Have you tried som tam salad yet?” is a frequent question for visitors of Bangkok. Bangkokians are proud of this fiery concoction of unripened papaya, lime juice, and mouth-burning chilies, regarding it as quintessentially Thai. Yet this Bangkok favorite is not a native dish: som tam hails from Issan, one of Thailand’s poorest regions in the North-East.

Service in the capital wears an Issan face; there is som tam on the streets of Bangkok because migrant workers come in vast numbers to work as taxi drivers, cooks, maids, and prostitutes, bringing familiar dishes with them. There would be no Bangkok without Issan; there would be no Issan without Bangkok.

From the dustiest street shops to the glittering Boots, the shelves of Thai pharmacies are lined with whitening creams and powders, puzzling pale tourists who fly halfway across the world for a tan. White skin means wealth in this land of eternal summer, but it is not Caucasian looks they covet. It is the porcelain features of the Chinese and Sino-Thai who dominate the highest spheres of business and politics. Thaksin Shinawatra, the ex-prime minister, is Sino-Thai.

The humblest details of everyday life are eloquent with greater currents of human destiny.

Last year, I spent seven months traveling through South-East Asia, three of them living in Bangkok. I was struck by the raw nerve of its people, their endless ambition, the relentless hunger of a new world being born.

Europe is an old man savoring past victories and the pleasures of age. North America sleeps the placid sleep of the middle-aged, her position solid, the course set. But Asia still trembles in the stormy moods of youth, her future wide open. Will tomorrow bring triumph or disaster?

I want to see it happen. I want to write about Thai teenagers breakdancing on elevated platforms connecting glossy malls; Chanel billboards towering over women chopping open coconuts on the street; trucks heaving under the weight of giant tree trunks as they wind down from Laos forest reserves; newspapers folded open to the daily price of rice in Vientiane cafes, where development consultants in thousand-dollar suits discuss malaria over lemonade and Paris-perfect croissants; tin-roofed shacks in Van Vieng dishing up bootlegged episodes of Friends and opium tea in Disney cups — all the fracas of a new world colliding with the old.

I am a mathematician by education, a computer programmer by trade, but my passion is the world. I have studied economics, politics and religion between courses about measure theory and complex analysis. I am French-Canadian, a minority in my own country, two generations away from a grandmother who hunted bears in the woods with a rifle and spun wool from the thick coats of her Northern dogs. I am no stranger to worlds colliding.

I am interested in collision points where East meets West, poverty meets wealth, old meets new.

What is the loneliness of country people adapting to life in the concrete cities? What are the dreams of young university students learning English and Mandarin? Will the Thai junta succeed in implementing King Bhumibol’s “sufficiency” economy”? Will newfound oil heal Cambodia’s wounds? How is the money sent home by Bangkok prostitutes changing the face of Issan? How are the young people in South-East Asia developing art scenes, music scenes, computer scenes, moving from aristocracy-sponsored art to art created and enjoyed by everyday people, as we once did? How are the foundations of Thai culture — Buddhism, family, the monarchy — holding up under globalization? What is life like for refugees on the Burmese border? What happens to unemployed elephants?

These are some of the questions I want to answer.

16 Responses to “About”

  1. 1 taiko January 5, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    Hi Julie,
    this is taiko, found your blog from the
    mailing list of Bkk barcamp.
    Your writing is very interesting and
    it made me laugh.
    You gave me another point of view of my home town.

    women chopping open coconuts on the street ->
    I found that many women here can do this easily
    while I don’t know how.
    More to say, if you want to know the trend of
    thai women, you can watch it in the tv
    program at night, says 8:30-10:30, in many (local)
    chanels, you will easily see the girls are
    acting like Rambo, fighting each other to get
    the boy they love (well, don’t serious with it,this is
    exaggerated, they are still a cute girl)

    well, your writing catches my heart, will
    come back and read it again and again.
    ( your blog is one of my “bink” favourite)

  2. 2 julielavoie January 7, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Taiko!

    thanks for your nice comment. πŸ™‚ I’m glad to know that you like my blog! I love Bangkok so much, but I never know if what I think about Bangkok is true, from the point of someone born in Bangkok.

    Maybe I need to learn how to chop open coconuts now. πŸ™‚

  3. 3 jan January 18, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    hey julie,
    found your blog on the same trail as taiko.
    you have a great writing.
    i always loved bangkok as well, but could never put it into words the way you do. next time someone askes me “why you have to stay in bangkok?” i will borrow some of your words.
    see you at the barcamp.

  4. 4 luckytroll February 1, 2008 at 2:58 am

    Frigid Snowviet Canuckistan misses you, oh smart and subtly annoying former mathgeek.

    It will be a few years before the pirate ship Impertinent makes its way to Thailand. Until then, I follow your blogs with admiration. You are the new HST of the East.

  5. 5 julielavoie February 1, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Hey Jan,

    thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad I can express your feelings about Bangkok! It’s a city I love very much too.

  6. 6 Patrickz February 11, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Found you from http://www.raisondetre.in.th/blog/show/64 and follow up to your blog.

    I’m also in BarcampBangkok. just greeting!


  7. 7 kitty July 5, 2008 at 1:55 am

    i love ur blog. wish i had stumbled upon it a little sooner as now i’m clicking the “previous” button at 2 in the morning.

  8. 8 julielavoie July 7, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Hi Kitty,

    thank you so much for your kind comment! You are motivating me to write more — I haven’t had the time to write much in my blog for a very long time.

    It’s so cool to see that people share my feelings about Bangkok. πŸ™‚

  9. 9 nic July 12, 2008 at 3:02 am

    hi julie! it’s 4 am and i am riveted by the sights, sounds, taste and feel of bangkok you have so eloquently captured on your blog. it will be my first time to visit the city this july and i can only hope to experience it as profoundly as you clearly have (would that even be possible in just four days?!).

    anyway, do stop by the philippines! yours would be a refreshing point of view.

  10. 10 Natta January 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Hi Julie,

    This is a great, refreshing introduction about Bangkok. You sum the whole picture up very nicely!

    I don’t think there is a certain way seeing one particular city. It depends on what kind of people and society you’re involved with that help you form the perception. There’s a wide gap between people in Bangkok and I’m sure the native Bangkokian and migrating Issaan see the city quite differently.

    Keep writing. I enjoy hearing my city’s story from different points of view πŸ™‚

  11. 11 Alec May 3, 2009 at 7:06 am

    Hi Julie,

    I found your blog via your twitter account, which I found searching twitter for mentions of Nong Khai (I’m nongkhaiinfo on twitter). I love your blog and your tweets give my wife and I a lot of laughs!

    I just want to reassure you that not all farrang men in Nong Khai are sexpats! I feel your pain about the lack of any decent bars in Nong Khai – I’ve lived here for 18 months and had only sat in a bar maybe 5 times – just walking by was enough to put me off in most cases. That changed recently when I found the Writer pub. It is run by a very talented Thai Writer, Architect and musician called Pung and his wife, June. They opened it just as a place to hang out with their friends – Pung and his friends play live music most nights. He does not take any BS from loud obnoxious farrang and generally kicks out the sort of customers you find in the rest of Nong Khai’s bars. I think the word has spread amongst those types not to go there. For the rest of us, the atmosphere is warm and friendly. It is on the soi that runs past the Nong Khai Grand Hotel. (http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&ll=17.877645,102.752772&spn=0.008056,0.008132&t=h&z=17&msid=106198380096621326800.000468f6bc9da3b4867d3)

    Keep up the great blogging… and the amusing tweets!

  12. 12 Russell O'Connor May 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Julie, remember this: http://ro-che.info/ccc/03.html

    — Russell

  13. 13 Mikael June 5, 2010 at 8:33 am


    I found your blog earlier today while sitting on the train and I spent most of the 40 min train ride reading it. It’s interesting. I, well, like your way of thinking. πŸ™‚

    Finally back home. Androids are great for reading but writing anything longer than an sms, nah.

    Anyway, I’m leaving for Thailand with my girlfriend on Tuesday and I thought I’d ask for a recommendation. We’re staying in the area for 2 months so we’ll probably travel around, but initially we have no idea where to go. Where would you recommend going if you wanted to avoid the worst aspects of western tourism – such as (imo) teenagers, excessive amounts of alcohol and the bad vibes that tend to follow?

    Keep up the blogging!

    • 14 julielavoie June 5, 2010 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Mikael,

      thanks a lot for your nice comments!

      it’s hard to avoid western tourism in thailand coz, let’s face it, thailand is not really the road less traveled.

      the good news is that tourism is WAAAYYY down right now bc of political problems so it’s less crowded than usual.

      i’d avoid backpacker spots like ko pan gnan, koa san road, van vieng, etc.

      i really like ko lanta, it’s more family and couples oriented, beautiful scenery and peaceful. there are many muslims so it’s more conservative, but it keeps out the worse aspects of thailand, like girlie bars, sex tourists, and “full moon party” levels of partying.

      nong khai is really beautiful and peaceful, and in that area, depending on the time, (check calendar here http://www.mutmee.com/050010_the_complete_year.htm) there are many interesting cultural festivals. there’s a certain factor of fat old geezers with thai women, but it’s not too bad.

      and of course, Bangkok!

      have a great time in Thailand!

      • 15 julielavoie June 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm

        oh yeah, I just wanted to add that I’m not against backpackers or full-moon parties or anything like that — just that you might want to avoid those kinds of scenes if that’s not your thing.

  1. 1 i’m ok! « Go East, Young Woman Trackback on May 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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