The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis art review: Buenos Aires graffiti wall art

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

SprayCanLady1cBuenos Aires is notable for its street murals and subway art, and this artistic consciousness has spread to her graffiti-covered walls, especially in the streets of the San Telmo neighborhood, south of Avenida de Mayo. This ad hoc art is not always welcomed, but every blank wall is fodder for artists and amateurs alike. What’s apparent is that building owners don’t bother to remove it anymore. Some of it has morphed into larger murals, while other expressions have taken on additional features as others add on to the original art.

What’s true is that these scratchings have added color and design to the streets of this neighborhood, forcing passerby to re-consider the nature of art in an urban environment. Nothing is sacred, from walls to roll-up doors, to niches as mundane as streetside power meters.

Tanghetto1cWhat is also true is that the art is ephemeral and will be changed, covered over, or replaced, through planning or whim. Each day, though, offers new and exciting art adventures along streets such as La Defensa, where vistas evolve repeatedly through an ever-changing palette of paint and permanent markers on the urban structural canvas of the streets.


WoWasis toilet product review: the Bidematic, an Argentine toilet hose contraption that just doesn’t work

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

Mounting structure of Argentina's Bidematic

Mounting structure of Argentina’s Bidematic

The Thais, Japanese, and Koreans all have magnificent ways to keep clean after using the toilet. As reported here earlier at WoWasis, Thais typically use toilet hoses, while Japanese and Koreans use electric toilet seats that are essentially high tech bidets. Here at WoWasis, we love them, because we consider toilet paper to be Barbaric, a cut above the Sears catalogue, but not by much. 

In Argentina, we encountered a toilet hose gizmo that looks positively 19th century, one that really has the look and feel of an old dental device. As the picture indicates, the Bidematic’s swivel spigot is bolted onto the toilet through one of the holes that is used to fasten the toilet seat. A hose is attached to the water source. The “business end” of the device contains a water tap and a swiveling spigot that shoots water upward. The swivel allows the spigot to rest inside the edge of the bowl and then later turned into position once cleaning is needed.

The problem?  It just doesn’t work very well.  Furthermore, it’s not exactly hygienic. First of all, you have to manually aim the hose perfectly under your butt by using the lever. On our initial attempt, we screwed up and got water all over the floor. Once we re-aimed, we had to slither all over the toilet seat trying to get the spray just where we liked it, forward, backward, side to side. The Japanese devices operate in a fixed position when extended, and we’ve never had a bad aim with them. The Bidematic is a slave to water pressure, too, so the stream wasn’t effective enough to get a good washing. That’s not a problem with Thai hoses, as you can just direct the stream downward right over the crack of your butt, use the other hand too lather up and wash, more or less the way you’d do it in the shower. The simplicity if the Thai hose is its best quality, while the Argentine devise really requires some degree of operational sense, kind of like driving a caterpillar tractor through a field of mud.

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

The hygienic problem with the Bidematic is three- fold. If you forget to swivel the device back to its rest position, you will most certainly foul it on your next visit, and we don’t even want to think how we’d ever clean it… a toothbrush and bleach? Not fun. And don’t think this couldn’t happen. Plenty of us mosey over to the toilet at night and don’t bother to turn on the light. Another hygienic issue is that poop sometimes causes splatter, and when it does, you’ve got fecal matter all over your water jets.  Finally, in the toilet in our hotel, flushing caused the waterline to rise above the Bidematic’s spigot. There’s got to be a clan of e coli bacteria living in those jet holes. And not our e coli either.

Bidematic has a website, which lists years of the company’s operation from 1998-2012. We’re not sure they’re in business anymore (we sent an email, with no response), but you find these devices all over the country. We’ll say this, though: we’re sticking with Thai hoses and Japanese toilets in our own homes, and will forget the swivel and tap device we found (and disliked) in Argentina.


Bachelor in Bangkok: Khun Lee on tough Thai bar girl honesty

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 18•14


WoWasis correspondent Khun Lee on the honesty of selected Thai bar girls:

I don’t know about how other guys feel, but I have always thought that sex should be fun and reduce stress instead of increasing your stress level.  Heck, it is the one activity I normally enjoy that takes me away from all the mundane problems in day to day life.   Well, I ran into a very sexy gal at a party the other night and I must say we were getting pretty hot and heavy on the host’s sofa, and I was very enthusiastic when she asked me if I wanted to go back to her condo just a few kilometers away.  We made some hasty excuses and practically ran outside to her car.  A few minutes later we were in her condo panting and sweating and exchanging saliva when she asked if I had any condoms.  Geez this precocious little number doesn’t have any condoms in her condo?  I asked if there was a 7-11 or mini-mart close by and she answered that there was one just around the corner.  So I hastily pulled my pants over my protruding…..enthusiasm and slinked out the door hoping that perhaps I would become a bit less….enthusiastic on my walk to the store. 

Just as I am making my way out the door she blurts out “don’t just get a 3-pack, I expect you to really fuck my brains out.”  Now, guys I know that many would consider that to be a positive thing, but I gotta tell you that it gave me more than a bit of performance anxiety.  To make matters even worse, when I barked back at her that I know she must just be teasing me, she got a very serious look on her face and said “if you don’t really do me good I am going to be very angry with you.”  I slinked out the door and I noticed that I had become somewhat less enthusiastic already, both literally and boner-wise.  Sex is supposed to be fun damnit to hell!  She just took that away from me and we hadn’t even consummated the arrangement yet.  I did manage to make it to the 7-11, and on the way back to her place I was giving myself and my libido a little pep talk in hopes that I could rekindle the animal lust that had brought me to her little corner of Bangkok.  Do I need to say at this point that my performance was less than stellar?  I ended up ashamedly cowering from her condo with my manhood and pride dragging on the floor behind me. I really should take a reader’s poll to find out how many of our horny fans out there would be more or less turned on upon hearing the words “don’t just get a 3-pack of condoms, I expect you to fuck my brains out.”

ThailandPromoBannerI really need to stop calling babes when I am drunk.  I know that guys have been making arses out of themselves for centuries while in the inebriated state and who am I to mess with a fine tradition, but lately I think I should hide my mobile phone from myself before going out on the town to get plastered.  I have done the stupidest things while drunk at 3AM such as telling gals I barely know that I love them, making promises that any sober man would know could never be kept, or worst of all, committing the unforgivable crime of being completely honest about my feelings for a girl.  Oh the shame.  Hey, I have a terrific idea!  Breathalyzer locks on mobile phones.  I have a mate who got arrested for drunk driving back in Antisepticville and the authorities put such a lock on his car ignition.  The guy had to drive to work, but they wanted to make sure the engine couldn’t start if the driver was over a certain blood alcohol level. We need one of our well capitalized horny readers to invest in coming up with the first “Khun Lee’s Mobile Phone Breathalyzer Lock.”  You don’t need to split the profits with me, just buy me enough 3-packs of condoms to keep me humiliated for the rest of my life.

Guys are always complaining about how dishonest the bargirls are in Bangkok, but last week I happened to meet the gal who wins the prize for most honest in this fair land of ours.  I was sitting in a friend’s steakhouse restaurant when a punter walked in with what was an obvious “working” girl.  He was late forties or so and dressed like he just came up from Pattaya.  Oh, for those of you who admire our columns from afar, Pattaya is a sleazy seaside version of Sodom and Gomorrah that would easily win the prize for most poorly dressed foreign men.  A good mate likes to say that spending even a single day in Pattaya could bring back any man’s self-confidence, because if he has ever laundered the t-shirt he is wearing he will easily be the handsomest and best dressed man in the city. 

I digress.  The gal with the punter in my friend’s restaurant had the usual bored look on her face and was trying her best to tolerate the agreed upon arrangement for as long as needed to receive payment.  The guy was ranting on and on about subjects that would bore any sane person to death and the gal continued to play with her mobile and look like she wanted to die.  Then he suddenly changed tactics and began hinting to her that he had a lot of money and would consider putting her on salary to keep her from needing to return to the bar and work.

Well, I don’t need to tell any of you savvy party guys that a salary is the Holy Grail for bar gals.  Large sums of money for literally no work whatsoever if the guy doesn’t live in Thailand.  If a slick gal can get 2 or 3 guys sending money from abroad she may make more in a month than a doctor or lawyer.  Much to my astonishment these golden words flowing from his mouth brought absolutely no response or change in demeanor from her at all.  If anything she looked even more comatose than before if that’s even possible.  The guy looked a bit offended and excused himself to go to the toilet.  When he was safely out of earshot I began chatting with her in Thai and let her know in very clear terms that she was missing an opportunity of a lifetime, and all she had to do was BS this guy for a few more hours and she would be rolling in money for months if not years.  Heck, I live here and I root for the home team.  If the gal can score some easy money from a guy who has way more money than brains, good for her. 

Her response to me was so frank and honest that I was a bit in shock.  She said “I am just too bored to lie.”  What a breath of fresh air! This is easily the most honest service provider in all of Thailand.  To even further cement her award winning style, the punter returned momentarily and asked her straight out what she would do all day if she didn’t need to work at all. This is where the gals normally excel and lay some story on the guy about how they want to return to study or go help their family work the farm blah blah blah.  Not this girl.  Her answer to what she would do with her free time was simply “sleep.”  The guy at this point looks a bit confused and apparently feels she is dodging the issue.  He says “no, really, what would you do all day long if you didn’t need to work.”  She looks at him disdainfully and shouts out “SLEEP!”

And that is exactly what she would do.

Read Khun Lee’s other WoWasis columns for more advice on navigating the adult dating scene through the backstreets of Bangkok

WoWasis book review: Asian Godfathers, powerful, influential, dangerous business barons in Asia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 12•14

AsianGodfathersBookFor those of us who frequently travel to and do business in Asia, it becomes increasingly important to understand who the major players in the business world are, and how they have traditionally operated. Two books we here at WoWasis have reported on before are Martin Booth’s The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads, and Vichai Suwanban’s classic, Big Business in Thailand. To this important list, we’ll add Joe Studwell’s Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-87113-968-9). Studwell is a reporter who’s been working the Asian beat since 1991, has a keen eye for detail, and a veteran reporter’s curiosity.

Studwell here relates the histories of 88 families and individuals that have profited enormously since the end of the Pacific war, encompassing the countries of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The reach of these families is extensive, crossing over borders to align with other factions, and pervasive, affecting politics and governmental decisions in every country. We’ve often said that “truth” is a western construct, and the book underscores that “corruption” may very well operate under the same classification. With these families and individuals, everything goes into the same bin as “business as usual.” We also we be remiss if we didn’t use the word “dangerous.” Individuals and families as powerful as these routinely buy justice, and while this is not a book on crime per se, crossing these people while involved in any business dealing could be hazardous, financially or otherwise.

AsiaPromoBannerThere are scores of fascinating stories in this 328 page book, well-indexed for those who missed something along the way. We found ourselves reverting to it dozens of times. Highlights are many, and will vary according to the interest and country-focus of the reader. Those following the news stories involving the distribution of assets from Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho’s empire will note that the complexity involves 17 acknowledged children, never mind the reported dozens of others lurking in the background.  

Among the more fascinating items in the book are related to financial matters in post WWII Hong Kong:

It was the educated, the well-heeled and the cosmopolitan who profited most readily from war. In Hong Kong members of the local Chinese elite made fortunes buying up ‘duress notes’ – Hong Kong dollars issued by local bankers under Japanese direction – just before the British resumed power. The notes were purchased at a fraction of their face value in the expectation that the returning colonial power could be persuaded to honour the currency as a means to restore ‘economic stability’. In 1946, this turned out to be the case. The Hongkong Bank bought HK$119 million of duress notes at their full face value. One of the prime beneficiaries was said to be Sir Sik-nin Chau, a London- and Vienna-trained surgeon and businessman and son of Sir Shouson Chow, who had been the first Chinese appointed to Hong Kong’s Executive Council.”

 Some of the best parts of the book are subtle indicators of practices that are still in wide use today. The Chinese “credit ticket” system described on page 7 relates how immigrants travel to other countries for work by becoming indebted to employers in return for their passage, a business practice popular still, particularly in the western hemisphere, in countries ranging from Canada to Argentina. Those flying on Cathay Pacific will have noted the Swire logo on airplane fuselages, and the author includes the Swire domain in his list of power brokers. We weren’t aware of Malaysian godfather Ananda Krishnan until we read this book, but his story is among the most compelling, detailing what began as his off-track betting empire and morphed into projects such the 88-story Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur.

The book is essential reading for anyone doing business in much of Asia, providing a detailed history of how things get accomplished, with tendrils reaching to major players and governmental bodies. It also is an important historical document that will fascinate anyone curious about the nature of big business in Asia. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: Eternal Harvest, unexploded ordnance dangers in today’s Laos

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 09•14

EternalHarvestBookThe numbers are staggering. As Karen Coates, author of Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos (2013, ISBN-13 978-1-934159-49-1) states, “To this day, Laos remains, per capita, the most heavily bombed country on earth. All told, the U.S. military and its allies dumped more than 6 billion pounds of bombs across the land—more than one ton for every man, woman, and child in Laos at the time. American forces flew more than 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one raid every eight minutes for nine years…Among all the ordnance dropped were 270 million cluster-bomb submunitions, tiny “bombies” that were packed by the dozens or hundreds into canisters and casings designed to open in midair, scattering baseball-sized explosives across areas as large as a football field. Millions of submunitions fell into forests, where many lodged into treetops and scrub brush. It can take decades for something to jostle them loose. Bombies are the most common form of unexploded ordnance in Laos today.”

Coates’ book details how these UXOs (unexploded ordnance) are affecting the lives of rural Laos today, and offers fascinating details on the people and organizations that are trying like mad to find, and defuse or explode them. Travelers to the Plain of Jars, in particular, should take interest in this book: there are valid reasons to stay on marked paths. We here at WoWasis were impressed at some of the technical information in the book, and constantly referred to the drawings and explanations of five “bombies” listed, with figure drawings, on pages 78-99, the BLU-3, BLU-24, BLU-26, BLU-42, and M83. When accidentally triggered, often by people planting crops, these hidden or buried anti-personnel weapons send out numerous pieces of lethal shrapnel over surprisingly large distances. As the author points out, these cluster bombs had a failure rate of roughly 30%, meaning a significant number lay in wait over the Laotian countryside, fodder for accidental triggering. And the result is an estimated 150-2000 casualties per year, ranging from maiming to death.

In addition, larger bombs, including some 750 pound monstrosities, are found unexploded as well. One problem is that selling metal for scrap has become a real income earner for thousands of Laotians, and warnings — sometimes badly heeded — have gone out all over the country to be wary of metals that could be UXO.

LaosPromoBannerCoates focuses much of the book on what is being done, primarily by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), to find and eliminate the bobs and bomblets. It’s a big task, as metal detectors don’t pick up everything, and rains tend to cause previously buried bombs to surface. A particularly interesting chapter focuses on the work of American Jim Harris, who has built a Wisconsin-based NGO around finding and defusing/exploding the ordnance. She also discusses post-war use of bomb and jet fragments. They’ve been made into watering troughs, piers for buildings, and eating utensils (the village of Ban Naphia alone produces about 150,000 aluminum spoons per year).

The book, heavily laden with black and white photos by Jerry Redfern, is recommended for anyone traveling to rural Laos, both as a precautionary measure and as a cultural guide. Those interested in military history, as well, will find it to be an interesting and important coda to the American adventure in Southeast Asia. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

Fall colors and sharp sun angles thrill photographers in the old city of Colonia, Uruguay

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 03•14

MasonryBlueTiles1cThe small city of Colonia Sacramento, 170 km northwest of Montevideo on the Rio de La Plata, is deservedly known for its Colonial architecture, and is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. We here at WoWasis found it to be laid back, easily walkable, and a hidden gem. Come autumn, especially during the week when it’s less crowded,  it becomes a photographer’s dream, as the diffused light and presence of  tint tendrils of breeze cause colors to change and shadows to shift, bringing a palette of color.

SuspirosWall1cThis is mostly seen in the exterior walls of her ancient buildings and brightly painted homes. The lower angle of the sun produces textures unseen or unnoticed in the summer, and also enhances, through shadows, the imperfections in these walls, doors, and windows. Peeling paint is made more apparent as shadows reveal the dark underside. Damaged masonry provides wonderful effects when it loses its main color as it begins to exfoliate. Even painted signs, when starting to age, grant a host of colors many times more eye-catching than their original patinas.

In Colonia, you’ll see everyone taking pictures of the city’s old buildings in the ancient Barrio Histórico. They’re worth taking. But you’ll also see one or two people training their cameras on objects on ostensibly bare walls, drawing the curiosity of passers- by. If one looks closer, though, at what they’re seeing, surprises loom , embodied in the of colors, textures, shades and forms  that weren’t there last season, perhaps not even last year, and may not be in the future. Autumn packs a mighty wallop in Colonia, one which an individual can photograph elements of its culture, capturing remarkable images fully engaged in displacing the old season and engendering the new.

StudebakerYellowHouse2cColonia, founded in 1680, provides and old and less-old counterpoint when contrasted with an early 1950s Studebaker, as they share diagonal afternoon shadows. Tile and masonry live side-by side in a Mondrian-like existence, while the privations of time have provided the Calle de los Suspiros, Uruguay’s most-photographed street, with a textured depth that most visitors never choose to experience.

In autumn, Colonia’s no longer in high season. Prices are lower, there are very few tourists, and the angle of the sun produces often startling effects that those with a keen eye for form, texture, and color are sure not to miss.

The ghost ‘La Fantasma Pechona,’ Argentina’s legendary femme-fatale that robs men of desire for their wives

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 31•14
La Pechona on a cigar box, circa 1920

La Pechona on a cigar box, circa 1920

Argentina’s most famous ghost  (fantasma) isn’t talked about much, but she’s feared everywhere. She is the ghost most likely to cause a marriage to fail, and mentioning her name is said to be flirting with disaster. She’s also the reason Argentine women won’t shower in the dark if there’s a mirror in the bathroom. But more on that later. Like many legendary ghosts, as one story goes, she was a real woman at one time, living during the 1500s, a high-ranking young woman of the Querandí tribe, credited with making Spanish noble Pedro de Mendoza flee her land, prodded by Mendoza’s wife, who swore to him that her extraordinarily wealthy father would see to it that their marriage was annulled and Mendoza’s fortune-by-marriage would be taken away.

The story tells the tale of Mendoza, a man so possessed by seeing a young woman’s large, heavy, and erect breasts that he could think of little else. He couldn’t have her, as she was Querandí  royalty, and to kidnap or rape her would cause a battle that the Spanish were sure to lose do to the numbers of their adversaries.  He saw her at every gathering where Querandí and Spanish would meet, and it drove him crazy with passion and away from his wife. As the story goes, La Pechona’s barely covered breasts caused Mendoza to depart in order to save his failing marriage, and what is now the Buenos Aires area of Argentina to remain indigenous for a little while longer. The princess’ name has been lost to time, but her ghost is named La Pechona, the woman of large breasts who causes men to wander from their wives once they are possessed.

The two rocks on the 'Pechonaguas' falls on the left are said to represent the breasts of La Pechona

The two rocks on the ‘Pechonaguas’ falls on the left are said to represent the breasts of La Pechona, as seen from the Brazilian side of Iguazu (iguacu) Falls

But that’s not the only tale describing her origins. Another legend held that she was a water nymph from Iguazú, spurned by a man who married a rival. From the Brazilian side of the falls, visitors today can see two massive rocks that are split apart and surrounded by streams of gushing water. They are called the “Pechonaguas,” and are said to be La Pechona’s breasts, eternally alive in the waters and reminding respectful viewers of her unrequited love and vengeful spirit. At the confluence of the three countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, she’s feared and respected, known in Paraguay as La Lechera, as the whitewater foaming around and between her breasts is reminiscent of milk.

Not only do Argentines not want to discuss her, they don’t want to see her picture, either. Like Pandora, she possesses those that look at her. Ignoring her visage wasn’t always the case. In the 1920s, a Cuban cigar manufacturer sold its product to the Argentine market in a cigar box that bore what was imagined to be her likeness.  Cigars are a telling reference point, since they are fundamentally a “male” product. Comparatively few women smoke cigars. But in the 1920s, Argentine marriages began to fail, a victim of husbands seeking large breasted women. Perhaps a closer female figure would be La Petenera of flamenco fame in Spain, the beautiful Jewess, “la perdition de los hombres,” who leads non-Jewish men to their destruction. But we’re getting ahead of the story a bit. We should really be discussing how possession by La Pechona works.

To begin, an adolescent woman, or one who has not yet borne a child, becomes a carrier, in much the same way that a carrier of a virus may not be infected with the symptoms herself.  La Pechona chooses her by suddenly appearing behind her while she’s looking in the mirror. It is said that two actions need to occur for a woman to be possessed. She must be a full-breasted young woman engaged in the act of examining her breasts in front of a mirror. Secondly, if this occurs in a darkened room with a mirror, the otherwise transparent ghost will appear. When she does, her female carrier becomes engaged as a weapon against men. Typically, she will wear clothes that emphasize the size and shape of her breasts. In one fairly well-known cigar box image, she sits with one breast half uncovered, the other protruding adjacent to her left arm. Braids discreetly cover what would have been an exposed right nipple.

A man becomes infected by the ghost La Pechona when he looks at a woman that has been possessed. If she catches his eye and winks at him, he is a slave to La Pechona forever. The form the disease takes is life-changing and irreparable. From that day forward, he will be compelled to seek out women with large breasts. It doesn’t matter whether he’s happily married or in love. A common complaint from women whose men have been thus possessed is that their men have what is known as a “roving eye.” When such a man engages a well-endowed woman in conversation, the woman will sometimes point to her eyes and say “my eyes are here, not there,” indicating her breasts.

There is yet another twist, according to legend. If a woman is possessed while ignorant of the pregnancy she’s undergoing, each man she affects, until the day of her giving birth, will form an addiction to breast milk taken directly from the source, through a woman’s nipples.

Women do not know they’ve been possessed by Pechona. The wink they give to men is barely recognizable.  Some men do know that they’ve been possessed. Their world has turned upside-down and they may seek a folk remedy for it or attempt to exorcise La Pechona through prayer, confession, and penance.  An Argentine priest, when interviewed for this story, first asserted that the deity is all powerful. He then said that La Pechona is a powerful demoness (his words) that is not easily conquered. When asked for the number of individuals that he was aware of that had been disposed of La Pechona, he shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and said nothing.

La Pechona’s not the only ghost in the world that people fear mentioning. Krasue, Thailand famous cannibalistic ghost with trailing entrails, is so feared that her name is never spoken.  While La Pechona is not as malevolent as Krasue, she’s a more serious threat than Jose Guadalupe Posada’s Catrina, a skeleton woman with a large hat and a serious presence on Mexico’s Day of the Dead.  Catrina is a caricature. La Pechona’s the real deal.

La Pechona’s true story has been lost to history. Nothing is known of her true name, position, family, life, or death. But she is credited for driving away the Spanish due to her hypnotic appeal. Mendoza couldn’t resist it, and his wife forced him to leave Argentina because of it.

Sibellino's abstract rendition of La Pechona can be found today in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sibellino’s abstract rendition of La Pechona can be found today in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina

At least one noted Argentine artist has attempted to capture her, although in abstract form. Antonio Silvestre Sibellino made a sketch which he entitled “La Pechona Fantasma.” It’s displayed on the second floor of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, although museum curators refuse to use the artist’s title, instead referring to is as “Sin título.”

That’s one form of proof that the legend remains a powerful one in Argentina, where seeing the name printed on a wall next to an abstract rendidtion of her likeness was reason enough to re-title the sketch.

If legends are to be believed, this may be the reason that many Argentine men will alternately look at, then away from a young woman proudly displaying her cleavage, especially when escorting wives or girlfriends on the streets. The power of this legend is underscored if one surreptitiously watches a couple walking hand in hand as a well-built young woman passes them.  The female of the couple will almost invariably watch her man’s eyes as a woman who could be possessed by La Pechtona approaches then passes.  She doesn’t want her man to be caught by La Pechona, the ghost that never leaves those she possesses.

Thai tattoos, WoWasis book review: ‘Thai Magic Tattoos: the Art and Influence of Sak Yant’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 13•14

ThaiMagicTattoosThree books on Thai sak yant tattoos have recently been published, but Thai Magic Tattoos: the Art and Influence of Sak Yant (2013, ISBN-13: 978-616-7339-21-4) by Isabel Azevedo Drouyer is the finest among them, due in no small part through the photographs of René Drouyer. Two other books, written by veteran authors Joe Cummings and Tom Vater, have good texts, but the photos are more than occasionally blurred, and for a book on tattoos, you really do want to see detail. For that, you’ll want this book instead.

The Drouyet book is large format, with outstanding black and white and color photographs of tattoos, artists (called ajarn, or masters), and lots of skin. The text is complete, beginning with a history of tattooing, focusing on the Pacific. It discusses well-known Thai sak yant tattoo masters Ajarn Anek, Ajarn Kob, Ajarn Lek Sitthapha, Ajarn Neng On Nut, Ajarn Noo Kanpai, Ajarn Oh, Ajarn Toi, and Ajarn Tui, and describes the experience of going to the noted temple Wat Thungsetti near Bangkok, where many go to be tattooed by monks. There is also a chapter on the Wai Khru ritual, held each year as a tribute to sak yant masters.

The descriptions of what the tattoos represent is fascinating focusing on animism, Buddhism, sacred protection, and success. Page 86 is exceptionally interesting, showing the back of a man with fourteen distinctive tattoos, text arrows to each, and then a description of the meaning of the tattoo. A chapter on the process investigates the pain involved in getting a tattoo and the philosophy behind bearing it. Drouyet balances the spiritual with the profane, and devotes several pages to the placebo effect as a confidence builder.

ThailandPromoBannerPerhaps most importantly, anyone who has spent time in Thailand, like we here at WoWasis have, and has gotten to know her people has noticed these tattoos, much of the time in intimate settings. Perhaps the most common is the gao yot, nine rising arrows usually found immediately under the neck. The knowledge contained in this book will allow visitors and expats alike to begin a conversation on the tattoo of a Thai friend, thereby gaining additional insight as to the bearer’s personal philosophy as embodied in ink.

As stated earlier, there are several current books onteh art of Thai sak yant tattooing, but this is the one to get. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: Do-it-yourself adventures in Southeast Asia by Harold Stephens

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 11•14

StephensReturnAdventure1The problem with many adventure travel books is that the layperson can’t easily replicate the travels discussed in them. This is not the case with veteran adventure writer Harold Stephens’ Return to Adventure Southeast Asia, with Amazing Thailand as the Hub (2000, ISBN 0964-2521-6-3). As experienced travelers ourselves, what fascinated us here at WoWasis is how many of these spectacular small adventures are easily doable, and how many we didn’t even know about.

Who knew you could take a two hour train ride out of Bangkok to the town of Mahachai, about which the author says “For those who want to see Thailand in a capsule, this is the train trip to take. It has everything in a nutshell that a long, two-day train can offer.” That’s two hours versus two days! This is just one of the several train trips that Stephens suggests, including one from Bangkok to Singapore that seemed tantalizing.

The author breaks down is adventures into trains, scuba and wreck diving, 4 wheeling, bicycles, spelunking, trekking, yachting and island hopping, mountain climbing and volcanoes, river exploring, and archaeological digs/searching for lost cities. He covers the countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia (Borneo and mainland), Indonesia, and India.

AsiaPromoBannerWe weren’t aware of three temples in Thailand that appear to be must-sees: Prasat Muang Tam, Prasat Sikhoraphum, and Ban Pluang. And how about the archaeological digs and museum at Ban Chiang? You can see many of these artifacts in Bangkok’s splendid Suan Pakkad Palace museum, but why not go to the source?

At 227 pages with a splendid index, the book never ceases to amaze, with Stephens’ romanticism replete throughout the book. Here’s a great example, on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river:

For more than a year I lived aboard Third Sea [the author’s self-built schooner] on the Chao Phraya, down at the mouth near Samut Prakan. The river here is wide, and I was able to observe life on the river, for every vessel, large and small, entering or leaving Bangkok, had to pass before me. Vessels of every flag from every nation found their way past the gray-stoned Customs and Immigration Building. There were tankers and freighters, flat-bottomed scows and lighters, barges loaded with stone and charcoal,and others with rice, being towed by powerful tugs, river taxis and ferries, sampans being sculled, trim gigs from naval vessels, cruise boats, long long-tail skiffs clipping along at incredible speeds, even great sailing junks with their lug sails pulling hard on the quarter, and, last, the Thai fishing boats, by the thousands, coming and going with the tides, feeding a hungry city with their 400 tons of fish every day, and each boat with its sea-toughened crew, torsos tattooed in enigmatic designs, all waving and laughing.

The best time to feel the mood is early morning. At first light, before dawn, the river is intimate. There is little movement, and one almost feels the presence of others as an intrusion. Blinding colors from a tropical sun have not yet supplanted soft grays, and uncertain forms on distant banks, the silhouette of trees or temple spires, that are harsh by day now loom soft in shades of coolness.

Then through the fog and mist rising up from the river, barges in tow, like elephants holding tails in a circus performance, slowly appear. Soon another string of barges come into sight, and another. A river taxi scurries across the water. A freighter lifts anchor and sounds its whistle. A sampan with sleepy-eyed ladies of the night hastily pulls away from a tanker which is also leaving, and now schoolchildren, all in neat scrubbed uniforms, arrive aboard a river bus. People wave and I have another cup of coffee on the aft deck. The river has come to life, pulsating, vibrant.

By mid-morning, Bangkok shimmers in the heat, and while the city swelters, the children born to the river take over. The wide expanse of brown water becomes their playground. Naked, with the image of innocence, they let themselves be dragged through the water by holding on to passing boats, they dive from piers and docksides, and some, the more daring, leap from the highest bridges into the swift currents below, only to come bobbing up a few feet downstream, their faces aglow with cherubic smiles.

For a book written in 2000, it’s remarkably current (Angkor Wat, for instance, is more accessible now than it was in 2000). The real warning here is that the reader will experience a real sense of wanderlust and predictably start planning a first or return trip to Southeast Asia. With this book, Stephens has made great inroads into making the seemingly inaccessible affordable and doable. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: ‘Iban Dream’ Borneo Headhunting Fiction by Golda Mowe

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 04•14

MoweIbanMalaysian author Golda Mowe has written one of the more outstanding books we’ve encountered, the beautiful, at times shocking, and endlessly fascinating Iban Dream (2013, ISBN 978-981-4423-12-0). Through 288 pages, Mowe weaves an Iban fantasy that encompasses Dayak rituals, myths, and realities. First, a little background.

Visitors to the Sarawak state in Malaysian Borneo will encounter the Iban culture, in museums, antiquities and crafts shops in Kuching, and in small talk with Iban acquaintances. Go on a longhouse tour, and you’ll see trophy heads in each longhouse. Mowe’s mother is Iban. She knows her stuff.

In Iban Dream, Mowe tells the fascinating tale on an orphaned boy who becomes a great warrior and leader, defeating other tribes, pirates who have kidnapped loved ones, and a startling list of mythological half-human beasts that form the basis for Iban mythology. She offers breathtaking prose on the nature of the forests and animal life of Borneo and provides important background information on Iban culture and taboos. But we liked her writing on headhunting perhaps best of all.

MalaysiaIt’s difficult for westerners to get their heads around headhunting. Borneo-based author James Ritchie has written some magnificent documents on the practice of headhunting, including a primer on how heads are smoked. But Mowe takes another approach, incorporating the practice into a mythological story by taking an insider’s perspective that, we think, can only be revealed in this manner by an Iban. From felling a tree to create a warrior’s shield, to describing how a longhouse is built and outfitted, to the relationships of generations, Mowe hasn’t missed anything.

The story is filled with high drama, too, and the author has the craft of adventure writing down to a fine art. This may not be the book you’ll take with you on your flight to Borneo, but it’s certainly the one you’ll want to bring home with you for the flight home. It unveils countless mysteries and keeps the reader riveted. It serves as an anthropological book, a mythological tale, and high adventure. It’s not to be missed by any reader desiring to read intimate details of native culture and is an important book on Borneo. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.