Thursday, November 15, 2007

Various Invasions

lj-music: The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter

I'm spending my last day in my hotel room before moving to the house that Fred and Chum just rented. It's a little sad, as it definitely marks the end of my tenure in Saigon, although I'm not feeling too heartbroken about leaving the aggressively flirtatious security guard who stole my soap.
My last month here has been hilarious, incorporating several motorcycle trips to the beach, swarms of irate monkeys, and a visit to Saigon's "Cultural Amusement Park" which defies description in its absurdity, and beats the hell out of ANY amusement park in the U.S., due to the fact that they have no safety standards.

I have no intention of writing a super long post, since I still haven't finished packing three months of my life. I did, however, wish to provide you all with a small gem that I feel completely sums up this country, and is, in its own way, symbolic of my life here:

Due to flooding in the Mekong Delta as a result of recent meteorological disasters on the coast of Vietnam, FIVE THOUSAND CROCODILES HAVE ESCAPED FROM FARMS AND BREEDERS AND HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY TO REMOTE FISHING VILLAGES UP THE COAST. Adults and Children alike are fleeing their farms and homes to escape the massive influx of diabolical, flesh eating predators. This is amazing.

I'll be home Monday!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Could you move your yak, please, asshole?; A brief summary of our "ROAD" trip.

lj-music: Le Vibrazioni - dedicato a te

Fred mentioned, and I completely agree, that the moment you see an actual, honest to God YAK, you have definitively departed the perimeters of civilized society. Living here, I've gotten pretty good at swerving between herds of cows on the highway. Even oxen don't phase me. But the second you bring a frigging YAK into the mix, someone has gone too damn far. That shit has no business in the road. Not even when, and this is more common than not, the word "road" can only be applied in the most perversely distended sense of the word. Like, even if you drank enough to find Janet Reno sexually attractive, this would still look nothing like a road.
One of the most visible trends in Vietnam is the way everything completely deteriorates the farther North you go. About 250 Km from Hanoi, people stop recognizing the word "Toilet" (This is one of those small favors I thank the French for. Any actual word the Vietnamese might come up with for bathroom would just be a nightmare to pronounce.) and instead will only respond to the word "Basin," which in my opinion is about the most pathetically optimistic sobriquet on EARTH. We began stopping to pee BEFORE we got to the towns.
As is perhaps obvious or previously known to many of y'all, Fred and I spent the last ten days driving the MOST ridiculous motorcycles from Hanoi to the Northern towns that sit on the border of China. A moiety of highway six was being completely destroyed for no obvious reason by people with (God's truth) Sledgehammers. Just as the word "Road" in Vietnam represents a complex and often confounding myriad of loosely interpreted abstract concepts, so can the same philosophy be applied to the word "Work." Moving forward from this introduction one can easily extrapolate the diverse levels of ironic meaning inherent in the phrase "Road Work," or perhaps "'Road' 'Work.'"

If you ever feel the need for perspective, no experience will slap you in the face quite as hard as driving through a veritable river of mud laced with large, invisible rocks while trying desperately to continue breathing after catching a glimpse of the most intensely beautiful vista spreading out from either side. It's potentially physically and decisively mentally paralyzing. Even when you reach stretches that were somehow overlooked by Vietnam's elite team of anti-environmental delinquent demolition experts, the pavement is still cleverly laid with improbable death traps deviously disguised as THE ROAD. Nothing is safe. All food in the North is served with bottles of rice whiskey (even breakfast) which is necessary even for the locals to avoid stomach parasites and other unpleasant side effects of eating. At any moment, you could turn a corner and be confronted with a section of narrow pavement from which the guard rails have clearly been removed, and two buses are attempting to pass by one another in opposite directions. You begin to harbor the most pernicious and violent thoughts about chickens, which far from being the generalized objects of pity and scorn morph menacingly into malicious, hateful pathological genii determined to violate any hours of sleep you might think about enjoying. It becomes a minuscule step from bird to hell-hound when you start anthropomorphizing roosters. Things that you previously found perfectly reasonable, such as concepts of personal space, hygiene and standardized safety precautions somehow become a distant network of deranged ideology, and you feel perfectly legitimate in the most outrageous situations. (One of the things I never predicted having to say with equitable regularity: "Gee, I'm sure glad I have these drains in the floor!") Your new definition of "Unspoiled Country" translates directly to the remote contingency that you stumble across a minority hill tribe in which some previous prick has not already taught the five year olds to say "Fuck You!" instead of "Hello!"

You will eat ANYTHING.

As much as I seem to have written a description that may arouse the suspicion that Fred and I staggered back into Hanoi ravaged and hirsute and wild eyed, like political criminals imprisoned without human contact and then exposed to the most preposterous and perverted aspects of society, this trip was probably the most amazing thing I have ever done, and despite the amount of time and energy we spent trying to cope with the various travails of the odyssey (Fred's complete 360 off a rock pile in first gear after being hit by a bus in mud village comes to mind)I would do it again tomorrow. It's hard to believe I'll be home in less than a month; I'm going to have a lot of adjusting to do. (I promise not to eat soup with my hands and throw used toilet paper in the sink.) I miss you guys.
- E

Monday, September 17, 2007

You May Not Piss in This 7-11 (my trip to Thailand, by Emmi)

lj-music: Frou Frou - Let Go

I do realize that I said I would write about our motorcycle trip last time, but I'm sorry, my need to document that trip pales in comparison to my need to bitch about Thailand. Jesus Christ. This place is South East Asia by Barnum and Barnum. Every person you meet turns out in some way to be the most cutthroat mercenary in the universe, and no one can leave you the hell alone for more than seven minutes. It's like having all your paranoid delusions come true. Everyone wants to take advantage of you, they are ALWAYS behind you, you will be ripped off mercilessly, and you are never safe from it.
This week has had some interesting highlights, however. We spent the first few nights here at a fairly expensive hotel near the dental clinic, and there was a small alley nearby with about fifty food carts, all of which were awesome. Fred had his teeth removed, and I can prove this, because when I went in to get him a young nurse who spoke no English sweetly and silently handed me a bag with his teeth in it.
We've spent a lot of time walking around and avoiding cab drivers. They are a bloodthirsty gang. Sometimes Drivers will offer to take you anywhere for ridiculously low prices (like, 10 cents) if you will agree to one ten minute stop. Then they take you to really expensive and aggressive tailor shops, which give cab drivers gas coupons in exchange for customers, and you have to pretend that you are actually going to buy something for ten minutes. If they suspect that you are only doing this for cheap cab fare, they will literally throw you out. One night, Fred and I were bored (and broke) enough to think this was a good idea. So we drove to the tailors, I walked inside wearing my sunglasses, and we pretended to be newly rich and newly wed tasteless hillbillies from Moldova. Boy oh boy, were they gleeful at the prospect of suckers like us! We designed the tackiest, fugliest ensembles for twenty minutes, until I pulled the prearranged safety cord and demanded to be remeasured around the waist four times, at which point I accused the tailor of lying, and said his tape measure was wrong. I then blamed my measurement on the bottle of coke they had brought us, and started crying in the store. Fred attempted to console me for a few minutes, and then said, "But Baby, you MUCH less fat than before!" Which gave me the opportunity to storm out, with Fred following me and pleading for me to be reasonable, and the taxi driver trailing after us, flush with petrol coupons. We maintained the deception until we were well away from the shop, and the driver said, "You were in there so long I thought you were actually going to BUY something!" at which we all laughed hysterically, and cemented our fragile camaraderie with cigarettes.
Today I got stung by a wasp in the middle of my palm while visiting the Grand Palace. Fuck EVERY bug.
These experiences basically sum up my impression of Thailand. I cannot wait to get back to Vietnam, where I don't feel like I might be literally torn to pieces for not wanting to buy a shitty wooden frog, or see an appalling sex show. I will never have to take another cab, and above all else, I won't even have to hear the WORDS "Ping Pong."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

lj-music: Manu Chao - Welcome to Tijuana

You are all ravening beasts. A more desperate gang of abandoned ruffians I have never seen. You are all perfidious villains. Invective aside, I will now inform you that although I promised to post pictures with this entry, I can't figure out how to do it. So you ain't gwine get NONE. I have, however, been assembling a collection of short pieces that I feel truly sum up my experiences in Vietnam thus far. And since you are so pressing, I will condescend to irradiate you with the following:

HAIKU:

Beautiful Mongrel
Peacefully Regurgitates
Noodles at my feet.

FREE FORM POEM:
ANCIENT AND BEAUTIFUL

Bridging the gulf
of my linguistic isolation
your trembling hands
quiver dangerously close to my knees
the gristly meat skinned claws
of your fingers
seamed with abuse
and festooned with filth
belie all my desperate attempts
to just enjoy my damn coffee
in the glare of the setting sun
glancing painfully
off the glistening patina
of your tubercular sputum.

A LIST:
SOME THINGS I LEARNED IN VIETNAM:
1)Looking back will get you killed.
2)"One Way" is merely a timid suggestion, proffered cringingly and with trepidation.
3)Driving on the right hand side of the road is also more of a hopeful advancement than a law, demonstrating the traditional Vietnamese method of discipline: More optimism than efficacy.
4) Let's ALL go look.
5)It is possible to do anything in traffic as long as you don't think about it first.
6) If you have to panic, that's ok, because you won't have time.
7) Please do not walk on the sidewalk. Some people are trying to park.

This is all I have time for, as I must now plan a lesson for some rabid Koreans who insist on calling me "Teacher Emmi." Our next installment will cover our COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS road trip to the beach, and all attendant disasters.

Friday, August 24, 2007

OK INTERNET!!

I realize that I have been extraordinarily remiss in my communication up to this point, so this post will be an extremely long one, for purposes of catching everyone up. Since this place advertises in-room internet, I assumed I could get it. Every interaction here is conducted by simply proceeding any noun you want to get (Or sell, as will become clear) with the word "OK." The extremely sweet, really pregnant girl at the front desk has assured me daily, "OK internet today!" but she proved to be the most mendacious, artful deceiver on this earth until this evening. When I realized that ACTUALLY GETTING SOMETHING DONE IN VIETNAM would prove to be impossible, I started keeping a daily diary, so this post will mainly consist of excerpts from that, since I'm really too lazy to rewrite anything. Forgive the parts that are written like illiterate telegrams, and at least give me credit for attempting to exclude the boring bits.

Thursday 16th: Arrive Vietnam super late at night, terrifying bike ride to hotel. appreciate bad ass hotel room, Go to Le pub, eat steak sandwich from vaguely sketchy street vendor. Meet Fred's friend Andrew and Helen, who edits pathfinder magazine, and seems constantly stressed out. Meet Trung, the manager of Le Pub, who is a good friend of Fred's. drink beer. Go to street bar for Bia Hoi (brew today, drink today beer) from A GAS CAN, which as you might imagine, tastes like gorilla shit. Drive home.

Friday 17th: woke up Fred at ungodly hour. Walked around streets to harmonious chorus of "You Motobike? Yooooo! OK Motobike? Where you go now?" went to ATM, drank coffee, hit by motorbike, (not fatal) witnessed the traditional ancient and beautiful "welcome to Vietnam!" ceremony, in which a stray dog listlessly approached our table and vomited up a copious amount of undigested noodle soup. We then went and got 90 minute massages for about six dollars, which was made less relaxing by the fact that the people administering them were gossiping in deafening shrieks the whole time. We had lunch at Quan An Ngon, a restaurant which had the novel idea to consolidate all the best street vendors, pay them triple their weekly earnings, and print menus. Oh yeah, and acquire health and safety standards. Afterwards, Fred went to class, while I drank too expensive coffee at this crazy cafe where trees were growing through the deck and the staff had to wear stupid uniforms. Later that night, we went to Jungle Barbeque with Natsuko and Helen, and ate Crocodile, which was awesome, and mouse, which has too many bones to be awesome. I threw bread at a waiter, who could not stop staring at us, and we were harassed by mute children, who were too petrified to say anything, but really wanted to sit at the table with us foreigners. afterwards, we met Korean royalty, or some shit, and could not find place to drink because the Karaoke rooms were full, there were too many drunk asshole australians, or there was BLOOD IN THE BATHROOMS (no lie.) The burgeoning leaders of Korea then dismissed their private chauffer, and took a cab 1/2 block to a terrible Gay club, in which Fred was groped by the waiter, and the drinks were expensive. Read, over two dollars. Fred and I left and went to Hoa Mai, a Japanese bar for mostly ex-pats. There we ran into a guy from Portland named Brian who has the dubious pleasure of some mutual acquaintances.

Saturday 18th: Fred had early class, and I woke up early, too. I left the hotel and walked around streets, where I saw a super old dude selling exclusively cigarettes and kotex(!!!!) from a pushcart. I walked through the street stalls in a fruit market, to the constant and unceasing barrage of "You motobike?" I came home, met Fred, and went to Benh Thanh market, an insane and claustrophobic rip off from hell full of things you would never want or use, unless you happened to be at Benh Thanh market. We left with all possible speed and went to Dan Sinh market to collect materials for ADVENTURE #1. This place is a filthy, ill-lit army surplus slash ghetto hardware store, also specializing in ladies underwear and gas masks. Stalls are all independent of one another, and very specific. like, this dude sells springs. Like 50,000 springs. Of all sizes. This yatch sells only wheels. Build some shit, and put some springs and wheels on that bitch! Everyone was seized with spasmodic laughter at our very presence, yet managed to choke out "Hello! You Buy?" We found large blue tubing at the market, but failed signally to find a funnel of any sort. How they pour some shit without spilling? mystery. We spent at least two hours in a fruitless search, and walked outside only to see A RUSTY FUNNEL ON THE GROUND. "Where you get that shit?" We demanded, and in return, received top secret directions to the lair of the funnel lady, who has a stall two blocks away selling everything ever made out of plastic. Please do not think there are even exceptions to this. EVERYTHING. We bought the biggest funnel, and drove home with the funnel on my head for purposes of space conservation. I tipped my funnel to ladies and children. We were a smash hit. We arrived home, and hacked impotently at the funnel with a machete. After prodigious amounts of both arduous labor and plastic shavings, we managed to fit the tubing into the funnel. We then also managed to receive a handful of dish soap from across the language barrier at the hotel desk, along with several cans of deplorable piss. We warmed the beer in the bathtub, while washing the HELL out of the funnel and attendant tubing. celebratory beer bongs for ALL! Flew "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner from ass... took a Nap. Later, we transported our creation to Le Pub, where to the extreme consternation of some British sluts and the intense amusement of some middle-aged Irish lady, we exhibited the proper form and execution of said beer bong. We then convinced Trung to take a beer bong, with hilarious consequences. I have a video. Trung roped us into going to some horrible party at some upscale bar populated entirely by the petty bourgeoisie. We Fled, with all diplomatic haste, pursued by drunken epithets from Trung.

Sunday, the 19th: Woke up early again, worse luck. Walk down to sketchy cafe containing 10 lawn chairs and two shirtless dudes. Actually manage to order coffee in vietnamese. Read book and drink too much coffee. Watch movies with Vietnamese subtitles, take notes on vocabulary. got bad ass haircut and dye job for 18$. Came home, fucked with computer, tried to fix Fred's, with limited success. went to dinner at Benh Thanh market, ate the most incredible eel curry, sparred with waitstaff, harrassed by Vietnamese lady from Australia (please do not ask) while her niece giggled incessantly. raised eyebrows, smiled politely, left for Le Pub to meet Andrew, Helen and Trung and watch soccer. Began WAR with dude who works at Le Pub and speaks no english. Meet Hayden and his friend Andy, one of whom has lovely manners. Listened to Hayden talk for seven and a half hours. Went to bed.

Monday the 20th: took Fred's computer to get fixed, went to shitty americanized coffee joint so Fred could plan lessons. Got cell phone. Went home, read book, got dropped off downtown on Fred's way to class. Horrified by downtown, wandered helplessly past upscale stores, irritated instantly by several hundred tourists, inspected grossly overpriced goods, found a bar. Met Brian, drank beer for several hours, went out for Pho, met Fred at Le Pub, continued acrimonious dispute with my new enemy, went home early and slept.

Tuesday the 21st: Woke up early AGAIN, god damn it. Ate breakfast at hotel, went for a walk. went to ripped off DVD and game store, bought Siren 2. Went to awful bookstore, ate really good crepes for lunch, braved post office. Awoken from Nap by Fred asserting that "Something was definitely happening and we needed to go find it." Got on bike, followed beams of searchlights to WORST TRAFFIC EVER. Found out that it was only for some stupid yatch playing a concert. Met Naoko for BBQ and ice cream. Went home and drank four bottles of wine with Helen, bought street kids chocolate milk on trip to liquor store, threatened stupid street kid who bullied other street kids.

Wednesday the 22nd: Nothing. Seriously. Nothing.

Thursday the 23rd: slept kind of late, went to china town, went to liquor store, bought moutai, drank SNAKE WINE; which is even more odious than it sounds. And actually contains snakes. helped Fred plan lesson, tried to walk up to Benh Thanh market, got lost, drank a beer, came home, changed, tried again to walk to market, Actually made it, found belt, bargained with bitch, then realized I forgot my money. got pissed and drank some coffee waiting for fred. Went to WORST PLACE EVER for dinner, hated staff, food sucked. Drove out to Korean town to learn to drive. Me motobike!! Met Fred's student Tram (pronounced CHUM) who is offensively wholesome, and his lovely but asinine girlfriend who had to repeat high school. Attempted to communicate purpose of "knock Knock" jokes. failed. Came home, chilled.

Friday the 24th: Went to terrible Indian food. got lost. spent hours trying to rent a PS2 to play Siren 2. played with adorable but pestilent dogs while gently interrogating extremely youthful looking 22 year old about sketchy relationship with octogenarian in adjoining room. washed hands thoroughly. went to a coffee place to read while Fred had class. While sitting on my ass, received urgent request from Fred to make haste to Benh Thanh market to take pictures of a protest occurring. So I proceeded with preposterous expedience, deciding, on this occasion, to find an excuse for a much longed for activity: A ride in a Cyclo. Cyclos (pronounced: sick-low) are bikes with huge chaises attached to the front. Some are motorized, but most are just a dude pedaling you to your destination. They are aptly referred to (at least by Fred and myself) as RIDICLOS. My trip in a ridiclo was absolutely hilarious. I was hard pressed to contain myself, but observing that no one else bothered to, I gave vent to it, and laughed the whole way there. On arriving at the market, I found that the police had already dispersed the protesters, and there was nothing to be seen. I bought some tea and reflected that my next ride in a ridiclo would involve me wearing a preposterous hat, oversized shades, and smoking a long cigarette while drinking a bitchy cocktail out of a coconut with a frilly umbrella. Fred picked me up and we went to dinner at the street vendor restaurant, where we discovered that some snails are just too much work. and also, viscous. Came home and reveled in the glory that was, FINALLY, OK INTERNET.

The End.