At Home in the World

Gettin' it Done and Then Some

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Solipsistic Tourist

end of post.


The New Year and the Completion of an Anti-Malarial program.

touts, the rainy season expansiveness

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.
last night some young brit next to me on the internet phone saying "yeah, i just cant stay anywhere expensive. it makes me sick to see tourists on their veranda looking down at this POVERTY." somehow this made me sick. where do you stay? is there no poverty outside your hotel? and this is Hoi An. people in the city are doing relatively WELL here. stay home if you want to avoid the friction/guilt of tourist/impoverished.

its a city for sweethearts. close streets, an active waterfront that gets dim light from the cafes. narrow, old streets both colonial and chinese/viet. dark but safe alleys to stroll. rice paddies here in there in the middle of the town. being measured you should be admired by a sweetheart who is picturing you in the clothes you will look good in tmrw.
restaurants on the waterfront. tan lizards running around on the ceiling.
(you could almost forget that we are surrounded by poverty.)
Cafe des Amis run by Kim Nguyen who was chef to the S. Vietnamese generals and who, judging by the four course fish feast i had last night, must have cooked his way through enemy lines to make it out of here to europe. (he had about 20 notebooks and articles in various languages touting his past. one included a blurb by Michael Caine -- "The Quiet American"was partly filmed in Hoi An). he was the classic enjoyably stressed manager/chef. watching every move of his workers. happiest when a wrong could be corrected. three times he said "this is the best food in Vietnam." it was easily the best food ive had.
been doing little during the rains. gotta get another book while this rain break lasts.
tmrw i fly. contact with Saskia achieved. being met at the airport. seeing a friend will be luxurious.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


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.
there, hi.
those exclamation points shouldnt make me seem frantic. maybe a little violently frustrated with the internet situation here. destruction of something wanted.
went on a day trip to the damn old Cham temples in My Son yesterday. real rad. old.
hindu-based temples in red brick. crumbling. thousand years old. india must be an awesome place to visit. there was a stage for Cham/Hindu music before entering the temple sights that included traditional music and dance. the music rocked. this one old dude, must have been 80 but you know, as spry as me (not saying a ton these days), and he played that sorta flute that snake charmers use (similar not the same) and damn the breath control! he'd hang onto and tremolo and soar the same note without discernibly taking a breath for like a minute. all the lady- dance was of the stylish, seductive indian type. (though, maybe just seductive to me seeing as how this was holy music.)
the sight was overrun with tourists so, ever-intrepid and separatist, i left my tour group to look around on my own. this made the visit much more pleasant and, well, spiritual. you can actually breath and relax a little without 200 hundred people buzzing about.
i took a path that said exit and it was an exit but took me a very circuitous route. the headache and sweat-daze (im not feverish, just tired) made this a nervous walk full of visions of missing the bus back. but i wound up beating the whole group back to the bus allowing me time to enjoy a nice orange fanta. a fan of the fanta.
took the boat back to hoi an and really i just tried to rest on it and didnt really watch much. one walk around a builders' village. ship builders.
we're staring down a new year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

hoi an, loose ends

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.

Loose Ends from other places, Vientiane: stayed in this real craphole the one last night there. heh, its like the guy had a piece of land in his family and had some dough and put up what looks like a decent 3 story affair on the outside but on the inside its a bug and stinkhole. heh, fatigue won the argument of further search. and at least it was right near the cool-assed Black Stupa. this thing is old, looks like a wat, is stony, tall and black and rad. i greeted the stupa a few times. oh that was because i lost face to myself earlier in the evening by gambling that the guesthouse out near the australian embassy (which i needed to visit) was still open. it wasnt and i was dropped off in nowheresville from which i had to hike out of into touristville. on this route i passed by that Arch de Triomphe area where they had The Dancing Waters. to the disco-beat, roller-rink music blasting they have these fountains who shoot water in coordinated bursts, the music is scored to the bursts and patterns. add the rainbow colors they footlight to the waters. the scores of teens and kids and me sweatily, sloughing my suitcase (this is when the non-backpack attack is questioned but not assailed) through it all.
after a bad night of sleep and some last mosquito bites in my last night in malaria zone (if the anti-malarials which are rough on the er digestion) i walked back over to the australian embassy (im finding that even though i am tired i still dont want to endure a moto ride too much) where i only wanted to know one thing about the ETA (australia tourist visa) which was handled loosely on-line. the dude i talked to, a good natured fellow who knew far less than i did made a cell phone call to a friend who guarantees that i can get to the airport and present my on-line printout with the ETA i applied for and be allowed in. that better happen. it really better.

letsee: quick generalization: vacationing dudes who teach english in japan are jerkbag losers who are so dorky they dont realize the world doesnt revolve around them because they can speak a foreign language. (incredibly ive been seated in front of a total of 6 of them in two groups on two bus rides and they were unbelievable. the nerds in revenge of the nerds are nice and our allies but these are nerds who have gained confidence because of a mastery. they feel the one mastery makes them cool but they become this unwitting, idiot blowhards. whoa: the vitriol. believe it!

on the beautiful (up the coast, up and down jungled mountains) but grueling bus from Hue to Hoi An there was this Dutch dude (ps: the dutch are weird, fear the dutch) who was hocking and spitting on the bus. i had assumed he was spitting out the window but once he got off the merciless aussies mocked him. im surprised they didnt beat him up. what kind of aussies were these?

Hoi An is very pretty. inability to look carefully or with appreciation has been difficult, but through the haze i see chinese architecture, 19th cent. french colonial almost feeling like what i picture tidy towns in france to look like.
the place i ate dinner last night the fourteen year old waiter calling me "mate" was listening to manu ciao. am i spelling that right devotees? anyway, he never sounded better. alright, its a good little record. there.

after dinner tonight (red snapper in banana leaf, eyeballs included --> delicious -- last night: unknown fish in banana leaf with lemon sauce -- delish) i went to get fitted for two shirts! Hoi An is a textile/clothing maker town. shops with fabric where you just walk in, give them a pattern and point to the fabric you want. this guy has two silk shirts being made (based on the design of a couple of shirts hanging from the front of the store) for fifteen bucks by tmrw morning. i wont wear them until im sweating less.
after i really want to be reading "Going After Cocciatto"by Tim O Brien again. vietnam war novel.
love to the allies.


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.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

trains, pants, gracelessness

been on the move a lot. lets get right to it.
took a couple of planes from luangprabang to vientiane and then from there to hanoi.
one of The Keys to Living the Beautiful Life is having a ride waiting for you at the airport. the fore-knowledge and then delivery of that beautiful sign held up by your driver with YOUR name on it. no hassle, no tussle. bingo! in the car.
on this arranged ride from hanoi airport to the train station i was feeling so magnaminous that i offered the driver a cookie. he took all the cookies. put them in the little storage area just to the right of the steering wheel and went to town on them. maybe i had gifted when i thought i offered. in the end he offered me some.
at the train station i met Jungle Jim, a 20 yr old student studying english and doing very well. we had a nice long talk. he was taking a train trip to Vinh because it was time to follow the tradition of reburying a family member dead for 4 years in a bigger, fancier grave/gravemarker. we got to talking about the country and he thinks the government is doing very well here in that it cares for the people. still, he says, corruption is a huge problem. he also knew exactly how many cubic feet of water are in the niagara falls and which states had voted for kerry. he was a big fan of bill clinton because it was under clinton that the u.s. finally recognized vietnam / and had an official state visit. (perhaps, this was one of bill's many apologies.)
on the platform to the sleeper train i had my yogurt and butter cookies for the evening anti-malarial. this was xmas eve. they, as in many public places over the past 3 days, were blasting xmas carols performed by non-english performers. i was squat in tiny plastic chair and was laughing pretty good.
the train.
it was a sleeper. a 12 hour ride from hanoi to hue. i had never taken a night train so i didnt really know what to expect. i get to my room and there are four beds in a room about the size of a goodly sized walk-in closet. there was a nice british/french couple taking two of the bunks and an american in the bunk above. talked a good bit with nick, the frenchman. he and his wife live in nottingham. they were on vacation and travelling rather ritzy outside of the sleeper train. he was disappointed when i said i was going to stay on in hue for a few days because he thought i should continue on with them to Hoi An (closeby by train). sorry, nick.
maybe a little sorry that i didnt do it, too.
Hue is alright. there is a huge citadel enclosing the old city, the part of town i am staying in. then there is the new city which is basically tourist town. there are many pagodas on the outskirts of town which i am not going to goto. dunno, maybe it was the grinding fatigue (sleep on night train was pretty much a bouncy no go. and oh, going to bathroom is fun on a ricketty train.) but i got a bad feeling when i got here. i checked into the pretty glam government hotel and saw that the service was a tad...disinterested / surly. now, i dont care about this sort of stuff usually but i care about a lot of things when im tired that usually i wouldnt. one being surly. some others being said "hello" to about 500 times during a 1.5 mile walk (walked down to one of the national symbols, a pagoda, that, heh, had all sorts of awnings built over it for refurbishing so you couldnt really see it) -- you know, its sweet and fine, it is friendly, something to do. but it becomes your job to be gracious and smile and say hello to everyone. i mean you dont want to let down this child that is shouting and waving and saying "hello!" "hello!"
and then in with the moto drivers. "hello, hello. moto? MOTO!" yeah, ive just been lacking the grace. a few times ive got the hard sell on the moto and instead of the standard "no thank you" its "cmon, dude, gimme a break" or "aw jeez, fuck off," but never angry, no sir. that would not do.
do you remember the pants i wore during the massage in Luangprabang? i followed thru and got some, dammit. and they are as comfortable as hell, although huge. now, i wonder if they are inappropriate attire. as it is, being alone, and sorta funny looking (heh, went from the semi-beard (there you go, king) to the total-shave look last night) i get all the attention. but i think there has been snickering about my pants! are they not supposed to be worn out? they are real baggy. sinbad sorta pants with a big fat drawstring. i grant, i look stupid in them but who is to know what about me amuses the locals at this point, a little tired.

Keys to the Beautiful Life: comfortable pants and shoes. follow your desires (take the moto when you are tired. trust the insane driver.) challenge yourself if you can envision a desireable end. (walk if you feel like being interested by the neighborhoods but not when surly with hunger and fatigue that will only be compounded by getting lost as i did tonight on the return from the day trip to the DMZ

DMZ: a grinding bus trip. ha, you hear it. the guy is getting travel fatigued. but we did get to see the Vinh Moc (sp?) tunnels. a huge network of tunnels people made during the war. we went down in them and it was cool and dangerous. i could rarely stand up straight, it was very dark and slippery and close. not for the claustrophobe or for godsakes a 7-9 yr old kid. jesus christ, that poor kid was scared and dragged around and slowed the whole group around. evenso, this was good, sore fun. they had births, performances, everything down there. 300 people living in tunnels. (good ventilation because many of the exits were right on the ocean.) we were also bussed around to war sights. nothing spectacular. the main thing was being in that area. where you see what the agent orange has done. i also had a bit of a menacing feeling the whole time. i felt ghosts. looking into the jungle and at people and craters turned rice paddy i felt ... damaged and sad. there were statements of triumph and hope at one museum, a former base but it kinda felt meaningless. the past can only be trampled and converted and propagandized so much -- feels meaningless. huge respect for the vietnamese and its not like they should keep mourning, im just saying how i felt. maybe a little more well rested i would have focused on the amazingness of the tunnel life and the length of the hidden ho chi minh trail. on the whole it was very good to go. very memorable.
all for now. i think im going to get out of dodge down to hoi an tmrw.
love and late holidays.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

passing the time

last night i was reading before bed and the electricity went out in the guesthouse.
i read for a while with a flashlight and then started trying to goto sleep. but then the folks who ran the place must have found out it was out (they live in the house next door). so they started hunting around the house and lighting candles and shouting and you heard crashes and metal sounds like maybe the opening and banging at a fuse box. this went on for an hour. i fell asleep and then about twenty minutes later a long, loud cheer woke me up and the lights in my room went on. that and that damn rooster and im real tired today, passing time before my 6pm flight.

got myself a lao massage before lunch. very different from the one i had in vietnam. straight away it was clear that there wasnt going to be any tomfoolery. there was a little outfit they wanted you to wear for the massage. the top didnt fit me so i kept my shirt on. it was a very good massage. more of the pushing and massaging kind than the wringing and crushing the hanoi masseuse gave. spent a lot of time on the legs and that felt super. the work she did on my hands and feet; just super. she paused a lot during the massage to push her hair out of her face and push her bracelets back. i forgave her this. roughly "kawp gai" is thank you and i told her that twice and she seemed pleased, a little embarassed. who knows, maybe i shouldnt have thanked her the second time?

oh, i really liked the pants i wore for the massage. huge legs, drawstring waist. very comfortable. maybe the most comfortable long-leg pants i have ever worn. the kinda pants you see the tourists wearing and looking like asses. but i think im gonna get me a pair and toss the pajama bottoms i brought. i can look like an ass in the privacy of my own home and be damn comfortable at the same time. navy blue or black will be important to find. jesus, red? red with orange flowers? oh man. you know "oh, i got these in Lao," being the self-pleased reply when sported stateside. ooff.
lessee, an ice coffee and then (?) shopping for those pants.
merry holidays if im not in here in the next few days. two flights and a night train in the next 3 days.

something to keep

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.
there was something from today that i want to keep with me, hold on to, so id better get it down because i have an awful memory.
i was chillin' today. reading some Puddnhead Wilson on the steps of a newish temple. and this boy said hello to me. he was in the orange monk robes and sifting rocks out of sand that was going in pails to be brought up to the living quarters where i could see the boy-monks were working on some sort of construction. he started asking me questions "where you from?" "where you stay?" "what you do?" ( i never know what to do with this last one so i say i am a writer -- this doesnt take too much explanation. "write stories" with fingers at imaginary keyboard. which usually means that i am an IT guy). i asked him some questions, too. he is 12 and has been living at the monestary for two years. i asked him where he is from and he said Nambak which ive seen on the map and i said "oh" and pointed North where Nambak is and this made him incredibly happy. just so happy. and that made me really happy and then we were quiet for a time, me not really reading and he back at his sifting. we both looked up at some point to look at each other, well, i was really watching him most of the time, and we just looked at each other for a good five seconds and then we both started smiling hugely at each other and went back to what we were doing. about 15 minutes later i left and waved goodbye. real special and nice.

walking back to the hotel to freshen up for lunch i took my regular route through another temple grounds where there is a workshop where the child monks make crafts, mostly buddhas. on the steps going up to the grounds this older, non-monk says hello "sabaideeeee!" you extend the eee in sabaidee to express your exuberance is how it seems to me. its really fun to say "sabaideeeee" so i say it whenever possible. so i said it to him and he was real happy about it. not selling a thing, just saying hi. i get up to the grounds and there are a few monks woodworking but most of them are gathered around a portable tv that is hooked up to a dvd player that is only mechanism, no armor, so you see the dvd spinning like a record. and the tv is blasting and they are all rapt watching Attack of the Clones. they notice me and are unabashed.

did a lot of reading today, some writing too. done a lot of quality writing since ive been here and thats good. dont go out at night because, well, yes i usually dont do too much of that anyway and i find i dont want to be around other tourists too much. heh, ive gone from being a bit lonely to wanting to be alone. its peaceful to not have to go through the travel talk thing and just chill and not care. im not here to meet people. this aint no travelling goodwill tour. heh, not that im looking super approachable right now anyway.

this morning i hiked up the pagoda that looks over the city. this was another steep one. this one monk hopped up the steep stairs like he was walking on air. the beneficiary of some buddhist breathing exercise, no doubt. (oh wait, that stuff is more hindu.) the city is far bigger than i thought. my five year old lonely planet says 17,000 people live here but there is no way that is right. the city covers a lot of territory and looks more developed than i thought. the colonial bldgs, orig or new, are all over the place. the french really spread out good in this town. the really undeveloped part of town that i saw on the drive in from the airport is not representative of the town. it looksand sounds like it is booming. and if you listen to the sounds of the city up there the main things you hear are hammering, electric saws and big trucks. and roosters. a squadron of roosters. all day long. and older motos or "tuk tuks." walk down tourist main st. and you are asked "tuk tuk?" tmrw i am going to take a tuk tuk to the airport to fly back to vientiane for the night.

i like settling into a hotel room. not even the regular 430 am rooster wakeup in the backyard could get me to change hotels. or the lack of a garbage can. (you do not flush ANY paper down the toilet. you throw it in a garbage can.) or no fresh towel yet. still, the bed is adequate and there are lots of windows. nice and cool here, not muggy like vientiane.

what else do i got for you?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


maybe you should know what your hero looks like these days (next trip digital, next trip digital).
ive got a travel beard going. food is getting in it and of course no one is around to tell me. they just greedily tick off my face-points lost. (i think food is a no go face-point-wise.) but i feel pretty swarthy. maybe a little french looking. i have also purchased a hat. can you picture the hat that barney miller would wear to the office? that style, but thinner. a dark brown color. i think i would look like i was into djing in romania. i dont remember the last day i really showered. does swimming count? ive got a bit of a travel tan. i look the part of the mysterious observer. people are surprised im american because jesus, everyone is french, and i can understand them and talk a bit and therefore might be german or even french.
quickoff: today i saw:
-cats breeding on a busy sidewalk.
-a dog lying in the middle of the street sleeping, traffic driving around him. the same dog i saw
yesterday that i thought was dead in the middle of the street.
-an ox totally covered in grey mud, as happy as any human has ever been.

and to resay: i really like the Lao. they dont take any guff. but in a style that seems to be saying "come on now, everything will be okay." they have been conquered and trampled on on and off by everyone for the last 500 years and there is someth. really badass about them. some steel in the sparkle of their smile. earn their respect and stay on their good side. they are here to stay.

today was a tour.
boated down the mekong, stopping first at ecotourism-handicraft villages. you're not tuning in for politics but these places were weird. a small village, very poor (but on the entrepeneurial, class-climbing end i assume) lined with stuff that they make solely for tourists to buy. textiles, paper, rice whiskey. im not saying its bad. only a bizarre situation. these people are poor (and you know, lets not factor in their spiritual richness) and are living on the cycle of the tourist season. how cant they be super-aggressive in their salesmanship? i hear tourists complaining about it and they need to shut the hell up.

our boatdriver was about 16. our engine failed. in the middle of the wide mekong. he managed to get us to shore where he picked up a friend, his wife and small child. the friend was a whiz with engines (he was about 17) and kept messing with the engine and finally got it going. another five minutes up the river we dropped this family off on the other side of the river. a heroic cameo and he got a lift out of it.

we got to the caves that were one of our destinations for the day.
they were rad. up in the hill the people of luangprabang have made a worship sight out of this cave on the mekong. there are thousands of buddhas that worshippers have made arranged in its crevices. thats the lower cave. you hike a bit up to the upper cave and take a flashlight in to see the old wall painting and a few stone carvings. more buddhas. i got in when few people were around and had a creepy feeling; spirit? ghost?
but you know, buddha aint very political. still, we could be friends. we both like eating and drinking. heh, i would like to see someone put a laobeer t-shirt on a buddha statue. that would be funny. funnier than the trash-penguins at the last cave.
whats my tone like today?
i think i sound like a wiseacre.
the fatigue, the fatigue.
oh, going down the mekong it looked a lot like Apocolypse Now and i kept looking into the jungle to see the first arrow fly. saw close-up huge swaths of forest wiped out by the bombing.

got back to town and then it was off to the waterfall. it was pretty. nothing spectacular. but there was the promise of swimming. and why should i turn down another opportunity at swimming adventure. there were no signs about WHERE the swimming was so i and some aussies just started hiking up. very, very steep but manageable. after about 20 minutes of serious work we get to these really pretty pools that look down on the waterfall. but not the promised pool. we're waddling about in the shallow pools looking for a trail but nothing. so we all head down. going down i fell. about ten yards from the end of the trail. not too bad a cut. heh. always hike at an angle, an angle. not straight on.

tmrw im gonna just goof around luangprabang. before flying back to vientiane for the night, then back to hanoi to catch the sleeper down to Hue in central Vietnam. is it ok to tell you where im going next? does that ruin the surprise?

Monday, December 20, 2004


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.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

its time to generalize about laos

-cats are far happier here and they have lots of bobtailed cats.
-there are more happier dogs here but on the most part they are still pretty pathetic and dirty
-the lao are friendly and sly, a little more prone to overt fun. (this place feels buddhist, in addition to seeing lots of monks in their orange robes. at the big golden WAT on the edge of town i met this jovial thai monk and his friend who he said was a Fortune Teller. the friend was embarrassed and proud of this. i asked the monk to take a picture of me and he worked really hard to get it just so; squatting, standing, turning the camera around, all the while making these happy "ooooo, oh ho, yes, yes" sounds like he was snapping a model for a big spread. he was awesome and hilarious.
rented a lao death bike yesterday. actually, three lao death bikes: the first was too small and burned my thighs, the second was a perfect size but i got about a block before the handlebars just turned me into the ground on their own. game, i straightened them and tried again only to be driven into the ground again. while returning this bike a cyclo driver laughed and gestured at the bike and then presented his cyclo and said "ho, ho, ho bicycle no. CYCLO!" the third bike was alright but shaky with awful brakes. i saw the city on it though. and many people were laughing at me. maybe because i was so big on this ricketty bike and not riding a moto or taking a cyclo. one truckbed full of lao teens were heckling the hell out of me while they zipped by. )
-women can get out and around here: there is more overt sexuality betw. boys and girls. (this one couple across from me at a restaurant the other night had 8 beerlaos (beerlaos are BIG) in front of them and the guy seemed tortured either by a rejection, the inability to make a statement or a proposal -- his face was in his hands, he was burying his head on her arm and the girl was just smiling and going along with it pleasantly. she caught me staring at few times and both times gave me the smile of the century as if to acknowledge how funny he was acting or how they looked. or maybe she just saw something she liked far more? what about that?)
-at night the hot group outdoor activities are jazzercising and soccer.
-ugly, middle-aged british and australian men bring thai good-time girls with them here. (lonely planet says that prostitution is VERY illegal here) you see them all over the place. the girl almost always acting giggly and coquettish, probably trying to secure a big tip.
-the lao are strong swimmers. there was a big birthday party at the hotel yest. and they were just slicing through that pool like it was nothing.

still in vientiane

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.
Hotel: every morning i wake to the same sounds. birds in the alley behind trilling and laughing. some guy who is hocks very systematically about thirty times in about five second intervals. i think this must be some sort of buddhist cleansing thing. when he is done he starts singing a jaunty little tune. soonafter the kids start running and yelling and hotel staff starts watering down the porches.
i was flanked by two couples for a time. one was this british twosome who talked nonstop about the office they worked in together? was this their tempestuous love-flight to se asia? does no one in the office even know? they were new to each other, you could tell. and the office talk was their version of foreplay, a smoothing of the sheets.
the other couple were of indeterminate nationality; s. african? german? english? nearly accentless english. they worked hard at being mellow and finding things 'fascinating' and 'lovely' and enjoyed saying "ex-pats" like it was some magical incantation. they were of the international hippy-yuppie set. life was beautiful and suited to their idiom. they needed some flustering. to know that the world is beautiful and awful. there was some of the pat-progressive boredom to them. all the right things being said. ooff.
ADD PEOPLE: on the flight into vientiane an american from corvallis, or gabbed the ear off a hapless canadian from outside banff about his experience being a honcho flyer during the vietnam war. he was all gruff and confidence and the world was graspable to him, full of comic shows to be smirked at and serious business to be mastered. he was fond to referring to puerto ricans as "those puerto ricans." he also had a lot of info on laos airlines flight safety and had plenty to say about crashes. super, nice tact, colonel. you charmer.
(when we landed and a few of the japanese businessmen to my right started applauding the colonel snorted.)
he was in se asia for a reconciliation conference with formber vietcong and to purchase all sorts of stone and marble for his kitchen and patio. heh.
Vientiane is a strange place. i like it. there are old, old wats and temples. new, garish temples. lots of make-shift tin housing and old colonial french structures (le tribunal, l'ecole de medicin) and lots of very soviet architecture--> big, forbidding boxes, a bit set off from the street, with next to no windows that seem to say "back off" or "keep out." all lined near the wide mekong with its huge silt island in the middle of it.
the food is okay but kinda getting to me; ive eaten out thai, indian, lao, vietnamese and thats a lot of oil. so today im going with mostly baguettes and fruit. and oh, yogurt since the milk should make the anti malarial go down easier. slowly, adjusting to those things but they, er, are a killer in the morning.
off to luangprabang tmrw.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

vientiane, laos

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 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.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

halong bay

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.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


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.
the guys who wait the tables and clean my room really like me and i them. they are always laughing the minute they seem me. i dont think its derision or them finding someth. embarassing in my room. one of them was really shy at first with me but now he's always slapping me on the shoulder and laughing. then we both just get to laughing and the interaction ends with another slap on my back.
the day concierge studied english in college and has 6 years of college. he makes $700 a year. he said that he is thankful for this and that he does better than a lot of people. and that he makes more than his coworkers. when he asked how much i made last year and i said around 15K he was respectful. like an idiot and probably kinda wanting to ally myself with him by seeming relatively poor i said "i dont really make that much compared to others." (haha, good ole first-world guilt) and he said he knew that most americans make more than 20K.

today was a bizarre day.
i went to lunch at this place called the malreaux. the food was average. but the thing was the placed was staffed by like 8 young women and they were all laughing and staring at me. the waitress came to take my order and she was laughing. i dont know if it was at someth. specific about me or what. i dont look any more ridiculous than usual. i DID have a pretty bad shave this morning...
this was a different sort of laughter than the guys at the hotel; the girls might have been...giggly over me? is it the swarthy good looks? is it my own impossible to repress laughing at their laughing? what? anyway, i was eating and id look up and they were all looking at me kinda secretly and smiling and whispering! it finally died down after like twenty minutes. THEN i noticed this guy on one of the sofas was flat on staring at me with a smile. but, and even allowing for sublte cultural variations, i KNEW this smile, its a universal smile, it says: Let's have sex, ok?
so i went back to my meal, trying to play it cool but everytime i looked up dude was flat on staring at me with that flirty smile. at one point i could not help but laugh out loud. i tried to involve myself in taking notes in my mini-notebook but the dude NEVER ONCE stopped. oh man, i got out of there laughing.
did some walking. wanted to get over to the Red River but crossing the highway seemed a drag and i liked the neighborhood i was walking in. old quarter but not as tourist based. then i decided i was not far away from the place where Lonely Planet said i could get a massage without the threat of naughty advances. it was in a huge, very nice hotel. the massage rooms faced the very pretty, late colonial motif courtyard. i was lead back into a slightly dingy room (nowhere near the outward style and class of the hotel) by some haggard dude and he left and was soon followed by this woman who was immaculately groomed, make-upped, stylish haircut, smart little pink uniform. you could see the effort she had taken to try to hide her age. i would say she was 45-55. so she told me to take all of my clothes off and im thinking this is gonna be fine, things are moving along very professionally. so i lie down on the table and she asked me "you have friend with you?" and i said "no." "oooh," she said intrigued. some silence passed while she oiled up her hands and then my back. there is a little hole in the table to stick your head in but i just rest it on a pillow not wanting to go into that germ pit. so my head is there and available for her to whisper into "so you have wife?" and i say "yes, she is in the hotel. she IN hotel." "ooooh," she says and there is a short pause before she gets closer to my ear and says "i be madame" tapping my back. "no," im laughing "no, no thank you." "no? come. yes. i be you madame." she is insisting. "no, really, no, no thank you," shaking my head. "ohhh, ok." now, its possible this was a sort of gentile way of saying she was going to really give me a great massage, take care of me like a good madame or servant of some kind and i let that be a small possibility to you know, not assume i could know for sure. i just wanted a good massage and tried to forget about it. so we get going and i dunno, it was a pretty sucky massage going down. ive had really hard, grueling even massages but she was KILLING me. i had to ask her to do it a little more gently and this obviously disappointed her. she finished my back and started doing my legs. ALL of my legs. i mean going as high as you can go. there was nothing sexual about it, it was technique. (though, who knows maybe it was also supposed to be both.) and she kept, er, moving what was in her way. this was just no good and frankly she was rough at even this. it was then that i noticed how rough her hands were, like they were full of old, old calouses. she had her back to me while she was working on my legs so i could keep an eye on her for a while. at one point and this is going to sound like a bad literary moment here, at one moment she stood and looked in the mirror standing sideways and checked out her figure. she was straight on assessing her stomach, with her hands on her hips and pulling her stomach in. this could have just been a casual checking out how she was looking unrelated to anything else. but its hard not to read it as she was wondering how attractive she looked. my sense was it was the latter. or possibly even a performance that i was supposed to see? its hard to know. think of how many massages this woman has done. how many services she had rendered.
finally, she finished the legs and i turn over and she works on torso a bit and all the while im just feeling kinda harassed, she is so rough that i cant relax and a few times i again ask her to not be "too strong." and she nods her head flirtily now and kinda extends the pronunciation of "soft." "soooft," with a smile not too different from the dude in the cafe. soon she remarks, rubbing my chest, "you very strong. how long so strong?" i mean she's right but i use the effective "i dunno." ("i dunno" has been effective in handling the street salespeople. its a good deadend.) but she is still smiling at me and has stopped the massage. she then points to what the towel is covering and says "massage, massage, yes?" me: "no, No." firm, but laughing kinda nervously. "yes, massage, shhh" and she points over the open-air partition where someother guy is getting a massage. "shh, yes." "no. No." then she goes sad and works on my head for a while and its over and she stays in the room while im dressing. her body language is totally dejected/rejected. im all dressed and she blocks the way to the doorway and says now theatrically sad "Teep? Teep?" "No, i paid at the desk." she didnt press the issue (which is odd here) and i left. i got out on the street and was in a daze for a while before i laughed some and stated "it's fanny time." Fanny is the ice cream place here. yeah. that was my massage.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

zinadine zidane

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.
the ho chi minh museum/mauseleum (which im psyched for) was pretty close by so i walked down there and realized i was wearing cut-offs--> inappropriate to wear in the museum and incredibly inappropriate in the mauseleum. so i chucked that and head back for the hotel and lay around callling this a rest day.
got this little bump on my gums that i flossed around (stupido) and it got bloody as hell. got in peering at it with mini-flashlight. doesnt look calamitous but still, enough to get my hypochondria going, amplified by being a foreign country. things like that can really gnaw at me. it'll go away or else. ill rinse it with Tiger Beer. i include this for general tone of day. should i mention the minor constipation?
on the plus side i was lovingly hailed as zinadane 3 times today.
gonna go on a two day trip to Halong Bay mon/tues. wanna get out of the city some. like it a lot here but was ready for some natural beauty (in moderation).

other things in brief: angry hot pepper (to me often) = climbing the mountain--> lead to near face-losing incident. saved by mango drink. fruit moratorium ended. watermelon for breakfast.

i really want to stare at a lot of things to look for detail but this is a little uncomfortable because it feels intrusive (and could be viewed as rude). after a while you negotiate this sort of comfort at getting around where you just dont look at stuff as much. that tinge of pride at being somewhat at home. still, catching detail is important. this is the best thing about my room. i am four floors up and can stare down at the street.

during the angry pepper meal yesterday at one point i began singing to the hot pot of bean curd. this could be a sign of loneliness or fatigue. (did i mention this already?) ive been doing my best "hey, check it out, i can have an open/friendly looking face" look to invite people to say hi (this is unnatural for me and maybe a little insincere on my part. so it is possible i look nutso) but it doesnt work. 2/3 of tourists i see are in a couple. (itd be different if i was staying at the cheap-cheap hotels maybe.) this does not work in my favor i dont think. surely the dudes are intimidated and the women uncomfortably attracted to me--> so they flee. someth. like that. anyway, ive got my pals at the hotel. (note: this does not have me maudlin but a guy could use a little company now and then). perhaps tonight i will venture out to one of the (oh boy) tourist bars.

generalization: irony and sarcasm arent used here. there are probably language styles that approximate them that i miss, but looking at faces you see candor. this could sound like idealizing but i dont think it is. if people want to be cruel they'll just be cruel. irony/sarcasm are probably wastes of time/face-losing. a weapon of the weak. would toshiro mifune use sarcasm? pfft, no. hell no! so there you are SE Asia does not use irony or sarcasm. though maybe i could see Indians use irony. but thats S Asia. deceminate this truth.

Sports: oh jesus what a barn-burner we had last night between Myanmar (i thought they were back to Burma?) and Thailand. the thais were solidly average among the teams ive seen and far more talented and proficient than the frankly lousy Burmese squad. but those burmese had the hearts of tigers. the thais took an early 1-0 lead on a 25 yarder and held the lead and carried play for 80 minutes. but the burmese got one good chance late (crossbar) and then got psyched and really started bringing it. i was yelling for them to just keep dumping it up the middle (because the skill level is low there are tons of skill-miscues that lead to easy chances) and they heeded me and tied it with like two minutes left. interesting: the Burmese fans were insane and jerky. they jeered every miscue the thais made and were throwing shit on the field and jumping around like crazy the whole match. beware the burmese tiger!

Friday, December 10, 2004

a few more generalizations

-'cheese' means 'butter.'
-80% of tourists here are australian, french and californian.
-the world is australians' plaything. they dont give a fig about nothing except a good time.
-all rude tourists are australian.
-australian snooty girls are cruder than american snooty girls because they dont give a fig about nothing except a good time.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

setting, talking points

i thought itd be nice if yous could do some picturing, more detailed imagining of the place:
i live in the old quarter, streets are narrower here than other parts of the city and walking is a sport / moto and bike dodge (not many cars at all), avoid those septic gutters. motos are parked on the sidewalks so you walk in the street a lot, competing with the women carry the great scales of fruit at either end of a long stick. in the old quarter there are far more colonial and old chinese type buildings. a typical set-up is a room selling someth. on the first floor, glitzy or at least crammed with goods and the floor above often looks like it is falling apart. (this is a norm but there are tons of beautiful old colonial buildings also -- though falling apart and beautiful are not mutually exclusive).
there are garbage buckets full of waterry speutem, wrappers (good luck on a garbage can), food stuff but its not dirty. and the poor cats and dogs. song birds are honored.
little begging. no obvious prostitutes. no obvious homeless or drunks or addicts--> useless observations. there are signs about HIV. i walked by some WHO HIV bldg yesterday.
Note to self: describe what is on top of roofs.
the air does not smell that bad. you know, the occasional otherworldly stink. the more unidentifiable the better.
in china the air was thick with coal burn smell. here, my phlegm is nowhere nearly as black. its mostly the moto pollution that contributes to the morning constitutional of phlegm clearance.

i havent noticed anything exceptional flora-wise.
when you get out of the old quarter and the streets widen and the bldgs are taller and broader, newer, i feel like i could be anywhere. it could be part of fatigue but nothing seems very interesting when you are out in the newer part of town. if someone had shown me a picture of non-old quarter (there exceptions here and there throughout the city of the following) and asked me to guess if it was urban brazil, suburban oh Croatia, or urban Ukraine, or Hanoi, id have no idea. i dunno, it could be the fatigue. or perhaps someth. grander like the weirdness of places that are still building. there is nowhere nearly as much building going on here as there was in sw china but still lots.
what i need to do is start walking into the very narrow side streets that lead into the innards of the street blocks. this is where people live.
its been in the 70's no rain. the bugs come out at night but not too bad. there is a chigger problem in my room. they like the taste of ear plugs.
honking of motos and moto engines make up much of the heard sound. at around 7am and 5pm there are announcements over loud speakers that i assume are Party related. i guess that no one gives a rats ass about them. im thinking the system of socialism means little here in people's daily life. probably less and less and at a faster rate than in china. (heh, economics scholar, thats right.) the Party is still huge in China, dont get me wrong.
it is LOUD (sound is compacted on the tight streets, bouncing off walls) from 7am-10pm. been on a 1030 bedtime, 5-530 waketime schedule. necessity, necessity. the earplugs only do so much.
there is a small lake in the middle of old town and a huge one to its north (tmrw gonna hire a driver to tour me around the temples and pagodas on its shores/near shores).

i jotted down some talking points at lunch and dont have the oomph go into any in much detail.
went to the temple of literature and the museum of vietnamese revolution today. the latter was weird. it was only slightly propaganda. but it skipped like 1930-54 (when things sucked bad for them and up to the french getting out of town, finally) and the War with Campuchia got like one wall. maybe in the interest of healing the fresh wound with them? campuchia is commiesville too i think. they had like all these objects from a hundred years of revolt and organizing. man, uncle ho got some nice gifts from around the socialist world. in case its not clear: i love Ho Chi Minh. this guy was bad-ass, scholarly, cosmopolitan, and a playboy. a GIANT.
Sports: my concierge chum and i talked Tiger Cup. i missed the campuchia/vietnam game but he updated. a victory for viet. but apparently they lost painfully to Singapore, their nemesis from the 1998 Tiger Cup. i remarked that from what i saw the Singapore side was surprisingly big and strong (ha, this is offensive in retrospect) and that the Vietnamese werent using their major speed advantage. my saying this caused the greatest look of relief and chagrin youll ever see. he said they can still get out of group play but may still need to go through the hated Singaporeans again.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


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.)
had an orange fanta in the snack portico and set back out for with the driver for a couple of military-type museums. when we got to one with all these b52's and tanks i just decided i didnt want to be there. it wasnt a complex sortofa response full of history and politics, i just didnt want to be there. i wasnt up for austere/strident.
cruised back down the same road and the next one was closed. (not one for ever calling ahead)
so the driver took me back to the Old Quarter where i am staying and he had quoted me a price of 20,000 and when i took my wallet out and just slipped him two bucks he started hunting around in my wallet. "cmon, dude, 20,000. remember," i said. he points at his watch to and pretty much indicates that 3 hours of his day were spent with me. now, i thought his price was awesome but at every stop i asked and confirmed the 20,000. when i shut the wallet we smiled and patted each other. of course i kinda wanted to slip the guy a fiver but that would have been wrong and then it just becomes a battle of wills. if the wallet is closing, the wallet is closing.

more generalizing: dogs are little, fat and pathetic (eventually tasty? there is a dog cuisine village)
cats are thin and rheumy-eyed
the sharpest cats in town are the pea-green military uniform dress dudes
only attractive women are allowed to wear that uniform. (ive seen two.)

im chummy with the concierge at my hotel. he likes practicing his english and french. he does not understand why my wife is not here. in the morning he takes lessons with this cool, older french woman who is politely impressed with my pathetic present-tense only french. she spends her afternoons sitting in the lobby looking out the window and watching traffic. i might join her tonight before WATER PUPPETS. oh crap, i just realized that WATER PUPPETS conflicts with Vietnam vs Kampuchea in Tiger Cup. hmm. WATER PUPPETS!
a note: cmon, get in there and comment.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

lets get to work on some generalizations

the more fashionable, the more up to date and sporty the moto-bike.
the more fashionable (read: western styles) the girl the better the chance that they are sitting in their store doing nothing than busy say scrubling tile outside Uncle Ho Chi Minh's mauseleum or roasting corn over mini-coal burners.
the more fashionable the guy the more up to date his moto-bike and the greater the chance of him wearing sunglasses.
old people are more sure-handed and dextrous than u.s.a. old people.

in other news: last night i was totally dead. room service of curry pork and vegetable noodles (another faux pas, one dish is always enough. the temptation is just to get your total up to like $3 worth of food but thats a waste (though i did eat the leftovers in the middle of the night trying to fall asleep watching some bad hbo movie) and then, jackpot, Tiger Cup 2004, Vietnam vs Singapore in socccer. i think this is the same thing i have seen signs for around town cald "Aseana Military Friendship Football, Soccer Tournament." there are also a bunch of signs welcoming the president of Singapore. i was really into the match and so were the home team vietnamese. but i just could not stay awake. fell asleep some time during the second half (scoreless) and was woke up by this huge cheer from out, down in the street and i looked at the tv quicklike but it was just a poster. dont know who won.
ho chi minh museum was closed today and i couldnt find the church i wanted to. an urban research day on loud, polluted roads. getting barings, havent got lost yet today. next mission is rice ice cream at a reputed locale.

note to self: dont have to talk slow to be understood. crap, a couple of times i even realized i was talking louder.

Favorite Local Character: the guy down on Hang Manh street (im 3 floors up) who has this beautiful, sonorous, friendly sounding way of shouting "ah-LOOOOOOOOO!" to flag a tourist to is moto-bike.

concern: i dont eat the fruit they give me for breakfast. are they offended? do i seem the wasteful westerner? how will they react when i say dont bother with the fruit tmrw morning.
ah jesus christ, there are two bratty american kids on either side of me here.
generalization: american kids are bratty, vietnamese kids are adorable and winning and adoptable.

Monday, December 06, 2004


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.
oh, a couple of things: waking up at Lucky Hotel was nice because of the sounds that woke me up. my room was at the back of the motel (key given the motobike beeping sounds) above a courtyard. it started with intermittent motobike beeps (which i word in my head as "vite, vite, vite."), then the phlegm hocking, then alternative sounding music (turns out this was cyndi lauper live, as i found on tv), then sizzling cooking sound followed by overpowering fry smell, then shouting conversation, then someone whistling in the hall outside my room. this was very nice. really.
and oh: the first two songs i heard on the flight to seoul were from Brian Wilson's Smile. 1) (during turbulence, no joke) "Good Vibrations" 2) "I Think Im Gettin' In Over My Head"