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I was thrilled when I walked into a pharmacy in Laos and saw *everything* for sale. Interestingly, one brand of cough syrup here contains opium. I got most excited to see that you could buy Oxytocin (Not OxyContin)... over the counter. For those who don't know, oxytocin is secreted in large amounts during orgasm, and is associated with forming feelings of trust and love. It also, in even larger amounts, induces labor in pregnant women. This is the purpose for which it is sold. For men, the oxytocin rush during orgasm is apparently accompanied by an even larger testosterone rush, so simply having an orgasm isn't the same as boosting your levels of ocytocin.

I wanted to buy some, but I did some research first. They were selling it in syringes. Apparently the digestive system breaks it down if taken orally, so the two alternatives are a nasal spray and an injection with a syringe. No improvised spray bottle was handy, and I don’t have those heroin-addict injection skills. So no experiment was performed.
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The roosters in Laos don't crow the equivalent of “cock-a-doodle-doo”. Instead it's “cock-a-doodle”, or even “cock-a-doo”. It's weird to hear them because for a split second I'm waiting with antici.....pation for it to finish (Rocky Horror style) but it never does. I wonder if the crowing pattern is completely genetically coded or if there's a generic blueprint and the roosters learn it from their parents.

Separately, there's some random bird here whose call is more or less a wolf whistle.

What should this post be titled?
  • Going off half-cocked
  • Shortened cocks
  • Cocks that lack stamina.
  • Cock, interrupted.
  • Cock-blocked
  • Why are you wasting your time with this?
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A friend of mine heard a group of American college students having the following conversation through the hotel wall:

"Man, I really need to get laid!"

"Don't worry dude. If god wants you to get laid, you'll get laid."
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I met a Scottish woman in Laos who is also blogging her trip around the world. We spent a few days together exploring Luang Prabang along with her friend Ambreen.

Now I can be lazy and quote her since she wrote up our shared experiences before I did.

You can read her various writings at miriam-thisflighttonight.blogspot.com . Apparently I'm in a polyamorous cult.
more Laos adventures )
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Luabg Prabang is just about the most Buddhist city in the world. There's a wat (temple / monastery) on every block, and many of them are incredibly ornate The wats have a very distinctive style that has a Thai influence but otherwiae seems unique. The town feels like a mix of Berkeley and the morning Burning Man crowd, with a dose of totalitarian government thrown in. (There's an 11:30pm *curfew*. Seriously.) I first got a sense for this dichotomy when the immigration checkpoint at the airport was staffed by goofy 19-year-olds, and I noticed a cluster of empty Beerlao beer bottles sitting behind the counter. I thought to myself “Oh, these must be the greeters”.

Buddha is normally depicted as meditating on a lotus flower. The motif of the lotus flower is used on the curbs of all their their traffic circles, so you get the curious effect of thinking there should be Buddha in the middle of every traffic circle.

The traffic itself, like the rest of the culture in Laos, is very laid-back. Everything runs on “island time” despite the complete lack of beaches.

The government (your standard totalitarian Communist regime that eventually realized Communist economies don't work but wanted to remain in power) deposed the royal family in the 1970s, but they happily held on to the royal palace as it makes a lovely tourist trap. The most amusing part of the royal palace tour was seeing the moon dust from the Apollo 11 mission presented as a gift to the Lao government from Richard Nixon. Nixon sent them this while a secret US air force bombed the shit out of them because Vietcong guerillas were using eastern Laos as a conduit into southern Vietnam.

Here's the bad news.

By the time you get there it will be ruined. Not to be overly negative, but there should be a giant progress bar billboard here, with the title “Selling our soul...” and the bar about 30% filled. The prices from the Lonely Planet 2007 guide are one half what they are now, and the town appears to be putting up Western-oriented restaurants and guesthouses as fast as they can. A monk tried to hustle me pretty hard with his spiel about why I should give him cash. (His final line was “Why won't you play for me to learn English?”) I get the sense that most young monks who talk to me aren't in it for the Buddhism.

Ironically, the thing that made it possible for me to visit (their airport) is what is going to reatly accelerate its corruption.
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I didn't realize that some sects of Buddhism employ some very heavy-handed fear tactics similar to Christian concepts of Hell. One day I used a motorbike to visit a forest monastery, among other things. Inside the monastery there was a large temple. As I walked in I was greeted by two smiling elderly nuns, who welcomed me to look around. The room was filled with a 360 degree lushly painted panorama of various serene Buddhas dispensing serene Buddha wisdom. However, below that panorama was another panorama of various people suffering, and there was more sex and violence depicted there than in your average Tarantino film. There were naked women impaled on stakes, with their giant tits pointing toward the sky, demons forcing injured, bloody people to climb spiky trees, decapitations, people being burned alive, and other such horrific scenery. It all made for an interesting tableau... smiling old ladies, serene Buddhas, and scenes of attractive naked men and women getting tortured and killed in horrific ways.

It would be an interesting thought experiment to take Buddha and Jesus through time to show them the enormous monuments built to worship them. They'd probably both be horrified. Buddha would take one look at the giant golden statue of himself and would immediately start preaching about how everything is impermanent and how an overly strong attachment to possessions and worldly pursuits is the root of suffering.

Buddhism also seems to be substantially a philosophy of mind, but a philosophy of mind isn't enough to meet the religious needs of a diverse population. Thus, Buddhism in its evolved form also offers superstitions, rituals for good luck and other worldly aims, ancient relics (branches of the Bodhi tree where Buddha first attained enlightenment... very similar to the fragments of the True Cross offered by various cathedrals in Europe), fear-instilling cautionary tales, beautiful shiny temples, multi-tiered donation systems that stroke the egos of wealthy patrons, and knick-knack idols that people can buy for good luck.

In the end I think that any religion that becomes dominant must do so by displaying the trappings of power and getting in bed with the government. The government uses the religion to help legitimize its own rule and control the people, and the religion uses the government to suppress competing religions and get the funds to construct imposing monuments to its own power. Ultimately the religion's actual philosophy is somewhat irrelevant to this coevolutiion of church and state.
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The extremely slow internet access in Laos and Cambodia is probably holding them back more than I can imagine. In any case, I've just had a magical last few days in those two countries, and likely will be posting about them soon. I've just arrived in what feels like the first world... Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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February 2011

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