The Wrath of Khan


This blog entry about the events of Friday, December 03, 2004 was originally posted on December 07, 2004.

DAY 412:  Perhaps the most popular Laotian, at least in American pop culture, is the animated character Khan from the animated series King of the Hill, created by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butthead and Office Space fame.  Khan and his family live in Texas surrounded by a quirky group of stereotypical Texans, and don’t often see eye to eye.  Laotian immigrant + Texas redneck = hilarity.  In one of the first episodes, when Khan is introduced to main character Hank Hill and his beer-drinking friends, the dialogue goes like this:

Hank:  So, are you Chinese or Japanese?
Khan (in thick Laotian accent):  I live in California last twenty year, but first come from Laos.
Hank:  Huh?
Khan:  Laos.  We Laotian.
Bill (Hank’s friend):  The ocean?  What ocean?
Khan:  We are Laotian.  From Laos, stupid.  It’s a landlocked country in southeast Asia.  It’s between Vietnam and Thailand, okay?  Population 4.7 million.
(Blank stares from Hank and company.)
Hank:  So… are you Chinese or Japanese?
(Khan screams in a fit of anger and frustration.)

I suppose to the uninformed person, all Asians look the same and blend in with each other, and I suspected that with my Filipino skin and face I’d be able to blend into Laos when I arrived.

A ROOSTER CROWED, as one did almost every morning in northern Thailand signaling that it was still way to early for roosters to be awake crowing their heads off.  In fiction, roosters always seem to be nature’s alarm clock at the coming of sunrise, but in reality, they start hours ahead of schedule.

Day break finally came and I packed up my bags and joined Huyb, Markus and the rest, most of which were Dutch for some reason, for the complimentary breakfast and transport to the border post down the road.  Exit formalities were a snap and soon we passed under the arch that read “Gateway to Indochina,” and down to the riverbank where small slim ferryboats took us over the Mekong River into Laos.  Entry formalities into Laos couldn’t have been easier — it was almost like checking into a hotel.  Nearby the Lao flag waved proudly next to an old Soviet hammer and sickle; Lao is still Communist like neighboring China in the north.

A “slow boat” (picture above) was the preferred (and cheaper) option of cruising down the Mekong to the town of Luang Prabang, even though it would take two days to get there.  The other option was the “speed boat,” which would zip you there in a day in a small, and deafeningly loud boat with no legroom.

We arrived on time for our scheduled 10 a.m. departure on the slow boat, but nothing happened as we waited patiently on board for close to an hour.  “This is really the slow boat,” Huyb said.  We waited and waited some more, so long that people just got off to stretch their legs and take pictures.

“What time are we supposed to arrive [at Pak Beng, the midway point]?” I asked Huyb.  He pulled out his notes where he wrote down the intended schedule:  10h00 departure.  Boat ride 6h.  Arrive 17h00. 

“That includes the one hour break.”

“Did we take that break in the beginning?”

At 11:30 the captain got on board after registering his vessel with the river authorities, or just waking up, we weren’t sure which.  Finally the 80 or so of us were cruising downstream of the mighty Mekong.  It was a long ride that was part relaxation (reading and writing), part discomfort (sitting or lying on wood for seven hours), part boredom (staring into space), part inspiration (staring into the beautiful scenery of rolling green hills and crazy river rock formations).  We stopped for about twenty minutes at a fishing village with vendors who sold sodas, Pringles and Lay’s along side village children calling out “Pineapple! Pineapple!”  One boy spoke to me in Lao(?) and my suspicious of me blending in were solidifying into truth.

MORE SCENERY, MORE BOATS FLOATING BY.  Right after dusk we arrived in the small town of Pak Beng, a village that strived on the nightly groups of people taking slow boats to Luang Prabang.  There were just enough guesthouses in town to accommodate two boatloads.  Huyb, Markus and I ended up in the Phonethip Guesthouse, run by a friendly woman named Sue who thought I was not Lao, but Thai.  Wait, don’t all southeast Asians look the same?

After settling in I ended up starting off my first night in Laos with Markus over the beer of Laos, named “Beerlao” for obvious reasons. 

“Are you Thai?” the Laotian waiter asked me.

“No, American.  But my parents are from the Philippines.”

“Oh, Filipino,” he said.  “You look Thai.”

“Thai?  Not Lao?”  I took off my glasses so he could get a better look.

“No, you look Thai.  Not Lao,” he said with confidence.

“I can see the difference in the Lao people,” Markus said.  “The darker skin and the nose is different.”


He told me he read somewhere that there was an underlying conflict between Laotians and their neighboring Thai and Vietnamese and that if you befriended a Laotian, it was in fashion to get on his good side by poking fun at the Thais or Vietnamese.  Khan of King of the Hill was right; Laos is its own thing, not to be confused with other Asian countries.  If I was in the cartoon he’d probably get all pissed at me too.

Markus told me that he originally thought I might be Malay, but with my glasses he assumed I was European.  Wow, European from Malay simply by putting on my big thick-framed glasses.  I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised; I mean, it worked for Superman’s secret identity.

Next entry: Accents On The Mekong

Previous entry: The Power of Geography

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “The Wrath of Khan”

  • Managed to squeeze one more in… Okay, I’m off now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  12:04 AM

  • Laos! Kewl man, keep truckin’...

    Tally Ho,

    The Six Dollar and Thirty Nine Cent MoMan!

    Posted by Supreme Moman  on  12/07  at  12:58 AM

  • Hey Erik, you be careful out there, y’hear? It can get pretty crazy with how very much Asians hate each other. It’s only in the states where we are required to play nice.

    Posted by Tony  on  12/07  at  04:27 AM

  • I’m going to completely blow your blending-in-cover… wowza.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  06:52 AM

  • AR6 non-spoiler:  How long before Adam comes out and admits he’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that)  ? 8-)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  11:28 AM

  • dude I feel you .. I get the same thing wherever I go ..  The biggest mistaken Identity I get is that I’m from P.I. but when I tell tem I’m ethnically from Laos they say wHat?, then I just say Thailand ... I guess if it wasn’t for “Kill of the Hill” Laos wouldn’t even be on the map at all ... bad press is better then no press at all as they say ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  01:05 PM

  • i love the stories of mistaken identity! and i can totally hear the conversation from the King of the Hill in my head smile Looking forward to more stories

    N smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  02:34 PM

  • Note to self: Bring a deck of cards on the slowboat trip.

    AR6: Adam was tottaly “whinging” about the roadblock when all the lil’ hot girls had no problem! What’s with that?!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  03:08 PM

  • Td0t:  Yeah, and I wonder why he and his “girlfriend” ever broke up?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/07  at  04:25 PM

  • AR6: he sounds a bit dramatic most of the time (should I jump off the boat), but if you have salt water in your eye I imagine it would sting pretty bad.  The girls rocked on that task though! 

    Oh, and there was really actual clue in this episode!!!!  You know, as opposed to directions.  Thank heavens they are going back to making the teams actually solve something to figure out where they are going.  Hope that keeps up.

    Posted by Liz  on  12/07  at  09:19 PM

  • thanks for rubbing that one out…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  12:42 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Accents On The Mekong

Previous entry:
The Power of Geography


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