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And shouldn’t a fairy tale end with a Ball?

May Ball (at Clare Hall, Cambridge)

There was a snake charmer. And a silent disco. And “Surviror’s photos” of those of us who managed to be still standing at 4am.*

And – not pictured – a belly dancer, bollywood dancers, traditional Indian dancers, a play, shisha, gambling tables, masseuses, mehndi artists, an acapella group, a jazz quartet, and two djs. And a crepe stall at two in the morning because, after all, it’s not a party until there’s pancakes.

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Nakwenda Tanzania

I have not seen Africa. There are few gross generalizations as odious as the Western simplification, amalgamation, of an entire continent’s cultural plurality, socio-political diversity, ethnic multiplicity and historical discrepancy to a single noun. I have not been to Africa; no one has; there is no Africa.

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Tik cha, sister?

“Tik cha, sister?”

It was four in the morning and I was huddled over coffee and muesli; pre-verbal time, but perfectly fine. I gestured to the pot of coffee on the stove and waved at a second cup, which was accepted gratefully but briefly, for no sooner had Didi sat down than she jumped up again.

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Settling In(to Kathmandu)

First things first: I’ve changed my tickets – delayed my return home for a week. I’ll be back on July 27th (instead of the 18th) – it’s only nine extra days, but it will give me a chance to do some exploring outside of Kathmandu without neglecting my work here.

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Moral of the story: Southern Laos is gorgeous.

Tadlo – on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos: beautifully pastoral, gorgeous waterfalls, cute children, and a five-day party (Pi Mai Lao!)

Don Khon – one of the Four Thousand Islands in the Mekong between Laos and Cambodi (Don Khon is on the Laos side – the smallest/quietest of the three with tourist facilities): unbelievably gorgeous, quiet paths to wander, French colonial ruins to climb, and a buff-cheeked gibbon to play with…

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“Buy me pepsi.”

A group of us from the boat had managed to get rooms in the same guest house in Luang Prabang and spent the next several days just hanging out. It was nice to be part of a group, for a change.

We (Olivia, Ruth, Louise – the British girls – Martin, Benny, and I) hired a tuk tuk to take us to the nearby waterfall, Kuang Si. It was breath-takingly beautiful; the water an impossible shade of light turquoise (no doubt due to some mineral in the stones), the setting stunning and – perhaps most importantly, at least to our overheated sweat-drenched bodies – the water chilling. Only a few minutes after we’d pulled ourselves from the water, walked down the hill, and seated ourselves at a table under an overhang in the parking-lot/tourist center, it started to rain – to pour, actually. We watched others come running, skidding, down the hill; it wasn’t cold, but the idea of carrying that much water in our clothes was less than appealing – except to Olivia, who got up to dance in the rain.

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I’m in Laos!

So, it turns out that my wisdom teeth weren’t quite as much of a priority as I’d been lead to believe – and that one of them was so close to the nerve in my jaw as to make both the dental surgeon and my parents uncomfortable with the risk involved – and I won’t be having them done in Thailand. (I’ll just be running the risk of infection, flying home if it becomes worse, and pressing on until then.)

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Sorry it’s been a while (since I’ve written home)

I’ve been sick.That “cold” didn’t shake itself and I’d been running low-grade fevers on and off for the last few weeks, utterly sapping my energy. And, thanks to a bad case of dysentery, I lost ten pounds week-before-last.

When I last said I was going to You Sabai, I actually ended up in Pai (missed the You Sabai songtaew three days in a row, met another traveler on their way to Pai and decided to go along for the company – I’d been meaning to go back, anyway – because I thought I was feeling better). Where I got sick, again, worse. When I realized what I had was worse than food poisoning and that hiding out in my guesthouse trying to wait it out wasn’t a viable strategy, I got a bus back to Chiang Mai and saw a doctor who told me that I had a fever, raised blood pressure, a bacterial infection, and gave me handfuls of pills to take.

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DAY ONE: Border Run to (and into) Burma

Tachilek is the sort of town where the architecture far outshines the furnishings.”It’s a border town,” I’d been warned, “don’t expect too much.”

I’d pictured a Tijuana, full of embroidered sarongs rather than piñatas, tinsel Buddhas rather than dayglow Christs; when I arrived I felt more like I’d stepped onto the moon. It was, fittingly enough, gray and overcast without as much as the suggestion of a breeze. Not only were the people and the cars mysteriously missing (the roads were more than wide enough but in two days in Tachilek I saw perhaps ten cars – most of those parked) there was no sense of desperate fervor. The buildings were too large for the inhabitants, the clothes too big for their wearers. Tachilek resembled a colonial ghost town – faded derelict colonial architecture and rusty motorbikes with no review mirrors.

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The fat lady has yet to sing…

I was so, so, so very close to having a passport this morning.

Woke up at 6:40 to catch the 6:45 truck to town, threw on some clothes, stuffed my sleeping bag away, and set off to run through the rice fields to the road (toothbrush in hand, Theresa-style); ran into Caroline who told me the truck wasn’t coming due to the Chinese New Year; ran into Theresa who told me the truck was waiting. Due to the confusion I was the only one (of what should have been a large group of us from the farm) ready to go into town – but I went – managed to communicate with the driver, even, get off in the right place and orient myself in Chiang Mai. Found one of my favorite cafes (tiny place on a side street – amazing coffee, painfully-slow but ever-so-free internet, friendly dog) and settled in.

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Tee nai Tourist Police?

“Hey Noelle, yee’alright?”

Ruben starts all conversations this way – he says it’s the Isle of Man’s equivalent of “What’s up?” (He also says that he’s Manx, not British and not Irish) but it still startles me each time I hear it. Particularly this time, given that I’m calling because I’m not all right.

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Who are you with? Are you a journalist? Why are you here?

Playing solitaire for two hours accross the street from the US Embassy makes the guards incredibly nervous.

It wasn’t Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and it was, indeed, one of the two days of the week that the Embassy was open to the public – but when I arrived the Embassy was, nonetheless, closed.  I’d slept later than I’d intended to, slowly pulled myself together, asked around the hostel for directions (no one knew how to get to the Embassy or even the river, but I did get 100 baht – after having dinner the night before I was down to 60 baht – from two Canadian guys who took pity on me), tried to walk it, gave up and got a tuk tuk (50 baht).

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Learning Curve – Part One

I had my day all worked out. I wanted to get a tuk tuk to the Moh Chit train station, buy a ticket to Chiang Mai, explore the giant market below the station, take the Skytrain to Siam Square, and get a Khlong (river taxi) back to Banglamphu. The tuk tuk driver, however, had a different plan.

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