‘It Ain’t Too Hard For Me To Jam…”
Michael Jackson – ‘Jam’ (1991)

July 15th, 2011
Leh, Ladakh, India (The Glorious Himalayas – once again)

Dear Friends and Family,

Sorry for the long gap since my last update. I am OK. Just to dispel any rumors or crazy notions, no, my body was not tossed off the side of the USS Destroy the Evidence (AKA The USS Improper/Irreverent Burial at Sea, AKA The USS Mission Accomplished) – What a farce!

I am alive and kicking in Ladakh, in the amazing Himalaya mountains once again (so far my favorite place on this great big planet.) I just finished another 9-day trek from Padum to Lamayuru with my horseman Dorje and his three trusty horses. I will be leaving Leh again in a few days for 2 more weeks of trekking before flying to China on my way to Mongolia. I will hopefully soon provide some photos and videos of my adventures here in the Himalayas, but for now, this update will focus on a fun night I had in Burma a few months ago.

The Hoarder of Hoarders

But before I get into that story, I am proud to announce that I have been contacted by the producers of the hit A&E TV show ‘Hoarders.’  Perhaps you’ve seen that show, where mis-wired confused people collect and hoard plastic bags or crap they bought on eBay, or clothing or midgets. They hoard so much that their houses become unworkable and a total disaster, and they have to have loved ones (suckers) and a team of professional un-hoarders (paid suckers) come in and make sense of all their crap. (That reminds me, I need to call my mom soon… ouch!)

Turns out that I love that show so much, I have been hoarding CD’s, DVD’s, VCR tapes, USB keys, hard drives, and TiVo boxes filled with every episode of ‘Hoarders.’ I have backpacks and wheelbarrows and garages filled with ‘Hoarders’ episodes. Yes, I am a ‘Hoarders’ Hoarder. There, I said it! Don’t judge me!

The first step with any addiction is to admit that I am powerless against this ‘Hoarders’ Hoarding, which I have done. I am now working on the second step, which is to buy more useless ‘Hoarders’ crap on eBay and store it at my mom’s house.

I will let you know when I will be on TV so you can watch and laugh at me and my addiction.

OK, so I was in Burma (Myanmar) for about a month back in April. I was able to score a 30-day tourist visa at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok very quickly (same day service, actually.) In general it can be very difficult to get a Burmese visa, but for some reason, it is quick and easy if you do it in person in Bangkok.

A few quick notes about Burma and its government and complicated regulations/logistics…

  • There are no ATM’s in Burma. ZERO. You have to bring all the money you think you will need with you.
  • The money you bring has to be in US dollars
  • The US dollars you bring have to be pristine. No wrinkles, no crinkles, no marks or ink of any kind. No creases. Just pure clean crisp dollars. No exceptions.
  • When you change your US dollars for Burmese Kyat (pronounced ‘Chot’ – kinda rhymes with ‘hot’), you will get the best exchange rates in the capitol, Yangon. Outside of Yangon you can expect to receive about 10% less for your dollars. So most tourists arrive in Burma with a wallet full of dollars, and then exchange them for a HUGE wad of Kyat in Yangon, and then carry them for their entire visit in Burma.
  • You must do a delicate dance of exchanging only what you think you will need for the duration of your stay, because when you finish your trip and try to sell your Kyat back into dollars, you will lose at least 10%.
  • And you must be careful not to lose your big wad of money.  Because that would really suck.
  • The Burmese government is actually a very authoritarian and repressive military junta (i.e. mean jerks.) The Burmese citizens are not treated well (in general), and the government/military siphons off a good chunk of the tourist money that comes into the country.
  • The government/military either owns or controls many/most of the airlines, trains, communication systems, tourist destinations, museums, buses and major hotels in the country.  It is a chore to try to move about the country and sleep and eat and see the sights without a good chunk of your money going to the nasty regime.
  • The internet system in Burma is the worst I have ever seen. Because telecommunications are so controlled, there are VERY few places to get online. And when you find one, it is woefully slow (think dial-up speeds), and social media platforms like Facebook or even hotmail and gmail can be impossible to access, due to censorship and filters. Add in frequent power disruptions and you get a complicated web environment. And in my month there, I only found wifi one time. One time! Granted, you don’t go to Burma to surf online, but this shows you how repressive and backward the country is.
  • Along those same lines, almost NONE of the local citizens has a mobile phone. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I would guess that Burma has one of the lowest phone and mobile phone saturation percentages in the world.
  • You will probably be followed and watched by Big Brother while in Burma. I was. We were. Big Brother just wants to make sure you are not teaching the locals about how messed up their situation really is. You can get the locals in a TON of trouble just by having a conversation about politics or the government/military, so it is very wise to not discuss any of these matters with the locals. Just talk about football (soccer) or Buddha (or midgets) and you will be safe.
  • The transportation system in Burma is very bad, as you might guess. Roads are generally bad. Buses are old and jam packed. Trains are slow and old. And buses leave and arrive at crazy times, which makes it very hard to get around the country without losing valuable time. We figured that in our 26 days in Burma, we spent a full 5 days traveling, not just 5 8-hour days, I’m talking about 5 24-hour periods getting from Point A to Point B.

OK, so those are the negative things about Burma. Some people refuse to visit the country because they don’t want any of their money going to the nasty regime, or because they don’t like the human rights record of the regime. Valid points, surely. But if you do it right, you will be bale to sprinkle your money among the sweet people and businesses that are just trying to scrape by and make a living. At some point the regime will fail (like all regimes) and the country will experience the liberation and awakening that it so rightfully deserves.

So on my flight from Bangkok to Yangon, I met a fantastic Spanish couple, Alicia and Jorge (aka ‘Parra’.) We stayed at the same hotel in Yangon (Motherland Inn 2) and spent 25 days and nights together. I got to annoy them while practicing my Spanish, and they got to practice their English with me. It was funny, but I would ask a question in Spanish, and they would answer in English. We were the ‘Serpiente Family’ for those 25 days, and we had a friggin’ blast.

Here are Alicia and Jorge (‘Parra’) as we are getting ready to hop on yet another long-haul crowded bus in yet another dirty dusty bus terminal in Burma. I miss you both!

From Yangon we went to see the Golden Rock near Kinpun, then up to Mandalay and to see the wonderful U Bein teak bridge near Amarapura.  Then we went to Bagan, which is one of the 100 Wonders of the World and was simply brilliant. Bagan – imagine all of the cathedrals in Europe squeezed onto the island of Manhattan, and that’s what you see in Bagan.  Thousands of ancient religious structures scattered around the fields and along the Irrawaddy River.  The Featured Image for this update is of one of the countless temples of Bagan. Here it is in all its glory.

I have lots of amazing pix from my month in Burma (and Cambodia and Sri Lanka and the Himalayas for that matter), but they will have to wait their turn in the slow update line for my website.

We also squeezed in a nice break from the oppressive Burmese summer heat by escaping to Hsipaw and Pyin Oo Lim in the hill country. And we finished off our Burmese visit with 6 nights on the lovely, quiet beaches of Ngwe Saung (where we were joined by hilarious Manuel from Chile, whom we had met earlier in Hsipaw.)

I have to say that the Burmese people are about the nicest people on the planet that I have met (right up there with the people of Laos, Bali and Ladakh.)  And the women in Burma are unbelievalbly beautiful and graceful. I fell in love with one of the waitresses at our hotel in Bagan… so beautiful!

So Alicia and Parra and I were walking around beautiful Hsipaw one evening, looking for midgets, enjoying the sunset and talking with some of the locals. They told us about a big celebration at a local monastery that night, and invited us to join them.  Why not?

Apparently the celebration was in honor of some of the monks who were graduating to the next level.  Lots of food and music and hundreds of Burmese people made the night a very fun event. Side note – we were the only westerners or tourists that we saw all night. There was a main stage where a rock band was playing, and there was also a small tent where they were playing traditional Burmese music. That’s where the magic happened (AKA ‘the scene of the crime’.)

Ali and Parra and I entered the tent and sat down.  They were playing some drums and cymbals and a few other traditional instruments. There was an old man wearing a fisherman’s hat dancing a traditional dance. When he saw us enter the tent he invited me to come dance with him. How could I refuse?

(Note: For all of the following videos, I have embedded the youtube player directly into the update.  I have also included the direct link to each video in case your browser or firewall prevents you from seeing the video inline.)

This first video is a bit long, but you can see him dancing and encouraging me to join him. Near the end we are joined by some other locals and our South Korean friend Park.  And then I start to spice up the Burmese dance by sprinkling in a sampling of good old-fashioned Kentucky Hillbilly dancing.

Burmese Dance – Part 1

 

 

 

Now, I almost never smoke a cigarette. OK, occasionally when I am playing cards with the boys, or sitting around a campfire with my buddies in Arizona or Colorado, or celebrating the purchase of a new midget, maybe I will smoke a cigarette or cigar.  So here I bum a cigarette off of Parra and join the old man and his dance team. Now I’m in Flavor Country.  At one point he tries a Burmese Claw move on me, so I come back at him with the Double Burmese Claw. Fight fire with bigger fire, that’s my motto! Check Mate! I loved to watch him laugh.

Burmese Dance – Part 2

 

 

FYI – most of the songs that night sounded the same. Who knows… maybe it actually was the same song over and over again. When one song finished, I would call out, ‘play that one song’, and sure enough, the same song would crank back up.

And almost every day I get the same question:  Lex, you have matinee idol looks, a head of silky hair like Adonis, the grace and poise of a gazelle, and the funky, slinky moves of a Solid Gold Dancer… who are your influences?

OK, that question is just coming from inside my skull, but it deserves an answer nonetheless.

I would say that my amazing dancing skills are a delicate blend of yoga, my hillbilly upraising in Kentucky, my years dancing with my two brothers’ entertainment company, the ZOOperstars at sporting events, and closely watching the twitching moves of the drunk crack whore on the corner in Madrid when I was in college.

But seriously, who are my personal dance influences??? I would have to say it’s a sophisticated combination of Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Estefan (and the Sound Machine, of course), M.C. Hammer, Harpo Marx, Oprah Winfrey, MC Skat Kat from the Paula Abdul “Opposites Attract‘ video, W.C. Fields, Orville Redenbacher, Barbara Walters, Dick Cheney, Michael Jackson, and mushrooms. Many people say I have more moves than a Rubik’s Cube, but that’s a topic for another time.

Does this handsome man knows how to get down or what??? Orville Redenbacher - The original 'Funky Monkey'

 

So here is the next video. The wheels are really coming off the Lex-mobile now. Every time I finished dancing, I was exhausted. I would sit down to catch my breath (smoking cigarettes did not help), and the old man or another dude would drag me back out on the dance floor. Who am I not to share my dancing gifts with the wonderful Burmese people? And where the HELL were all the women!?!?!

In this next video I introduce the Latvian Horse Dance, my trekking headlamp, some Running Man, and some retarded Russian kick-boxing moves. Watch the old guy laugh. That’s my friend Parra laughing toward the end (Alicia was working the camera.)

Burmese Dance – Part 3

 

Sprinkle in a little Leg Switcheroo Dance, some violent left-right thrusts, some gay hula, and this is what you get. I was exhausted at this point. I return to my seat (briefly) and sit next to Park, and I tell him in Korean, ‘Gamsa Hamnida, Gamsa Hamnida’, which means ‘Thank you, thank you.’ And then ‘Shi Le Hamnida, Shi Le Hamnida’, which means ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please excuse me.’ Both he and the old man crack up. That’s just how I roll.

Burmese Dance – Part 4

 

 

I call this one the Burmese Sneaky Python Dance. The sneaky snake dance works in every country, by the way, and Burma is no exception. A little rotating leg-guitar in the middle to mix things up. Then I find a plastic rope on the ground and terrorize the local dancers with the scary plastic snake.

Burmese Dance – Part 5

 

 

The Burmese Smoking Dragon Dance. The name says it all. Now I am smoking two cigarettes at once. Total Flavor Country. Smoking and clanging the cymbals to the beat. Trying hard not to puke. The old man was clapping and laughing. The night was getting crazy.

Burmese Dance – Part 6

 

 

The final dance of the night. My ‘Swan Song’, if you will. I ain’t going out like a chump… I’m gonna leave ’em laughing and wanting more. ‘Peace Out Burmese People… I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waitress.’

I had been working on this one for a few months, dating back to my adventures in Siem Reap (Cambodia) with John and Ina (Romania) in the bars and night clubs on Pub Street. This is a tribute to the tuk-tuk (moto rickshaw) drivers who permeate the Southeast Asian transport scene. The old man and I also enjoy a few moments of ball-room dancing. I love the way the old man joins us and waves to the crowd at the end. Just think, the first dance I saw him doing that night was a graceful traditional Burmese dance, and by the end of the night, I had polluted his dance database with the clumsy Tuk-Tuk dance.

Burmese Dance – Part 7

 

After that final dance Parra, Alicia and I thanked the old man and the dancers for letting us join them. Then we bought the kids who were sitting next to us some hot dogs and snacks and went to the main stage and listened to the live band for a bit. What a great night!

Thank you Burma, and thank you Burmese people. Thanks for the great visit and splendid hospitality. While it was tough to travel in Burma logistically, I am very glad I made the effort. Hang in there, your cruel repressive regime will soon crumble and you will be free!

So a few more weeks of trekking in Ladakh, then South China to re-connect with some old friends and see Shanghai for the first time, then up to Beijing to stay with Gilly Billy (whom I met in Dali, China 10 years ago.) Then to Mongolia to ride horses with my Israeli buddy Segev, who I met in Laos back in March.

Stay tuned for the official launch of my 50/50 Lexpedition Contest, where you will win a prize if you can guess which country will be my 50th country.

And on Monday, July 18th I will celebrate my 43rd birthday while standing and shouting on top of a Himalayan mountain somewhere here in Ladakh. Unfortunately, this weekend back home my extended family is celebrating our annual family reunion, called  ‘Sveiki’, which is the Latvian equivalent of the Hawaiian ‘Aloha’, only with a lot more alcohol, horseshoes and pork and pork by-products . So I am definitely missing that fantastic celebration… but alas, I am here enjoying the holy tar out of these amazing mountains and people.  Wahooooo!

Thanks to all of your for your love, support and friendship.  I hope to see you soon somewhere somehow.

Peace & Love from way over here,

Lexicon

Perhaps the #1 Uncle In the World
Radical Tree-Hugger
Confused Lumberjack
Now made with 20% post-consumer waste

25 Responses

  1. Peter Rosenberg

    Hey Lex,

    Can’t wait to see you on Dancing with the Czars!!

    I have also started hoarding “Burmese Dance” You Tube Videos….there are just so, so many of them out there. They are much easier to store than midgets;-)

    Maybe we can be on the same episode of Hoarders.

    Glad to see how much you are enjoying yourself and Happy Birthday.

    Peter

    • Lex

      Thanks Peter, I love the idea of Dancing with the Czars… I hope to pass through the ‘Stans on my way to the middle east and Europe again soon. Thanks for the birthday wishes. Take care brother. Lexicon

    • Lex

      Thanks Ben… are you and Dusty still on the magic road? We gotta meet up again sometime soon. Lex

      • Ben

        Dusty’s back to work in the States. I’m in Porto Alegre, Brazil, still gallivanting about. Going by our history, I plan on running into you at a random bar in the next few weeks. Hope all’s well out there brotha.

  2. Chuck Illg

    If I hadn’t danced with you like that before, I would have been laughing my ass off at the pure abandon of it all. My only regret is that you didn’t show them the chicken dance while you were at it.
    Glad to see that you’re still spreading joy wherever you go. Happy birthday my friend!
    Chuck

    • Lex

      Chuckles the Magic Clown,
      One day we will dance like that again on an AZ Warrior Weekend. I promise. Truth be told, I was just making that crappy dance up as I went along (I know, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t choreographed well in advance.) Thanks for the birthday wishes… and have fun with the crazy Arizona summer heat… I don’t miss that AT ALL… wowza! Love, Lexicon

  3. Bill Mawhinney

    I’ve been hoarding your Lexpeditions for years now. Your pile of emails clutter my inbox, but I won’t throw them away. They are too much fun! I remember dancing with you around some fires on Arizona nights. You’ve still got it, man! Love your writing and your joyful take on this big planet. Keep sending your adventures — this old man loves you. Tu amigo, Bill

    • Lex

      Thanks Bill. As I mentioned to Chuck yesterday, I will be dancing with you Arizona guys again soon enough. Sending much Honey to your Heart from way over here. Lex

  4. Simon, English Yokoji Monk

    Lex you funny old f****r, i’m so loving hearing of all your adventures, remember walking and talking with you at Yokoji when you were planning all this.

    Chok Dee mate, Simon.

    • Lex

      Thanks Simon, yes, that was a great hike. I still recall the great lunch you and your buddy made for our hike, and the great views while we sat and ate and chatted at the top. BTW, I will be visiting Samaquand within the next few months… which is a direct result of our conversations. Thanks brother. Save me a cushion! Hanu Lex Latkovski

  5. GregNoiz

    Looks like fun times Lex. What are we drinkin’ here? I’m diggin’ that 9 foot long hand drum…

    • Lex

      Thanks Greg, as I mentioned in another reply a few moments ago:
      “That was pure un-adulterated sober energy. We had a few beers later, but I promise you, those dances were just pure 100% funk. No additives. No preservatives.”
      Perhaps it was residual enhancers bubbling up to the surface and permeating the dance floor? No way to tell anymore.
      I will ship you a 9-foot hand drum soon, along with some Hard Rock T-shirts right away (see my crazy Cousin Pete’s comments.) Bon voyage and Bon Chance! Lex

  6. Pete Postlewait

    Lex glad to hear that you are now made with 20% post consumer waste. That’s over half. I am inspired once again by your journey. I am so moved that I have decided to start hoarding Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts from all the countries you visit. If you could fed-ex the shirts that would be tremendous. I wish to start my new obsession as soon as possible. I feel once I have a hard rock t-shirt from all those countries, I will truly be a man of the world.

    • Lex

      Thanks Cousin Pete,
      That reminds me, I have now been to 48 countries…. wow! That’s almost half!
      Sitting here with my iPad stealing wifi from the Applebee’s in Leh (Ladakh), located next to the Chili’s, just down the street from Hard Rock and Pizza Hut *… crappy Hard Rock Cafe souvenir shirts are in the mail. Keep on keepin’ on! Cousin Lex

      * none of those ‘institutions’ exist anywhere near here, thankfully.

  7. Zenrin Jeff Goodman

    I watched all those dancing videos (which I can’t believe.) Dude, what was in that cigarette??? So good to see these updates. You’re a great one Lex!! Safe travels and happy birthday!

    • Lex

      Thank Zenrin,
      That was pure un-adulterated sober energy. We had a few beers later, but I promise you, those dances were just pure 100% funk. No additives. No preservatives. Save me a cushion. You ‘re in charge while I’m gone. Lexicon

      • Lex

        Soham, I actually threw that reference in there for you. For some reason I remembered you talking about that video a while back. I miss him too (a tear)

  8. John

    You can dance, you can jive
    Having the time of your life
    Ooh see that girl[old man], watch that scene
    Dig in the dancing queen

    Friday night and the lights are low
    Looking out for a place to go
    Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
    You come in to look for a king

    Anybody could be that guy
    Night is young and the music’s high
    With a bit of rock music, everything is fine
    You’re in the mood for a dance
    And when you get the chance

    You are the dancing queen
    Young and sweet, only [25+]seventeen
    Dancing queen, feel the beat

    From the tambourine, oh yeah

    You can dance, you can jive
    Having the time of your life
    Ooh see that girl, watch that scene
    Dig in the dancing queen

    You’re a teaser, you turn ’em on
    Leave ’em burning and then you’re gone
    Looking out for another, anyone will do
    You’re in the mood for a dance
    And when you get the chance

    You are the dancing queen
    Young and sweet, only [25+]seventeen
    Dancing queen, feel the beat
    From the tambourine, oh yeah

    You can dance, you can jive
    Having the time of your life
    Ooh see that girl{old man], watch that scene
    Dig in the dancing queen
    Dig in the dancing queen

    • Lex

      Thanks Johnny, wow! I am speechless. Many times when I am feeling down (almost never) or cutting grass, I put on a diva mix (Celine, Whitney, Bette Midler, Gloria Estefan, etc.) or Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ and all my worries drift away. And my birthday is tomorrow, so I will be only (26+) seventeen for another few hours. Wahoooo! Love ya brother. Lexicon

  9. Johnny Fontaine

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY,

    I baked you a cake and mailed it to the Himalayas but some Burmese dude probably scarfed it all up by now in some hypnotic, post-Burmese Dance state of some sort. But that’s OK ’cause I forgot to add eggs…and milk…and frosting…

    All seriousness aside, I miss you, brother! My 49th birthday was on Saturday, and I gave away 4 hours of sweat, love and tears painting walls that never seemed to end for MKP and Habitat for Humanity. That’s just how I roll…get it, roll, painting, man I’m going on the road with this act!

    See you when I see you. Please shout my name – JOHNNY FONTAINE!!! – from a mountaintop in the Himalayas…this is so that corner of the world will know my name and reply, “What did he say?”

    Love ya, bro!

    Strength & Honor…

    Fontaine, Maximus Tiger
    CEO of Titties and Beer
    Inventor of the Burmese Dance (the Club Version)
    The Man With One Red Shoe

  10. Geatan Dugas

    Lex:

    I really liked the part where you took the old guy’s hand and did a little swing dancing with him. He never had it so good. You really do have more moves than a Rubik’s Cube!