The Solipsistic Tourist
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Gettin' it Done and Then Some
its the rainy season. sales women waving umbrellas and slickers run down westerners . stand outside the breakfast buffet searching for the slightest eye contact. buses in the narrow street announced by the cruiseliner of a horn. westerners stare out at the buffeters and the saleswomen descend on the bus. some guy starts taking pictures of them and i just begin muttering curses at him.
SASKIA! i arrive this sunday, jan 2 at 930 am in sydney from a saturday evening, jan 1 vietnam airlines flight! i just got an email from you but it didnt acknowledge this info.
been real tired for like four days and today it was in with the headache. that pain and the tsunami made serious posting feel stupid. but its time to move on through the pain and sweat and impose myself into normalcy. tmrw i am scheduled to take a day trip to some very old Cham architecture. ive purposefully avoided seeing what Cham architecture looks like but i know its old and it sounds cool.
just in case you wanted to know for sure; im fine. in hoi an. feeling real crappy. awful headache. going back to my room now. have a ticket to fly danang to ho chi minh city and hcmc to sydney on saturday.
last night i was reading before bed and the electricity went out in the guesthouse.
im not sure what the container law is around here but i brought my beerlao to the internet cafe. no one seems to care. just a beardy, foreign wildcard drunk in the streets. pfft, like there's a police presence.
maybe you should know what your hero looks like these days (next trip digital, next trip digital).
|last night i found out that the couple of indeterminate nationality were americans. it was just that their speech patterns were so affected by the desire to impress one another that i thought they had accents. ha.
i think it was them who kept me up last night. for about an hour and a half there was this recorded music playing (earlier in the day the woman was playing some singer-songwriter through her laptop). it was a piano and singing. it was driving me insane and that was when, you know, i started talking to myself. pretty loud. this did not do the job so i turned on the air conditioning to drown them out. the air conditioning lulled me to sleep.
woke nice and early and had a pleasant, exhausted last morning in vientiane. (the place was weird and i liked it but it was small and i was ready to go, lets face it). strolled to the swedish bakery for breakfast. (western food is never a problem here. breakfast i go solid with fruit, bread, coffee. today i stocked up for the 30 minute plane ride in front of me with an omelette (devestatingly butterry) and chocolate croissant (eh, i ate it) as well. strolled some more, changed some money, got back at the hotel and waited for my ride to the airport. sitting on the beautiful, serene porch i was just pooped. beginning the MONO fear mechanism. (yeah, i know. lame.)
you know that feeling when you are so tired you feel anxious, like you are too tired to even relax. there i was and that was it. didnt even wanna pick up "Puddn'head Wilson" (naipaul finished, exchanged for twain in the nice little swapping bookstore in vientiane tourist-center). the ride came and we were ready to go.
the driver, damn i didnt get his name, and his friend were both gardeners and all-around workers back at the hotel. the driver told me that they were both engineering students but had to work as gardeners to pay for it. he said that their chances of getting a job are very slim. he said the govt, if i understood this right, the figure was a little staggering, the govt has FIVE engineers on its payroll. nationwide. so their best chance was to latch on to a big company, particularly one of the ones that might offshore their factory their. (There are Siemens signs all over town for example.) i asked if they had a chance to get a job in another country and he laughed saying "laos is not a good enough place for engineering to get a job somewhere else." didnt know what to say to that.
hit the airport.
some poor american guy had nearly passed out in the waiting area and was swarmed by lao staff. they crowded the poor guy who just wanted to lie down. eventually, he felt better. i offered him my swedish cookies to get the blood sugar going but he declined. embarrassing and scary and of course i felt for the guy. tough thing. his wife and kid were just kinda froze. he made the flight up okay though.
northern laos is mountainous and has these rocky, jutty upcroppings. i think lonely planet called them karsts. they are cool. the flight was nice.
in the taxi to my new home at the Mekong Guesthouse there was this se asian guy and a thai goodtime girl. they were impossible to ignore. well, she was. there was no way those things were real. no way. anyway, i thought this guy was either thai or even chinese and maybe his ancestry is but it turns out he is Terry from Sacramento. he goes go USF. nice guy. said i should call over to his hotel tmrw and he will show me around at one of the hmong new year things going on. the fact that he has a goodtime girl makes me a spot skeptical, like he is going to make me some business offer or something. unfair of course. the goodtime girl can only provide so much companionship.
Luangprabang is awesome. its a unesco world heritage city. you walk around and there is so much beauty its ridiculous. the houses, the town plan (kinda a peninsula that juts into the Mekong) , a compound of temples at one end of town where i was a little overwhelmed by so much concentrated beauty. there is a lot of upkeep of the small buildings -- a mix of small colonials and, moreso, older asian architecture. small plots, tight together, the coconut and palm trees close on.
the upkeep feels just a little weird. you see them building in the old style and next door the old style still stands. kinda a time discord feeling. and i havent really even seen much of the city. another thing is that it is open late. the driver to the airport said he was from luangprabang and that it is very quiet but he must not be referring to the city ctr. this place is alive right now at 8pm. vientiane was dead. though, again, vientiane was also not as concentrated with tourist hotels and restaurants in one place. (driving into town from the airport this city looked really, really, well, third world. zero infrastructure. does it look crappy around every airport? in hanoi you could see there had been an effort to sanitize and billboardize the drive into downtown hanoi but you could still see that it was dirt poor) and the market here is still open. a huge affair with all these colorful clothes laid out for blocks and blocks and music being performed inside some house and piped out the balcony. very nice.
going on a day trip tmrw. down the mekong and then to some waterfalls. lookout, im gonna get wet again.
-cats are far happier here and they have lots of bobtailed cats.
flights were full North to Luangprabang so im here an extra day, kicking around. actually shopping so you know im bored. ive walked and biked much of the town. after a little lunch im back to the hotel and poolside.
i had no idea where i was for a while. the cyclo (three-wheeled mini-trucks as opposed to the hanoi motobike) driver nodded his head when we both pronounced the street name and nodded at the map location i was pointing to. its a street with a lot of hotels and restaurants and i was damn hungry. a dusty walk to nowhere here in this strange sorta banana republic kinda town from my hotel, a plantation style/estate that is just beautiful -- coconut trees, a pool, flowers on the ground, in the bushes, coming out of trees, pool among it, nice little porch with furniture, incredibly quiet. after giving up on finding a non-street vendor for food (im snooty that way) i got on aforementioned cyclo. it turned out he left me not that far from the area i needed to be in. but there i was lost...in laos; a pagoda with a fresh coat of bright paint on it, dirt road (most roads in the country are dirt), sun, much hotter here than hanoi, making me sweat off the anti-malarial skin-block cream (oh, a note: malarone, the anti-malarial, is an excellent laxative and really puts the punch in the dreamlife -- i woke up yelling from a dream last night and had all sorts of dreams that i usually dont have). but then i saw the magical 'Heineken' sign and soon it was spicy thai beef salad with a jackfruit/watermelon smoothy and now here.
the flight over laos was awesome. the misty mountains look mysterious. green everywhere. here and there the red clay of a dirt road. bare patches that are likely from bombing campaigns.
this is a noticeably undeveloped-but-developing country (ha, one day and in with the expertise). more on the feel some other time. ive got a cyclo ride in front of me.
|halong bay,what a beautiful place this was. im tuckered so its just briefing;
small hillocky mountains coming out of the water all over the place. a huge constellation of them that the tour group barge weaved through. there was a legend our guide told about a dragon plunging there and the hillocks are the bumps. i accept this as true and feel happier.
the night's sleep was the best ive had since being here. oh, slept on the barge among other tourist barges in the middle of a baylet, floating. thick stars, clear out, only the occasional rattle of a night fisher's outboard engine.
saw a cave set up in one of the hillocks (these things are huge, hillock isnt the word. more like buttes.) -- not bad. there were garbage cans that were penguins. i think there were garbage can penguins in china as well.
really outstanding food. a variety of seafood and vietnamese light fare.
did some swimming off the barge. water was very salty and i became buoyant. the second round of swimming the boat (precious boat) started moving away, turning around. an unwelcome sight to me. the panic of the unstrong swimmer, even in the buoying water. i was about halfway to yelling for them to pull up to me but i powerswimmed and regained life. no, this was not face-losing.
some very good people who i was glad to be around on the barge. little stunted in communication after basically not talking for a week. one dude was erik trinidad from jersey city, jersey, orig. of bergen cty (cty in ny next to where i grew up)--> solid. a swedish family, some aussies, a brit. good folk. some swiss reticent because of their english skills maybe. (no generalization prepared.)
i want to take more pictures on the busrides. stuff not scenic but just of plain vietnam. get down the flavor of it. get good notes on the land and bldgs and what i see people doing.
tmrw will be the last full day in hanoi. gotta decide if im going to nw vietnam or vientiane, laos next. we'll see.
so, no, i did not go out last night. i watched the very disappointing Vietnam/Indonesia game (0-3) with the night concierge. i told my main man the day concierge that i was going to watch in the lobby with the rest of the staff and he thanked me like three times. when i came down to watch the game with the staff they were all saying "thank you, thank you." maybe because they are thankful that i would take an interest. the lot of us were shouting for vietnam but they just could not finish in the box. they got down 3-0 before half and everyone gave up. still, this was a ton of fun.
so its saturday here and the city was relatively quiet until like 7am when the Party announcements came on and decisively woke me up. a strong sleep for me. set out to west lake. stopped at the non-prof cafe that trains youngsters in the restaurant industry and had a decent chocolate croissant (dunkin donut level, shy of au bon pain) and my second cup of vietnamese coffee for the day --> doing so is like melting down speed in your speed. i had to get walking immediately to get the jits out. made it up to west lake. what a craphole. stinky, polluted, its shores crowded with luxury hotels. there are a load of pagodas around its circumf. but i chucked it. wouldnta got a great view of them anyway.
-'cheese' means 'butter.'
i thought itd be nice if yous could do some picturing, more detailed imagining of the place:
i decided that Doan was charging too much and did not call him to pick me up at the hotel. took to the streets to find a motobike to the ethnology museum. i said yes to the first guy who asked. i pointed at the map and he set out. i grabbed on hard to his coat. he was an older guy with a knowledge of english numbers. 10,000 (dong) 20,000 (dong --> about 1.50). we were going slow compared to the rest of traffic because im big and his motobike was old-school. at one point someone pulled up alongside and prettymuch must have said to my driver "he's a big guy, eh, you cant go any faster, huh?)" and my driver, kindofa reticent sort, maybe a little embarassed, must have said someth. like "yeah, we're getting there" and just kept looking ahead, not really acknowledging the guy. the guy said 'hello' and said "u.s.a.?" i nodded but was not openly friendly so as to have a unified blow-off front with my driver. when we got the ethno museum the driver was laughing and gesturing and pretty much saying "that was rough, you're a big guy, we were teetering a lot and it was a challenge." he had a winning smile and waited outside while i was in the ethno museum for a couple of hours. (this museum rocked, arts and crafts of different peoples. an outdoor exhibit where you could go into different types of houses. you take your shoes off and the feel of walking on creaking bambo slats is very pleasing.)
the more fashionable, the more up to date and sporty the moto-bike.
got in late night. the mini-bus drivers at the airport didnt want to take me. i think they were in collusion with the posse of taxi drivers who became my first friends in vietnam. they liked my haircut because i looked like zinadine (soccer star), were untroubled that i was unmarried at 33 (mental note: i am married, i am married, my wife is back at the hotel) because "bad men" like massage and "boomboom." wound up paying top dollar (9) to ride with Tim (whose english was strongest and you know that means he's more trustworthy, right?) and his sketch friend Lor (who had lots of massage and boomboom contacts). i was frazzled, tired and hawklike with suspicion (are they going to drive me to a dead end street and knife me?). tired = unable to integrate watchfulness and openness. on the ride home we picked up their Taiwanese contract worker friend name unknown. they couldnt find the hotel i had a reservation at (or couldnt they? not even with my map. though ive already ditched the lonely planet map cuz it blows) and so we wound up at Lor's friends hotel where i committed the cardinal sin of not asking what it cost for a room and just going on Lor saying it would be $15. anyway, it wasnt and i got out of there and got over to the bliss heaven of current hotel. today, i just got lost and sweated and got asked to be motobiked about one hundred times. vietnam is a socialist state: pfft. its cutthroat, brutish capitalism. if i had more noodles on my stomach i wouldnt have been as close as ive been to losing face by saying "fuck off." oh, that reminds me, one of the things i liked about Tim was that he cursed in english a lot, his favorite being "fucking hell." a favorite of mine. Tim said he too, given the chance, would have, like me, voted for Kerry.