCO ‘safe path’ is designated by white markers which can sometimes disappear under grass or mud during the monsoon season. Deviate off this narrow path at your peril. The sad thing is that locals have to work on the land here – it is, after all, an agrarian country – so casualty rates are persistently high. I won’t put any photos in – you can google plenty up yourself if you yearn for horror.

Having said all this, we still enjoyed the time there, and next plan to go to the south of the country. We’ve certainly acquired even greater respect for the Lao spirit – and even less for uncle bloody sam.

Recommended reading: Quincy, Keith. Harvesting Pa Chay’s Wheat: The Hmong and America’s Secret War in Laos. Eastern Washington University Press, Washington, 2000. (The best and most comprehensive source of information).