Thursday, December 30, 2004
|Ya ain't gonna believe this I'll bet.
Back in Hanoi after visiting some perfumed pagoda we never saw (elusive, like the sphinx). Tired and warming up from the frigid day. Walked to dinner then to an ATM to get some cash to pay for our taxi to the airport tomorrow AM. Said ATM was on the west side of the lake. Coming from the east side we heard quite the ruckus-sounded like a karaoke machine with the volume cranked way too high. So we went to check it out. Had to be karaoke for the upper echelons. Large stage, lights, the whole shebang. The duo singing (not prancing) when we walked up were decent. They finished up, the music was killed. No reaction. Not a single person clapped. Odd. More to note-the stage was set up almost in the median of the circle road around the lake. Lanes closed, but only because they were filled with people and equipment. Funny.
Conflustered, we stayed to see what would happen. 11 girls came onstage and started playacting as models-karaoke for models, I guess. Again there was not a single clap as the finished prancing (as they bounced around, I joked to R that I should go up and give the partner-less girl a hand. Prophetic as you'll see). Another band came up (boy band, guys all in white) and pounded thru the music. Not bad. No clapping. Entertained by this entire production, another band started up as some dude came up and began talking to R. Short, dressed like someone in the music/sound industry (sorry, bro. He was better dressed than you, if you can believe it); a detail we didn't recognize soon enough. Chitter chatter with R, then he drew me in. Know what he did then (the crowd had half-circled around us at this point)? Requested that we mount the stage and belt out a quick number! We laughed, as the clueless tend to do and declined the invitation. Which only made him try harder to convince us. Some Vietnamese flew from his mouth to the understanding ears around us, and the crowd joined in. Began clapping, cheering, urging (we assume). Now a bit worried, I marionetted to R that we should start walking away. We did, but they cut us off. Ok, new plan. Run didn't even have to be uttered. R gave me a swift kick in the knee (you don't have to run faster than a bear, just faster than your friend, ya know?) and tore outta the crowd, knocking some little dude onto his ass. I was 2 steps behind her and had to put my shoulder into some poor girl's sternum. Yes, we were faster, but there is something intimidating about being chased by all the inhabitants of a communist (or any, really) city! What a heart thumper! We wove like crazy; first away from our hotel in meandering circles then slowly back towards it as the crowd thinned. Unfortunately, the lead pack would yell ahead in an attempt to garner help and support. And it worked quite well. I was impressed with how quickly R took to rugby tactics. She knocked many people down. And after I took the lead, she'd surge ahead of me to clear the path and then fade back behind me. I think she started enjoying it too much (which is probably why she knocked me down once we were back in our room). They take their karaoke seriously here. Finally our hotel came into view, and a look back showed no one on our tail. Hopefully they don't find us before we get to the airport tomorrow.
In retrospect, it probably wouldn't have been that bad. After all, when'll we see any of these folks again? Next time.
Moral of the story? Sometimes it ain't easy being green.
|What a day this has been. Gonna be a 2 part blog. Maybe.
We took a trip today out to the Perfume Pagoda. Don't ask. Most details are irrelevant. Some, however, are worth repeating.
First digression. Our hotel here in Hanoi is in the Old Quarter, only a few blocks from this big ole lake thing. People walk around it, shake it loose, huddle in the dark with their respective love interests and all that. And there are little workout classes, apparently. Ya know, the big jazzercise type stuff, follow me and try to pretend to know what you're doing. And ignore the crowd watching. Well, we watched a bit last night and recognized 2 of our friends! A mild shock for sure since we never expected to see (names changed for reasons of anonymity and my self-preservation) Joff Reem and Creeg Huuter here in Asia. But there there were, following as best they could in all their graceless/uncoordinated glory. Good stuff.
Today, Joff "I Must Win At Any Cost" Reem was our boat propeller. A one-hour ride up river and one-hour back downriver was part of this tour (unfortunately it was rainy and cold. Character builder, right?) in a metal skiff pushed along with 2 paddles from the rear section. Walking up to the 'dock' (the side of the river) R and I were the last to get assigned a boat. Fortunately our tour guide rode with us so he could explain why 'Joff' was screaming bloody murder in a shrilly shrieking voice for 20 minutes while only one person on shore humored her and yelled back (more people were wanted in the boat. That means more tip). Finally we cast off. And even though we were the last boat to leave, we arrived first. We won the boat trip. I never would have thought one old woman could paddle a boat hard enough to raise the front end of a 15' long by 3' wide boat completely out of the water. She even made us feel her muscles (yes, she was very ripped).
The ride back? 'Joff' was in a happy mood. Singing, clowning, taunting the other paddlers and gesticulating wildly at R and I. And we still made it back to our beginning point long before all the other boats. Winning makes a young girl's heart warm, I guess.
For the record-our paddler was called the female Vietnamese version of Joff by none other than RACHELLE. If she denies it, she really is lying this time.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
It's been quite a ride the last couple months. 3 months in. More than, actually. Still not tired of traveling, still not a clue as to what direction my life will be taking when the money runs out (it always does), or before. But shit, sitting here at 2am stewing over so many things....oof.
We've seen a lot. Not all of it good (as you may have read here). And it starts to wear on you (or at least it is me right now). Poverty all over. Horror and scabs in Cambodia. Vietnam and all their history (not to mention my family history here). Now the catastrophe down south. And get this (not R's parents. Don't think or read this)-Rachelle was supposed to go to some of the places decimated starting next week. I feel horrible for those affected, but thank GOD this didn't happen later, nor her go there sooner. I can't even fathom the crippling terror and helplessness that people must be feeling right now.
I had a dream the other night. In it, I was about to die. And I knew it. I think I've had this dream before, only this time it was different. Before I felt anxious b/c of all that I had not done. This time, I felt none of that. I felt at peace, and had no problem letting go and giving in to my fate. A nice feeling. A bit macabre, but the first time I'd felt that. Of course later in the dream I tried to fight it off because there were things I needed to do-not for me, but for...I don't know who. Overall, it makes me happy. 2 years ago I realized that if my number got called, I'd be pissed and'd be back as a nasty poltergiest (you think your cube is bad now? Try it filled with ghost farts). Made me make some changes. Now I'm trying as hard as I can to enjoy every moment I have, and be grateful for the life I have.
Don't worry, I'm not gonna go lay down in the road or play Harey Carey with a motorbike. Just thoughts getting tumbled out at a late hour.
R's been asleep for a while. Hopefully she hasn't woken up, realized I'm still not in the room, looked at her watch and made nasty comments at me!
I've heard it said that people feel selfish for being thankful they didn't know anyone killed by the tsunami (thanks). Don't feel selfish. All you gots to do is be grateful.
Happy new year, eh? We're heading to Thailand, and I feel guilty for planning to try and have fun. Gotta get over that. They need the money besides.
Done. That's all for now. I gotta get some sleep. Besides, this is all inane drivel. And I think the workers here need to get back on here to find love (whether it's from dating sites or sites that offer 'info' on subjects such as teen girls or other things I won't mention)
My eyes see them suffer and go without
Their eyes see misdirected pity
The grass is always greener,
or so they say.
Now some see it isn't.
How will they?
Just when it's at the worst
A smile brings me around
Is it really lost?
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Get the hell off here and let someone know you love 'em. ue.
What happened? Here we go. I may not be able to finish it. If anyone reads over my shoulder what I am about to say, I may be lynched. Or tossed out into traffic. If that happens, Rachelle will let you know.
And if you get Rachelle's email and it recounts this episode in slightly a different way...it's only b/c she doesn't want to worry parent-types (which means she lies).
This morning we went to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. First point to note: in HIS WILL, "Uncle Ho" requested a cremation. Yet he sits alone in a big drafty building, forced to watch as hordes of people pass by and tout his godfullness. Our guide book (the 'Lonely Planet'. This Vietnam version was written by some slothy chick who spent a month or so traveling thru the country. Shall we say the details and info are mighty lacking?) offered advice on what you are not allowed to do while viewing the corpse (no, he's not a saint. Saints defy decomposition on their own, I am told. Stuffing parts into an airtight box don't qualify): No hats, shorts, tank tops. No bags, cameras or picture taking. Keep your hands out of your pockets (didn't make that one up) and don't pass gas where Unkie may hear. Bow low and mumble incoherently your undying devotion and love and reverential obediance for the Man. So we common folk must show respect for some dude's body. While his 'loyal supporters', ignore his last wish. No, commie-nism isn't shnockered at all.
We found a flyer for the area outside on the lawn. I'll maybe quote some of it later. It's rich. Let's just say that much like God, Ho gets His pronouns capitalized. Now THAT'S a legacy to leave behind!
And I am long winded. On to the story.
An early departure was the plan. Didn't happen. Slept in and ate a leisurely bfast. Finally got moving at 10:15 (dead Ho is only open until 11am) and spurted across town. My navigational skills surpassed my expectations as they led us onto an unexpected short cut. This 'chosen' route afforded us a view of the mausoleum grounds blocks before we got there. Picture this:
The first thing you notice is the golden aura around the complex. No, not a sign from God (like the sign out front proclaims). It's all the refuse butter and grease from the cooking in this country piled up where you can't see and illuminated with spotlights. A big brick edifice gate thing with HO CHI MINH across the top in bold neon lettering. This bldg sits amid a large patch of concrete (what we Yanks call a parking lot) which is bordered in front by a patch of lawn roughly the size of a football field with room on one end for about 30 tailgating RVs (And I mean real tailgating. Not this "tailgating at the opera with our fancy china and wine and tea/strumpet" crap). Said lawn is cross-hatched with small paths crossing at right angles to each other spaced about 10 feet apart. The signs every 2 feet along the edge of the unkempt sod are very clear in their desire that you don't insult Ho by crunching His grass woth your unclean feet. So, we got on the first small walk we came to in order to expedite our progress towards Ho (it was now about 20 minutes to 11am). We hadn't gone more than about 10 feet when we began hearing shrill whistle blasts and yelling coming from all around us. On our right, one guard moved in (though he paused long enough to pester some poor dude sitting on the street next to the grass before continuing towards us). On the left, another guard passed right by another couple on an adjacent path and made a beeline for us. Frozen, like an 18-point whitetail and his doe, we stopped. Then all hell broke loose. I'm not sure what I was thinking, must have hearkened back to my days in juvie. I broke for Ho. Rachelle closed her eyes, dropped her head into her right hand and slowly shook her head in exasperation at my lunacy (I found this out later); then she walked to yet another guard who sat near the street doubled over in laughter at the proceedings (they randomly choose who to yell at. It's a game: "Figure out what the pattern of my harassment is". They have too much free time) to find out where to find me once it all ended. And then she moved on.
Meanwhile, I was sprinting with all I had (not much these days), vainly trying to reach solid pavement. Unfortunately we've been lazy lately so my inshapedness is lacking. Also, I was wearing my new cords, shoes (not sandals) for the first time in over a month, and my backpack was full (I carry around all my books. I don't want them getting ganked from our room while we're out). Not to mention trying to maintain my footing on the 1' strip of concrete. Out of the corner of my right eye I saw one guard hit the horizontal in an impressive tackle formation. Fortunately I was about at a cross-path. I nimbly leaped and cut the corner, avoiding the grass and the cackling guard. He went sprawling into the grass and was immediately pounced upon by trained attack marmots. I would have laughed but I didn't see the other guard anticipate my feint. He hit me square in the side and we went bouncing into the grass next to Guard One. This was quite convenient for the marmots b/c they didn't have to move far to start gnawing on our shins while tossing rocks at our heads (and don't even ask me how many holes they chewed in my backpack).
My Colorado experience now kicked in. I have much experience in fending off vicious marmots and I gained a footing on the concrete and again tore in the direction of Ho. Almost closing time! I can make it! Must see the stiff! Well, I hadn't anticipated the 'aroma' (which they call 'Uncle Ho's Secret Blend".) permeating the air around the mausoleum. Its pungency knocked me to my knees in time for fresh guards to take turns slapping me with large fish (You should see the holsters!).
Suffice it to say we didn't get to see Uncle Ho. Instead of charging me with any crime (it'd be hard to make any charges stick since technically we had done nothing wrong. Me running could be explained as a spontaneous need for exercise. They had me sitting on cold steel nekkid so there would be no arguing my need for some vigorous exercise), they called me a "stupid Yank" for an hour while pointing and laughing at me. And throwing little corn mush balls at me. Little do they know, I receive similar reactions from people on a daily basis in my own country. Ha! I showed them...? Um, yeah!
Back out in society, Rachelle made me promise that next time I decide to pull something like that, that I leave my money behind for her so that she can go shopping. And no, that doesn't mean she'll be getting me and presents.
Oh yeah-we walked thru a market yesterday and saw a bunch of hairless (often semi-legless) leering dead dogs for sale. I considered a pic, but didn't get around to it. Any requests?
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
It's insane. There are 2 million motorcycle here, we are told. Maybe 5 million people? I forget. All I know is that the traffic here surpasses anything we've seen yet. Constant blaring horns, exhaust hitting your face, motos zipping by on the road on the sidewalk on which ever side of the road they feel like being on....chaos. Barely restrained. Crossing the street? Yeah, you can. There are crosswalks and a couple traffic signals. Not that they mean much. Basically you just walk, slowly, out into traffic and let the chaos part around you. Don't stop or move quickly because you'll throw off the people driving. Just take your time and try not to freak out. I've adapted quicker than I should have, I think. In fact most times I don't even look before starting to cross (there is no point), I just go. Rachelle is smarter. She hesitates and looks and all that.
It's just crazy though.
That's about it. I think. I am tired again. I think maybe I'll go take a nap. Who's with me??
Tomorrow we are seeing a water puppet show. And Uncle Ho's mausoleum (people ignored his will request to be cremated and stuck him in a building for viewing instead. Respectful, eh? They honored him tremedously in life and revere him in death. Yet they ignored his last request. Hooray for Communism!!) in the AM.
The day after we may do something. Perfume pagoda. yeah, me too.
Friday am we fly out. That night we'll dress up (both looking spiffy. R in her new dress looking fabulous, and me in my new fancy suit [I even have a vest!] looking...uncomfortable.) and probably hang around our fancy hotel enjoying it's fanciness.
Rachelle and I are fine, though we're a little weirded out by having juts been in areas that were devastated. Lucky. That is us. Since we head there on Friday (to Thailand), we're trying to figure out what to do. Right now we're probably going to head up north into the hills. Sitting on a beach right now doesn't sound that inviting. Though that kind of attitude sucks for the people running places that weren't affected by the tsunami. They run on tourism. We are still toying with heading down south to try and help out. But, not only could that be less than safe, we might just get in the way and add to the chaos. We'll see.
What have we been doing the last few days? Not too much. Hitting Hanoi hampered our motivation. Much sitting around and eating too much western food. A slight break in routine is good now and then, right?
Monday, December 27, 2004
Horrible devastation. We were in the areas of Thailand that were affected and it is so unreal. Those poor people, many on vacation over the holidays, others losing their homes, businesses, loved ones or lives....wow.
Right now we have a flight to Bangkok on Friday. Not sure about that. I am sure, and have heard that Bangkok is a bit of a zoo right now and that people are scrambling to get out. And here we are, going right into it! Hm.
But no one worry, we are fine.
More later. Gotta get out and move around a bit
Saturday, December 25, 2004
We leave for Halong Bay in a few minutes. A 2 day one night excursion. Need my coffee first.
Friday, December 24, 2004
What the hell? Email just crashed/closed on me for the second time in the last 10 minutes! The govt here must be pissed at me or something, b/c I have been having email trouble almost our entire time in this country. Annoying.
I wrote a blog post yesterday, then finished up a draft. Twice. None of it saved, none of it went thru. All got mysteriously erased. Not happy=me. Don't worry though, I'm over it.
It's Christmas eve for another 8 minutes. Got here this morning and have had a pretty good day. After checking into the hotel (a bit more expensive than we've been paying, but it's got a balcony and internet and breakfast are included in the price. Nice) and having them send out for my Chinese visa, we almost napped. Eventually (after a thorough butt-kicking was administered by me over games of double solitaire) we headed out for lunch.
Let me preface with this: since leaving Chicago over 3 months ago I have not had any true western food (only westernized Asian food). Today I gave in. After a walk around this insanely busy city (I think the traffic here is the worst we've seen thus far. I LOVE crossing the street. Rachelle aptly described it in saying that it felt as though we were parting the Red Sea. You just start walking, slowly, and the motos and cars and trucks part and go around you. A rush to be sure. Back to the food. Stopped at a bar/restaurant owned by an American and his Vietnamese wife. Ate nachos with beans (no 'beef') and chili con queso. Not too bad at all. It was no "Mile High Nachos", but good nontheless. After eating and having a couple drinks with a drunken ex-pat who railed on and on about....stuff, not really sure what, we headed back to the hotel.
Showers ensued, gift 'wrapping' in the meanwhile, and then the set up. (FYI-I have been sporting the mustache only look for a few days now. I can't even take myself seriously when I look in the mirror.) We dressed up in some of our newly made clothing and exchanged one gift, saving the remaining gift for the morning. Then we played some solitaire and watched "Home Alone". Romance, Christmas style? Maybe. Trying something new we headed to a jazz bar where we watched an all-Vietnamese band jam away. Not too bad at all.
Now I am emailing and R is probably already asleep. Had to get something out, ya know? Since computers have been plotting against me as of late. Hopefully this one gets out.
Santa is coming, I can hear his deers. They sound like moto horns.
Santa was spotted here several times today. Though instead of being astride some small pooping beasts, he sat atop a moto. Highly entertaining.
AND, I'm reading Rachelle's "Stupid White Men" Michael Moore book. And yes, I have a lot to say. But not now. It's the holidays.
Peace out, and Merry Christmas
Monday, December 20, 2004
Hoi An is known for their inexpensive fitted clothing. I followed Rachelle to a shop today, intending to do nothing but bitch about being in store after store. Didn't make it past the first we went into (how did we find it? Way back hidden away and unnoticeable? Well, a woman on a scooter stopped to talk to us soon after we got here while we walked to find lunch. Her store was not far away, she said. We're hungry, we said. Later. She found us after lunch, now on her bike. Now we're tired, we said. Ok, she said. We slept. For a couple hours [I slept 1/2 as long as R. While she dreamed, I cursed computers. We are having trouble getting emails out here. We can get into our various accounts and read our messages, outgoing is hard to come by. I lost a few emails before giving up. Never mind]. Then shopping time arrived [for R] and a few blocks later the same woman found us so we followed her to her shop. We never left.). Eventually I was persuaded to look at suit designs ($40 for a fitted suit). What did I end up leaving with? Here's the list:
A suit (navy w/pinstripe)
Shirt and vest for the suit
A light pullover shirt
traveling pants (I still don't really know)
I think that is it. Oh yeah-leather shoes (fitted!) for $20. All in all I spent about $130 for all that. Not bad, eh? I don't know what happened. I think I am getting worn out wearing the same ratty and dirty clothes everyday. And this is good (and cheap) stuff!
No, I have no room in any of my bags for any of this. And yes, I bought another book (Big Sur, Kerouac).
Not smart is me. Tomorrow we go to try on our new duds. I guess I should shower, eh?
Sunday, December 19, 2004
That's not important (the computer next to me has 'The Fast and The Furious' on. Interesting). What is important, or at least interesting, is a retelling of our voyage here. Please keep in mind: Rachelle lies. If you get her emails and they don't agree with this story it's because she is lying. I swear.
It took us 3 tries (got stood up twice by our tour type bus. Told us "we didn't have the hotel info". Yeah right) but this morning we got us on a van (minibus) to bring us the 2-3 hours up here. When we boarded, only a couple other folks were on. We knew that would change. And it did. At its peak, we were 5 wide in all rows. Now for more detail on how these things work.
Some people like us get on early, when the van begins its journey. That's easy. As it rolls, 2 guys working the door hang out the slider and yell at people as we pass by, trying to convince people to ride with us. Sometimes it works, sometimes they need more persuasion. I saw many scared faces that ended up getting in the van. It's more like this: have you seen the movie Old School? There is a sequence where the guys go around gathering up their frat pledge class in an old van. They grab them unawares and toss them on, they chase them down scattering garbage cans and bikes and peds....it's chaos. That's how this van works. People'd be walknig down the street, the van would slow and the doors guys would jump out and haggle with anyone, whether they appeared to need a ride or not. Often times they'd decide to join in the fun (looking a bit nervous). If they tried to get away, they 'd get hauled in anyway. Sometimes the unwilling managed to jump back out, but these door guys were good and usually barred the way for at least a couple towns. Little old ladies were jumping in and scampering up the stacks of grain bags to perch atop with a view of the goings-on. Their most impressive acquisition was a girl on a bike. Innocently riding by, she somehow didn't hear the blaring horn and incessant shouting. One guy skittered onto the roof while the other snagged her in such a way that he got her bike to pop up. He deflected it to the guy on the roof who tied it down then flipped back into the van (yes, we were moving at this time). It was insane. Fun though. When they tossed the 5th person into our row I opened the side window full (I was on the end) and positioned myself so that my left foot was on the seat, my right was on the ladder to the roof, my ass on the door frame. It was great! I was whoopin' and hollerin' and doing my part in trying to convince people to join our fun (no one fell for it. They speak Vietnamese, I speak my own version of english.).
You may be wondering how fast said van traveled. Well, it varied. In town we'd troll along between 10 and 15mph, slowing minutely when tossing people on or off. Between towns...whoa. I swear we were hitting at least mach 2. And yes, even the tiniest bugs hurt like hell when you hit them going that fast. I ended the trip half covered with bugs. Yuck.
As we neared what they claimed was Hoi An (ok, they didn't claim anything. They started making their overtures of hastening our departure from the van), I was oblivious. Which is why I ended up being blindsided when they gave me a stiff shove out the window onto the dusty street. Still dazed and confused, my bags followed suit. As they landed atop me, I again cursed myself for buying so many books. Rachelle, meanwhile, was scampering around the inside of the van in an effort to leave of her own accord. Didn't happen. They cornered her (with the help of a little old lady with a cane who cackled maniacally the entire time) and tossed her out. I began laughing but was cut off when the van roared away, coating me with dust and exhaust.
No, it didn't drop us in town but ~10km away. Rachelle beat 2 moto drivers about the head until they agreed to her price and we took off. Fully loading down the motos. It was fine though, I only felt the rear tire slip out a little around one corner. And the truck heading our way had at least a foot to spare when it passed us. Finally, we got to our hotel. 5 hours after leaving Quang Ngai and after 2 unsuccessful attempts. What a feeling! Toyota!
We emailed a while and then headed back to the hotel. Since it was around 7pm and we thought our bus was showing up at 3:30am, we thought it prudent to grab a bottle of water from the restaurant next door and then play cards and sleep. That was the plan.
Wait. Before emailing, we wandered the city. Not many whities come here as far as we can tell. The markets, full of trinkets and stuff in most cities we've been to, instead catered to the local people and their everyday needs. We stuck out. Interestingly, the only person who called to us in an attempt to make a sale was a woman selling huge chunks of meat. Hm. Eventually we found ourselves on the outskirts of town wandering past grazing cows (don't worry, they also graze in town) and soccer games and school children and everyday life. We were the subject of much interest and got many 'hellos' and waves and....whatever it was they said in Vietnamese. Very cool, very friendly and warm people here.
Our lunch had been in the restaurant next to the hotel and the old guy (owner? Not sure what else he is unless he's the crazy old coot that always hangs around) remembered us and quickly had someone else fetch us water. While we waited, 3 guys (50s-ish) sitting by the front door drinking beer insisted we sit down and drink with them for a while. Not people to piss off the locals, we acquiesced (I love that word!). Their english was very good. The doctor (internal medicine) was quite drunk and told us: we look like movie stars, Rachelle is very beautiful, I am very handsome, Bill Clinton was very handsome, that I look like Abraham Lincoln. Must be the beard. The economist kept ranting about...who knows what. A philosopher at heart, he kept proselytizing in very serious almost mad tones....and would then burst out laughing saying he had no idea what he was saying. The philosopher was the soberest seeming. We discussed different authors (he has many passages from "1984" in a small notebook he carries around), and thanks to R's suggestion I ended up giving him my copy of Vonnegut's 'Slaughterhouse 5'. In all it was great fun. There was a crowd around us for a while, not understanding but entertained all the same. Before we knew it a couple hours had gone by and the doc and philo had to scuttle home to their wives who kept calling asking for them. The economist kept ranting (his wife is in the States? We never quite understood) until we made our leave to head to bed. Very very entertaining. They insisted on a picture which we obliged them with. Just gotta email it on.
The wait staff was quite entertained when we rolled out of bed (again) at 10 and had lunch. The old guy laughed and said "too much beer". Rachelle then informed him how unfair and not nice it was of the bus to not show up. I gurgled out a request for coffee
It's 2:15 pm now. Maybe we should get back to the hotel in case the bus comes earlier. Bastards.
Now it's on to Hoi An, a quiet little beach-ish town just south of Danang. I'll let you know how it is.
We don't have enough time here!!!
Saturday, December 18, 2004
My driver to Duc Pho, a man of about 50-55, had some questions for me when we returned to the hotel. Thru an interpreter (an old dude who wandered up), he asked me if my dad had been in the war. I said yes, down in Duc Pho. His face lit up. With an enormous grin he grabbed my hand and pumped my arm ecstatically. He then asked (thru Mr. Interpretor man) if my dad survived and if he was still alive. When I answered in the affirmative he looked even happier and once again pumped my arm with great enthusiasm. Then he explained something about being real young, maybe 5 at the time, and he pointed to his stomach (he'd been hungry?), glowing all the while. This may sound a bit trite and unimpressive to some. But after hearing the raging bullshit spewed in the history books here (we assume. Would the books contradict the museums and such?) , and hearing years of talk about how the Vietnam war was wrong and all that stuff, it was quite a thing to have someone from an area that saw some of the heaviest fighting in the was and was alive at the time share his joy at our involvement.
That made me think of Iraq today. All we hear about is how wrong it is for us to be there, how dumb Bush is, how much everyone hates us for being there.....surely people like my driver exist there. People who are not filled with hatred at our involvement. People that are overjoyed to have SH gone and things to be different. My question...nah, there is no question. I was going to ask why it is that the media never interviews such people, or if they do, why they never report it. Why would they? Why show that anything positive has come out of the war? Assholes. Call me a dreamer, but I was reading a few Iraqi blogs a few months back and there were a couple guys that expressed their joy at our coming and described in detail how things were better. Granted, there were a couple that expressed so happiness or support, but the point is that some people did.
Digression or sorts, eh? Yeah, why not. How about this: instead of only focusing on the negative ALL THE TIME, how about shedding some light on positive events and feelings? How about an article or 2 that highlights people that are happy that went to Iraq? Hm, maybe that would not sell as many papers and garner as much attention. Or not tow the media partyline that liberal is the only way to go (if you think the major media isn't overwhelmingly anti-conservative....oof). It might also help the soldiers that have been there or are there (and their families) to feel that they are involved with something worthwhile and are doing some good (quit fighting about our reasons for going in there, or lack of a plan, or anything involved with the front end issues. We are there. Can't change that. Might as well try and finish the job and accomplish something good, right? Or is it better for more people to suffer so that you can say: "I told you so"? To attack Bush and his cronies and say how wrong they were/are instead of thinking about the others involved [Iraqis] seems to be the focus. That seems silly to me. And counteintuitive [you want others to benfit and not be harmed by us, but are willing to let them suffer just so Bush suffers?]).
Priorities people. Priorities.
Wouldn't it be nice if for once the media would shed some light/focus on positive events? Or at least provide some to offset the constant negative they highlight? Or, god forbid, some real world news coverage?
Yes, I am feeling a bit fiesty today.
Wow. That digression was so bad I'm going to move on to a new post to finish my thoughts on yesterday (they get happier, don't worry).
A little after 5am we went back inside and back to sleep until about 10. Had bfast, walked around, now we're emailing. Our next bus should arrive around 4pm. Or so they say. Ah well, what are ya gonna do?
Lots to tell about the last couple days. I just remembered that I started a post last night. I'd better go find that.
Got off loaded from the bus at 3:30am this morning. Getting reboarded at 3:30am tomorrow morning.
Spent all day in the sun. Tired
We boarded a bus around 2pm yesterday afternoon in Mui Ne, thinking we would be arriving in Quang Ngai at 9pm last night (or so they told us). When we transferred buses at 7, they let us know we'd be getting dropped off at 3 or 4 am. Shite. Ah well, what else have we to do? Shoulda called and reserved a hotel room. Issue for later.
Sleep didn't come for either of us on the bus. It was mostly empty so I had 2 seats to myself and tried every position possible (even topside down) to get comfortable but couldn't. Maybe slept 10 minutes. So 3:30am rolled around and they tossed us off. In the middle of nowhere, about 5kms from the town. Fortunately(?) a moto came by and Rachelle boarded (we had a hotel in mind and got the guy to understad) and we assumed he'd be back for me. They don't do that here. So on this scooter we had Rachelle's big backpack in front of the driver, the driver, Rachelle holding her small backpack, then me perched on the back luggage thing wearing my big pack with my small pack in one hand and our food bag (now filled with gifts instead of food) in the other. I had to ride bended knee style to keep my toes from losing their top layer of skin. Did the guy go slow? Hell no! It was very very exciting, in a scary way. Rachelle tried to hold the driver and me at the same time and I tried to stay alive. It worked. More or less. On our second try we found a hotel with a room available. The moto driver had me bend over so that he could collect his pay and we crashed in the room a little after 4am. Ouch.
So we slept in, until 9. Up we got, arranged to be picked up tomorrow at 3:30am (help!) and we got a couple motos set up to haul us to Duc Pho for the day. That spelled bfast time. Off we went, assailed with huge smiles and warm hellos at every turn. The people here (not a touristy place at all) are amazingly friendly and warm, and telling them we are from the US almost makes them smile bigger. Very cool. We got some coffee (R was so excited, being a tea drinker, that she made me take a pic. Cute!) then grabbed a couple street sammiches on our way back to the hotel where an older guy grabbed me and a younger guy grabbed R and they whisked us an hour down the road toDuc Pho.
Since I had no idea where the old US Army base was (at the base of 'the hill' according to my dad)(this is where dad was stationed back during the war) we (my driver) asked someone as soon as we entered the sleepy little town. The 2 older sun weary guys he asked immediately perked up and pointed us on. One asked me how long I was in town for and something else I could not understand. Passing a large memorial of some sort, commemorating an event in 1964 we headed up towards the hill. The road soon changed from a narrow almost dirt road to a wide, raised median separated newly paved road. A govt or military building swept by on our right, the gate out front pasted with "no picture" signs. Straight ahead of us was what appeared to be a gated off memorial looking thing. As we passed it, we observed more "no pic" signs. Adjacent to this memorial lookin' thing was a larger building, a restaurant from the looks/sounds of it, gated off with many worded signs, "no pic" signs, as well as a nice bit of propaganda (I assume)-it showed Uncle Ho (Chi Minh, the countries biggest hero) and a bunch of Viet Cong soldiers looking happy or something. No idea what any of the signs said. No matter. Rachelle's driver headed up the drive and we wandered around the outside of the fence looking for signs of an old base.
No need to go into details about what we saw, but suffice it to say there was no visible trace that we could find of anything with US symbols or writing on it. What I did realize (surfing the web last night looking for info helped to clear my misconceptions) is that my dad's base was not the small, fairly inactive secluded patch of land I'd imagined. The base was actually quite large and was used quite extensively by much of the US military. Also, based on the base's known presence in town and the efforts made to marginalize US efforts thru the use of propaganda in the area, the communists have used its relegation to history and not the present to illustrate their 'greatness'.
Ok, long story short time. I have been to Dachau. A bit disturbing but since it's been pretty well sterilized (minus the pics and stories and some hanging poles), a visit alone wasn't too disturbing. The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng on the other hand, are still pretty roughed out pack a pretty good emotional punch when you go there. I think visiting my dad's old base has taken the cake. It's one thing to hear of war and atrocities and all that, but when someone you know and love was intimitely involved and witnessed God knows what, it's much more powerful. I spent most of the rest of the day in a bit of a daze, and spent some time researching the area on the web. That didn't ease my dazedness. It's a bit surreal and very sobering to imagine my dad, younger than I am now, being shipped away from the States to a country so different in so many ways and being dropped down in the middle of such hell. Again, I've heard and read the stories and accounts, but being here made it more real. Scary.
It is mid-December. Walking around the area we found a searing sun and no breeze. Hotter than hell. And it's not the hot season right now. Holy shit it must have gotten hot!
The guys we got directions from (there was also another woman as my driver turned off down another road that wasn't necessary) seemed very intrigued and almost happy to see us and to hear that we were going to see the old base. As we walked around the memorial looking thing, my driver trying to get us to walk around the un-ended fence to get a closer look while R's driver made it very very clear that he thought that was a terrible idea, some people across the street stopped working to sit in the shade and watch us putz around. They didn't say anything, just watched.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Tomorrow at 1pm we are catching a bus from here thru Quang Ngai (hopefully an effortless transfer of plane tix will greet us there) then onward to...shite. Another town to the north. We should get there around 9pm. The next day we'll rent a moto (maybe. Have to see what traffic is like) and head to Duc Pho, Dad's old haunts. Then the next day we're off to Hoi An. Rachelle wants to get a dress made ($15 or so) and is trying to get me to get a fitted suit. But then I'd have to wear it at some point and that isn't very appealing. What are you going to do? I'll probably eat and sit on the beach or something.
Enough of this. I'm off.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
We are still in Mui Ne. It's so peaceful and relaxing here that we decided to stay another day and will leave tomorrow. The seafood here is mega-fresh and we keep eating it. Phoots
Yesterday we went and caroused on some sand dunes. Fun times but I am still picking sand out of uncomfortable places. Some dude and his chica had wedding pics taken atop the dunes. Silly. Don't they know how much work it is walking on those things? And sandy too. Looked cool. Maybe I shouldn't have playfully shoved the bride, sending her bouncing down the dune. Ah well, the rest seemed to be laughing as I rode my sled off the other way. Except the groom. He appeared to be hot footing it away from the group. Wonder why...
Not much else to report. My return to China/trip to Uzbekistan is all over the place thanks to my idiocy (didn't get my Uz visa in China when I had the chance), Brenda's shifting schedule (b/c of her moronical school people bosses) and the winds of time forever shifting and blowing into new and conical shapes.
I think the bunions on both my feet have grown smaller since leaving home. The lack of running, perhaps, or misconstruesal of logic on mine. Who knoweth?
We've been hanging out with a Dutch couple the last couple days. Nice folks. And that reminds me! I need to email my buddy in Amsterdam! Pooper!
Not a clue what day of the week it is. That's fun
Off to the beach. Gotta read, play inthe waves, take more notes on Ishmael and whatnot.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
Mui Ne. That's where we are. The beach is lined with hotels and such (pretty sure I've said this, so I'll move on). Great seafood. Including dinner last night I've had red SNAPPER, shrimp, and crab. All excellent.
Earlier today we played in the waves. Big waves. Seems early morning is not very windy and smallish waves ply their trade along the coast. Mid to late day, the big boys come in. And they are fun. I was able to body surf a couple waves, duck under many, get pounded by several, and come out slightly scraped and bruised. Sand filled pockets and stomach full of sea (not clean) water. Overall I survived quite well. One of the last waves....oof. Eric (big Dutch guy we met) and I found ourselves too close to shore...the water receded until I was only shin deep.....the wave rose above us and began to crest over our heads at a height of 10 feet or so. My stomach dropped, I heard Eric utter an expletive to mirror mine, and we dove as best we could. Didn't work. I thought I'd made it thru with only minor turbulence across my body...and then it kicked in. I got bounced off the bottom a few times and turned in a few circles (across the horizontal and vertical axes) until I managed to get my feet and stand up coughing up the brownish water. Eric got the same washer treatment. Rachelle, further out, stood laughing at us, doubled over in fact at our near deathedness. We got the last laugh though. A wave broke across her brow and knocked the laugh right out of her! Ha! That was enough. We retired to shore to recover and all that jazz.
Now dinner is over and I am paying an exorbitant amount to be on the internet. Just to entertain you! Or something like that.
5am tomorrow our jeep leaves to bring us to some big ole white sand dunes in time for sunrise. Way, way, way too early. While Rachelle napped earlier today (lazy sack...) I talked with Willie, an Irish guy (Simpson's? Nah, no hair and no big red hairy arms. Nor a kilt)(or was Willie on the simpson's Scottish? I know Brandon will clear this up...) who in response to my 5am tale asked: "Aren't sunrises all the same? I don't get it." Made me think. 5 is early. But then I realized, what else to I have to do? I'll just take a nap on the beach when we get back.
Yup, life is rough
Monday, December 13, 2004
had black hair and now it's fair
my feet are sore
life ain't no bore
why sit here when i can go relax in the sand and be a bum and turn crispy?
Yup, on a beach. In Mui Ne. The beach is lined with beach house after hotel after sign and chairs and hammocks and asorted things like large coconut looking boats (I think. They have oars in them) the size of....big things. Look like those propellants in MXC. Odd.
Crazy thing is, there's no one here. Maybe it's low season (and mid-week), but the beach is empty and no one is roaming the streets. It's nice.
the other night, our last night in Saigon, we ended up sitting next to a couple from Te-xas at a restaurant. Great folk, I'll compose a more fitting tribute later. Our 'early' night ended up going late b/c we were having a jolly time talking with them and listening/watching Bruce belt out his rendition of various Texas tribute songs. Amusing, and much more entertaining than the older Aussie folks trying to out-tune them. All around fun times. 'Course we had to get up to catch an 8am bus which was less than fun, but what are you gonna do?
Note: the hotel we stayed in in Saigon was called "Betty". Everytime we told someone that or I saw the sign upon our return to sleep, I'd giggle. Why? Go watch Caddyshack. "I like you Betty." "That's, Danny, sir." Yeah!!
Enough of this middledygook. Drank some palm wine last night sitting on the beach looking out over the South China Sea. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Back to the beach for me. The coffee (so good here! And not at Starbuckraper's prices) is kicking in so I'm going to go splash in the waves and try not to drown myself. If I do, remember that I predicted it here and, I told you so!
Sunday, December 12, 2004
This morning we went to the Co Chi tunnels-a network of over 200 kilometers of tunnel built by the VC. Interesting, and an impressive feat as it was all done by hand. Small and narrow and dark (we trundled thru some of them), not for the faint of heart. Or claustrophobic. Before getting there, however, we stopped at a graveyard for north Vietnamese soldiers killed. Rachelle badly wanted to ask our guide, Omar (said he worked with the marines near Danang), where they buried the fighters for south Vietnam and if they were praised as much as the northies since after all the war was all Vietnam against the US. She held off. Hm.
We also stopped in a grove of rubber trees, planted where the jungle had been burned and destroyed by US attacks. Interesting. A nice pee break.
Then the tunnels. The tour started with a background video. Or at least it's called that. It was a bunch of happy music showing people picnicking and picking fruit until the horrible Americans came in and forced the people in the area to build these tunnels. It said that. We discovered later that in fact tunnels existed before Americans were in Vietnam. They were built in the uprising against the French. Our guide told us this. Nicely omitted by the video. Overall it was another great bit of propaganda. I'm telling ya, listening to someone tell you that your country is the devil and horrible and mean and nasty and all that jazz gets old quick. Especially if you know the 'real' history as well as the history of the badmouthing country's govt. The others in our tour group kinda offered us sympathy and nervous laughs afterwards, which was nice.
On we went. They had a zoo (animals in small bare cages) and a shooting range. We deferred to shoot anything and walked past piles of metal (American bombs dropped here) and pictures showing the "Great American Killer Heroes" receiving accolades.
We did not continue with the tour to the War Museum (formerly the American War Crimes Museum).
Yeah, it'll be nice to get out of the big city and into the small places. Overall the people have been very nice to us, despite the bilge they must be learning in school. Rumor has it the people here have forgotten the war and think nothing of it. I hope so. Right now after seeing these sights we're having a tough time not feeling a little off kilter here. That should go away though. Hopefully.
Not sure what internet access will be like the next week or so. Enjoy the snow and cold!
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Our last night in Kampot, after seeing that french town, we walked down to dinner with our new friends. On the way, a group of kids shouted hello from the sidelines. I shouted back. Then returned the favor. Then I did the same. After some back and forth they rushed me. Standing in a horde around me (I'd stopped as the others kept moving) I think I shook everyone's hand at least 4 times, going thru the "my name is Corey, what is your name" routine at least twice with each. It was awesome. At oft times, many would also make goggle eyes with their hands at me. Reminding me that my eyes are round. Thanks. The others in my group wandered back and went thru the same routine. They finished up, I had another go at the kids then moved on. I loved it!
According to my sis, she hasn't met any backpackers who liked Cambodia. I think you need to expect the poverty and get out of Phnom Penh. It ain't gonna be like Thailand, and there is some definite sadness. But talk to the people. Everyone we have met (with the exception of a swiss couple on the boat to Vietnam who couldn't get past the poverty to the people) has loved it there.
That's all. We're going to go eat now
In case you didn't see the comment he left me, check out his the full report Here and the results of his reseach here.
Ok, maybe not so much.
There is some arsehole in the back of this place that keeps yelling out the same damn thing. Don't know if it's a kid or an old lady. I think the latter. Would someone please cork her?!?!
As I was saying... While wrapping up last night, a couple of Brits we'd met on our boat showed up and said hey. I mentioned wanting to check out a bar, we knew one in common and decided to meet there. Once Rachelle finally stopped yammering on email we headed over. There they were, in their 18-year old glory, drinking. Yes, that's right. 18-year old taking a year off-after high school!-to do some traveling and learn a little about the world. Seems that is getting to be a common thin to do in the UK. Hm. Few people in the States do that out of college. Not fair, as I see it. Cool guys, even though they were born in 1986!! That hurt.
So this bar we were in. Reminded me of the times back home when you suckas would con me into going to a nice place. There I'd be, dressed.....yeah, dressed. And the rest of the place would be filled with folks dressed to the nines, sipping fancy shit and giving me the stink eye. Well, there we were, strobe lights and pounding music (with Queen videos on one tv and soccer on the other)(good music, which was nice), having to push to the bar to yell a drink order, weaving around the fancy people-mostly (let's be honest, all) westerners. In this instance I was wearing the same pants and shirt I'd been wearing for 3 days, the pants with an hour old oil stain on the crotch. Hair under my jager hat, all greasy and sloppy. Weeks old beard (it's coming back!) filling in my face, dirty feet hanging out of ratty sandals. Rachelle looked good, the one dude (Tom) had a nice looking shirt on, and Henry looked closer to me. But clean. The rest of the place? Dressed to the 8s (not quite to the nines). These people either came only to Vietnam or they checked Sherpas with their luggage to carry it all around. Insane. Most were dressed nicer than I could dress had I access to my entire wardrobe (granted, that isn't saying much). Silly people. Oh yeah. I also had a backpack over my shoulder. You would think I'd feel silly, right? Well, then you don't know me. It made me giggle quite a bit. THey had a smoke machine as well. At least, I don't think it was a mister. That came on as a table outside opened up. We skulked out to the open table.
A fun time, and the first night maybe since we started traveling that we stayed out late at a non-hotel place. You know, all of 12:45am. Too late apparently. Our hotel had the big iron gate pulled across the door. Fortunately the woman running the store (still open) across the street knew where the doorbell was hidden and some soggy lookin' dude let us in after 15 minutes of dog barking on the inside. Nice. They should let us know these things!
Don't worry about my dirty clothes. As we walked out this morning we dropped a load to get laundered at the front desk. What did I wear today? My swim trunks. Classy? Yup, that's me.
Our main sight seeing thinger today was the Reunification Palace. Built in the....some year and lived in by the guys running South Vietnam until it was taken in 1975 by the North. Interesting, and our tour was concluded ith a video in the basement. I guess Michael Moore has branched out and is now writing history books for Vietnam. The bilge that spewed from that tv sounded like the shite he would toss out. The US is terrible and killed, raped, maimed, mutilated and gummed any and every living thing they got their hands on. Meanwhile, the North Communists were exemplary and didn't so much as kill a single blade of grass in their wondrously victorious efforts to aid the poor South Vietnamese in running out the stupid ignorant mean and smelly Americans. It was the biggest load of horseshit that I've seen/heard in a long time. Welcome to communism. It must be nice to completely re-write history. Yes, I know some actions were wrong and maybe getting involved and our method of involvement wasn't the best. Whatever. This was not about that at all. It was flat out ignoring history. I am surprised the video didn't blame the US for Vietnam invading Cambodia. 'Cause after all, the Vietnamese govt would never ever do anything wrong (if this is my last transmission, you know why)! I wanted to walk out, but had to watch the train derail and plunge down the embankment. Rachelle and I walked out of that stupid little room incensed.
Why would I say Michael Moore wrote it? Well, it belittled the US and Americans, fabricated events and twisted history, and blamed everything on the US. Oh wait, Moore makes documentaries. I forgot. Well, maybe documentaries as described in a dictatorial govt. Yes, I am fired up.
To top it all off, as we were making our round-a-bout way back to the hotel, a guy on the back of a moto passed us, repeatedly calling out: "Fuck you" with a less than happy look on his mug. Didn't look joking to me, but I returned the favor. Gee, I wonder why people don't like us. Take blunders/errors in judgment on the part of our govt, add in lies and fabricated history disseminated by 'rival' govts, blend in assholes like Moore (not for asking questions, but for his insipid arguments against the US people. And yes, that includes all you who idol-worship the tub of goo), and what do you get? Ah yes!! General hatred of individuals by other individuals instead of accountability at the govt level! Hooray!
Yes, I am plenty fired up right now.
But wait, I'm not done. Tomorrow we are going to to Co Chi tunnels. We signed up, I got a free t-shirt. After, we began questioning the tour lady about getting to various places up the coast. I mentioned Duc Pho, where dad was stationed. She laughed heartily and asked why I'd want to go there. Somehow I got the words to fall off my tongue. She wasn't laughing anymore. Very uncomfortable.
Now I'm emailing and am hungry.
Yes, our country has done many things wrong (isn't it great to criticize with 20-20 hindsight?). Yes, it will continue to make mistakes and errors in judgment. Yes, most lifestyles in the US drive me batty and frustrated like holy hell. But it's afforded me the freedom to: take this trip. Live a pretty easy life. Be free to think and say what I think w/o fear of retribution. To have the opportunity to learn about mistakes that have been made, to travel internationally pretty easily, etc etc. *sigh* So much we take for granted. So much obliviousness not only in our country, but everywhere. Can a Vietnamese citizen, whose only history has taught him about the US and its evil ways really be held in much contempt for hating the US? Nah, not too much. Just ran out of steam. This tires me out. We're all the goddamned same, ya know? There are people here, in the US, in Russia, in Nepal with open minds who are willing to listen and learn and form intelligent opinions. There are people in all those places that fit the definition of a redneck. Money grubbers. Sex fiends, violent, friendly....the cross section is pretty much the same across the board. I guess (the yelling has started up again. I may have to get midieval) it's easier to throw hatred across the ocean? Nah, it stays local as well. Where the hell did this start and where am I going with it? Who the poop knows. I am tired, now.
I have a mosquito bite that looks like a goiter on my neck. It itches.
People need to travel. That's it. Our country has so much squandered opportunity that these places don't have. In Phnom Penh, we were asked by our hotel guys (when we got back from Kampot) what it was like down there. It's 2 hours away, and these guys didn't seem to be doing bad business. They have probably never been out of PP. It's been that way everywhere we've been. These people can't travel. No time or money. Many people in the US have both of these (yes you do. Save money instead of trying to keep up with the jones's. Don't listen to those purveyors of bullshit the diamond [jewel] industry or the biggest predators of all the fashion industry [who decides when things are out of style? Oh yeah, the people making the money. No wonder a new wardrobe is needed what, 4 times every year? THEY ARE SCAMMING YOU AND TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOUR INSECURITIES! Your clothes from the year before which are not even faded are still perfectly wearable. Quit being so damn wasteful!]. Make your lunches for a while instead of eating out and you'll be amazed at the growth of your savings.) but still rarely travel. Fine, you like it there and see no need to travel. I guess, that's fine. Not everyone has the urge. But you are missing so much! And when you travel, stray off the beaten tourist track a bit and hang out with locals. You will actually learn something applicable. A plethora of church and ruin visits I guess can teach you stuff, though maybe not all that applicable in life in this century.
Peterin' out, peterin' out. Not sure, still, what happened in the last 15 minutes or so. I think I blacked out? Nah, not really.
Kinda got cussed out (indirectly) by some woman yesterday. We stopped for lunch, and some kids came up. Started messin' with them. 2 of them were great, giving up the begging shit and enjoying having their pix taken and acting like kids. The third girl was questionable. Walking to the van she ended up getting about $0.50 out of my back pocket (a nice harmless wake up call to remind us that Vietnam is a bit sketchier than where we've been and that a closer eye has to be kept on our stuff). Back on the van, some woman (who liked to bicker with her....boyfriend(?), cussed him out for having anything to do with the kids and encouraging him. Apparently, the bad girl bit him and another guy on the van! Lucky me. Some of that I am sure was directed at me b/c me and R were playing with them. But, come on. They are still kids! Granted that little whench has made me distrustful of the kids (maybe good?), but up until now all the kids we've been with have seemed overjoyed to be able to not peddle/beg for a bit and have some fun. So I got slightly singed. So what. I can afford it, and those other 2 kids had a good time. Their situation sucks, but they are still kids/people.
Whatever. Again, more pointless rambling.
Just spilled water on my crotch. Good think I'm still wearing my swim trunks.
Spam sucks. I get a lot. If I'd only read it I could be a great lover, increase my manhood, get a college degree and meet all these beautiful women (and men) who are dying to meet me. Seems silly to not invest, right? I wonder if they could be sued for false advertising?
We are still pretty much out of contact with the real world. Ain't seeing the news and ain't reading too much of it either. That is nice. Less depression and frustration in life (not that the media embellishes and focuses only on the negative or anything...)
I should end this now, shouldn't I? I have yet to get anywhere.
Might get to spend a little extra time in Thailand before going to see Brenda. Why? I'm a moron. Needed to get my Uzbek visa earlier. Didn't. Oops.
Heard a woman talking the last time we were in Thailand. SHe as drinking a beer and taking a break from her exhausting day of promoting ill will towards the US (she was American) to rant to one of the girls there. Her most laughable claim was that the only reason the Janet Jackson 'incident' created such an uproar was b/c she was black. Huh? Never heard that one before. I figured it was our silly puritanical (yet despised by most) standards that decided to feign outrage at a blob of fat (though some were truly outraged. Boob envy)! Odd woman
I miss my motorcycle. With all the 2-wheel action around here (it is absolutely insane how many there are here. R got some pics. No wonder there are so many accidents.) I am dying to get on one and ride. I've imagined having my 600cc sportbike (yes, Brandon, yours has a bigger engine. That only means you have a smaller p....) here among all the 100s and rare 250s. It'd be killer (and I'd be dead in a heartbeat. Traffic don't move that fast)
I'm done. Tired and worn out.
Stopped at a 'zoo' yesterday. Monkeys in small cages. One monkey had the saddest look. A couple had been there the day before and were coming back thru. The day before they'd petted his head while he strongly gripped their fingers for over 30 minutes. Saddest looking monkey I've ever seen. Heart punching scene.
Alone in a cage. No love, no freedom. Sad
I'm in the mood to watch Fight Club. Who's with me?!?!
Friday, December 10, 2004
H,. Apparently, sis ain't impressed. I wasn't mean enough. Well, what can I do? I figured gettin' him some educating would be the best route. I guess not. I'll remember that! No Xmas presents for her this year! Except the 45 books I have in my bag. Seriously, it's getting out of control. I am impressed with how much better a packer I am becoming though. That's exciting in a twisted way.
Want more fun? In Thailand, we bought a bottle of rum. The plan (sort of) was to send it to Hooter in thanks for the Belize rum he brought me. Unfortunately, it was tasty and a few nights with temporary friends killed it. Next, we bought a small bottle of palm wine in Cambodia (they make everything with palm trees there!) that we are still carrying around. Silly us. The worst part is that our multi-colored chinese food back (which carries it around) keeps getting dropped on the ground. I don't think it's broken yet. I haven't checkedin Vietnam yet.
Check that out. I'm in Vietnam. And since September I've been in China Cambodia and Thailand as well. That's pretty fun.
~ Kingsley Amis ~
It's busier than hell here and the hecticness is making my head swoon. Or maybe that's because I haven't had any real exercise in a long time. I was going to yoga our room up, but that'd hurt. It's very small. Maybe next time? I'd run around the city, but my whities went home in the last box. Besides, I'd end up being made dead by the traffic or something. Or just lost and frantically splundering around in the bottom of a canal somewhere. Unless they don't have canals, then maybe just ni a dilapidated drainage system.
Not bad so far. People have been nice enough. The strange part is being in a country whose connotation for years has been negative. What with that conflict and all. What it comes down to is that I am now in a country that was visited by my dad....35-37 years ago (sorry, dad, I forget what year exactly). And he was here as a soldier in a war. Very strange to think about. We'll be making a stop in Duc Pho (already found it on the map. Hopefully someone will let us out there. And then pick us up again)(where dad was stationed), and I think that may top the list of mind bending experiences.
Something funny happened. Too 'tired' right now to recollect what it was. Small boats smoothed us part of the way. Buses and vans jounced us the rest of the way. We saw an incense 'factory' (small bldg with painted people hustling) on the way. And a fish farm. Both mildly entertaining, but mostly usefull as a break from bouncing.
TA DOW!!! How do you like me now??
What else. Not much. Scoofed a couple movies last night. American Beauty and....Lock stock and 2 smoking barrels. Good shite. Hung with a french chick (she had fries for earrings. Never seen anything like it), a swiss dude (smelled like limburger), and 2 brits (have you ever seen 4 months supply of fish and chips? gets raunchy. the guv in the bag for security didn't seem none too pleased). And there was the Vietnamese chap working the place. He laughed a lot. Not sure why. Cool though. The balcony/common area/restaurant/bar of the place we stayed was open air but had a massive bug net around it. I want one. A common area that is.
We're still alive. Take that Lampey McGhee!
Dinner. Once our bags were deposited in our hotel room, dinner seemed a grand idea. A small place accepted us (I just looked down at my crotch and saw the huge stain I deposited there at dinner by way of grease. Shite. I REALLY need to do laundry) and we ate. Good stuff. While we dined, a woman with a stack of 30 or so books came by to peddle (you can probably see where this is going). I bought another book: 'Self', by Yan Martel. Rachelle bought Michael "Tubs" Moore's book 'Stupid White Men'. I congratulated her on buying a photocopied (most books over here are just that) book so that El Whale-o got nothing for it. Otherwise I may have slain her. Much like Buffy would have.
Eyes are tired or smog-smitten.
Tomorrow I think we are doing museums. We've been told that the war museum here paints a pic of our Vietnam War as being a civil war between north and south. Which it was. Which seems to rarely get paper time, as far as I've seen. Interesting. The day after (Sunday, I think) we are hoping to take a 1/2 day tour to the Co Chi (I think? Fact check later) Tunnels. Tunnels built by the North Vietnamese during the war. Should be interesting.
You've taken up enough of my time. I'm sweating and dirty (my clothes and person) and should walk around a bit.
Everyone should visit asia/SE Asia. Plan it
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
That's how our first full day in Phnom Penh felt to me. I awoke knowing our destinations for the day (Choeng Ek, the Killing Fields, as well as S-21 the prison used prior to shipment to C.E.); knowing it would be a sad day. But not knowing how sad. Breakfast tasted good, and I was actually in high spirits as my driver tore his moto thru the clogged streets of Phenom Penh; dodging other bikes and cars, skirting a garbage truck (I saw the guy grabbing the trash leap high and slam a bag into the back, almost celebratory in his work.); eventually leaving the paved onto a less crowded gravelly road. A change in road surface did nothing to disuade my genie from racing pell mell on others' bumpers still weaving like a frat boy at 4am Saturday night. One more turn and we were away from the shacks and stalls and general chaos of life, into the countryside. No traffic, the smell of grass and fresh assailing my nostrils, my heart beat returning to a more normal pace, anticipating a vision clogging monument to those killed my man's inhumanity. Instead we pulled up to a fence and small ticket selling shack. A man with one leg on cruthes immediately proferred his hat to me with a large smile, begging for any help I had to give. Next to him another man in a similar condition did the same. Initially I ignored them, as several small kids were off to the side begging thru the fence (not allowed in perhaps? Maybe just knowing a good photo op? That is what they offered. A photo op for some dough. Cute though, calling out: "1-2-3 Smile!". Smart) and if you give to one the rest will crowd around and guilt you into helping all. And yes, perhaps I played the callous type.
Rachelle and her guy pulled up and we purchased our $2 tickets, initially deferring the offer of a $4 guide. Thru the fence I was not greeted overwhelmingly with sorrow and pity. The sun shone brightly down on green grass, nary a breeze stirred in the 95 degree air. I simply relished being in the much cooler shade and perused ahead. A large white tower, perhaps 10 stories dominated my field of vision. Even at a distance I could see white orbs on each level that I could discern as skulls. Instead of attacking the place full on, we veered right to a kiosk set up with pictures and a brief history. Interesting and sad, indeed. 350 killing fields around the country? 19,000-20,000 killed here? I didn't know. not good for sure. Reading material taken care of, we began to walk the grounds. A gazebo of sorts sat above a shallow pit that a sign told us contained the remains of 450 people. A lot of people for that small a space, but I'll buy it. On we went. Small indentions in the ground, perhaps 10-20 feet in diameter abutted each other. No signs announced their meaning so we walked on. A small group of kids approached us, asking desperately for money for pics or gum or pens or anything. Irked at 'the mood' being disrupted we hustled away and were offered a reprieve by a worker who chastised the kids (we assume). Conceding defeat and ignorance, we returned to the front gate to hire us a guide.
Our guide, mid-20s I am guessing, began our tour by heading straight for the tower which is indeed filled with skulls. He informed us that 8,985 (I think) people were exhumed from these fields and their skulls are all placed in the tower in memorium. Distinctions were made by age and sex and different layers held different classifications. Our guide pointed out that in many cases you could discern from looking how a person was killed. Holes in the skull, crushed skulls, broken jaws, etc greeted our gaze and the horror began to settle in. Impossible to ignore, we began to envision how certain skulls met their grisly demise. Almost 9,000 skulls. Which means 10,000 or so still remain in the ground (it was decided to leave the rest in the ground.). Floor level contained clothing that survived until they were dug up. Feeling ill at ease thanks to 9,000 dead people and our guide's visibly emotional voice filled with rage and despair, our walk took us back to the gazebo and more explanation. Pits were originally 5meters or so deep. Rainy seasons have filled in the pits. And yes, the successive abutting pits all contained many many remains. In fact, he pointed out to us an arm or a leg bone that was breaking the surface of the ground adjacent to the path and then a jaw bone displaying some molars in the middle of the path. Due to the rain softening the ground and such, he explained. That is why there were also large piles of bones beside a couple of the pits. Queasy....
Another gazebo stood over a pit whose descriptive sign let us know that babies and naked women were found in this pit. The women were naked because they'd been raped. The babies? Well, just take a gander at the tree next to the pit. See that flattened bark? We know that bullets were SO expensive that any possible measure was taken to cut expenses, so to kill the poor kids they used the tree. Though sometimes they tossed them in the air and let them fall not to earth but onto upraised bayonets. Khmers doing this to Khmers. Our guide could barely choke out how crazy and horrible Pol Pot was and how deranged his followers were. I'm convinced that if any of those perpetrators were in front of him, there'd be no second thought to gutting them. Again, I am not sure how old this guy was. And I didn't want to ask. To add to our growing despair, he let us know that thus far, no one has been tried for any of the crimes committed. No one. Even though many of the Khmer Rouge soldiers were killed by the liberating (so-called) Vietnamese soldiers, many of those fighting for PP were only kids. And how do you lock up and/or kill an entire generation of your youth? While he saw sense in that (as do I), the idea that all those ex-soldiers are now grown up and still walking around freely really seemed to be a blow to him. These are ex-soldiers/children who had been forced to kill friends and/or family. Since this idea had never crossed our minds, we took it rather roughly. Before, our eyes and feelings bestowed nothing but pity and sorrow for those we saw in the streets. Now a layer of mistrust diluted those feelings.
I asked our guide how things seem to be now in the country. Is it peaceful or are there still attacks? Are relations with their neighbors better now (they'd been very bad with the Thai and especially with the Vietnamese. China I don't know. They supplied guns and ammo and most of what Pol Pot needed, at the expense of the Cambodian peoples' lives and sufferings)? He said that attacks on remote towns up thru 1995 made many rural folk move into Phemon Penh in an attempt to find security. He more or less said those have stopped. Kind of. As for relations, he never really answered. He stumbled a bit and got some words out that they want to be seen and recognized by the international community.
Our guide left us at the front gate. I went back to snap a couple photos that I did not feel comfortable taking in front of him. Standing alone amid the pits I tried to imagine the scene on that spot almost 30 years ago. The crying and yelling and swearing and bleeding and... I couldn't do it. At times I have a pretty vivid imagination, but I could conjure nothing up at that time. Thank god.
I saw Dachau. Almost all the buildings used by the Nazis have been torn down and the place was mostly memorial. But very cleaned up. A similar day, weather-wise, as the day I saw the killing fields. I left there feeling a bit squeamish, but not too bad. Leaving Choeung Ek I felt sick. And despondent. Involuntarily my eyes misted thinking of it all. My heart hurt trying to imagine the pain and horror that everyone must have felt during/after (still?) those times.
Sitting here almost a week later it still affects me pretty harshly to think about. I think the roughness of the memorial makes the atrocities more real. You see bones poking up from the ground and you can't help but invisage the multitude more laying under the soil and how they got there.
Early in our tour, as we sat and looked across several of the pits (there are many. So many. And so many more left untouched) I noticed that a couple dozen butterflies flitted about above and in the pits. Butterflies are supposed to be good omens. Maybe their presence was a coincidence, maybe it belied a presence of those poor departed. I don't know. But it was the one thing that day that caused me to pause in reflection of the good in my life instead of the horror I was learning about.
Many of us have the luxury of sitting in our quiet and warm homes, oblivious (purposely?) to the horrors of war and maniacs, a nice life unaffected by events such as Serbia/Herzegovenia (sp?), The Balkans, Israel, Palestine, Sudan, west Africa, and on and on. Just because we pretend these things aren't happening and don't affect us doesn't make them any less real or horrible. What am I proposing? I don't know, nothing I guess. Only that we shouldn't live in our little sheltered worlds imagining that we are not involved, affected by, influential with these atrocites and horrors.
I don't know. I really don't. I just know that things for me ain't the same anymore....
Ok, not really. I am just food deprived and dehydrated (surprise surprise). Our shared taxi (4 people) dropped us off curbside about an hour ago. Since then we bought tickets for a slow boat (2 days one night) to Saigon, checked into the hotel, at some uncooked brownie batter stuff, I cashed in some traveler's checks, am downloading pics right now and will finish off this splunge with a blog. But since I haven't eaten since breakfast at 9 this morning, my stamina may be lacking. I swear I am going to write a better account of our visit to the KF's (ya know, to get all depressered again), but not now. No thinky here. Instead, a quick recap of the last couple days.
How did it start? Amusedly. We bought a $5 minibus ticket for the 2-3 hour ride to Campot. Our moto rides dropped us at a market (where these things leave from, apparently) about 8:40am. Since we thought they'd told us (this was arranged thru our guest house) it left at 8:30, we bustled onto the large van and settled in, relieved at having made it. Worthless expense of effort. Our bags were tucked in and we were jammed into the back bench. No problem, it was just the two of us and it looked good to me. Fast forward 2 hours. The van has only moved twice: once to get out of another departing van's way, and a second time to do the same. Rachelle counted, and by the time we left there were 25 people in this 4 bench van. Four people occupied our bench; R, me, a small kid, and a guy about our age. Not an oversized group. Yet R and I had to switch off who sat back against the seat and who leaned forward, as there was no room for our shoulders. Funny stuff. Eventually it left, and the ride lasted 3 hours. If you remember my earlier accounts of bus rides, I vowed to never sit in the back again. I remember why. Our heads were constantly hitting the ceiling as 2 very happy women in front of us laughed contentedly at the large head knocked white people.
Sidenote: sitting for 2 hours + in this market we saw quite a bit. Much roughhousing between men, beggars, kids and adults selling, amputees, fancy types.....and one old man. As he sauntered by, I realized that there is an age group I have seen very little of around this country. And that happens to be people that would be grey haired now, and in their prime about, oh, 30 years ago. Just another skickler helping to highlight what happened here. Of course we have seen older people. Just not many. Not as many as I would expect. Granted, I have no idea what the life expectancy is here, but based on the other places we've been, into grey hair days at least. Ponder that.....
Ok. Long story short, we stayed in a new guest house a couple blocks from the river and across the street from the old market. Great location, great place. After settling in we decided a walk around town to be in order. Immediately on the street we were approached by a couple people wanting to sell us tours to nearby 'sights'. Tourism is new to this town and we've decided that everyone wants to jump on that bandwagon and make some $.
Info on Campot. This town is on the Gulf of Thailand and was a major trading post until a new one was set up to the west. An old French hangout (despite all of the shite we US'ers get, esp from the Euros, we did not originate the colonization and domination of other cultures and countries. Ask Cambodia. France ran the place for a while and has left quite the legacy. [not to mention all their other old colonies]. But yeah, we are horrible people for trying to spread democracy....), it's now been left to....tourism now. The Khmer Rouge were a bit presence there and much fighting took place in the area. In fact, in 1994 the KR took several people hostage (foreigners) and executed several. Of the 3 held responsible, only one has been found/caught. Tourism is very new there.
Back to our story. After being assailed to take tours, we decided to turn around (we'd been heading away from the river) and head back to the river for sunset. Instead of taking the main drag we turned down a dirt side street to hide along the back way. Many of the locals were out and hanging out in front of their homes as we passed. How were we received? Like freakin' celebrities. Virtually everyone waved and shouted hello to us, faces adorned with enormous grins and friendly laughter. "Hello"s issued back from us and it was amazing. An incredible feeling of joy (and hope, maybe, that seeing tourists means a better life for them?) and acceptance, I guess. Very nice people and it was so much fun interacting in this way with them. At the end of this 'street', we turned to head back out and passed 2 small boys on the way. One of them ran up to me yelling 'hello' and as he came up alongside me he grabbed my hand and started jumping. So I lifted him for big jumps a couple times, then once around in a big airborne circle. He loved it (and so did I) and ran off giggling loudly. The second boy (who happened to have a mouse whose rear leg had a string tied to it the other end of which rested in his hand. this mouse was not alive. In the 1 minute we were there, he slammed it into the ground at least twice. Some kids have GI Joes, some don't have that luxury I guess) ran up to Rachelle to do the same thing. Fun times. Hitting the street, a young guy on a bike rode up and started talking to us. We waited for the sales pitch, but all he wanted was to practice his english (a future teacher, he said. I think). Escorting us to the river, we sat watching the sunset talking to him and his friend, another 2 guys, and then still another. All students (or ex's) wanting to practice english! It was a lot of fun, but we need to come up with a list of questions to ask back.
The next day we rode around a lot in the back of a pick up seeing an old hill top French settlement type thing (even a house for the King of France. Hm) that has been long abandoned (since 1972 if I recall correctly) with some others (new friends: canadian [this guy spent a lot of time in the midwest and dated a Purdue girl, so we talked campus bars. good times!] and aussie and a canadian girl). The day ended with a long donwhill hike thru a jungle. Fun, but due to thick vegetation not much to see. The best part? Our drive back to town. There must be a bell or something that gets rung when the tour we took is over. The road (pretty remote) was almsot lined with little bare-assed kids, teens, adults, and cows that stood there and waved and yelled "hello" in obvious excitement as we passed by. It was awesome and so much fun! I just wish I'd had my camera out and ready. So incredible to see that excitement, ya know? And these kids, whoa. So freakin' cute! (Check out our Cambodia pics for proof of that)
That's about it. Fun place. Now we are here and off for Vietnam tomorrow at 7am. Not enough time here, but I am thinking that I may head back here after seeing my sis and before flying off to Fiji. I may also take a look into teaching here, maybe up near Siem Reap. Or maybe Phnom Penh, we'll see. I was thinking about teaching down in Campot, but malaria is all over as is dengue fever. Not my idea of fun.
Be good, all. I have no idea when I'll be on again. Most likely in Saigon. Hopefully the internet is not too expensive. And hopefully that commie country hasn't banned blogspot.
2 days on a slow boat to Saigon....isn't that a song or something?
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Tomorrow sometime (8:30ish) we are going back out on the road. Kinda like the Traveling Willbury's, only completely different. A lot more tone deaf. And not so Tom Pettyish.
Where to now? Don't worry, still in Cambodia. We are heading down to the Gulf of Thailand to the town of Kampot. It's a 2.5 hour or so drive (assuming the recently departed rainy season hasn't completely decimated the road) and we'll be there!
After a couple days there, we'll journey back up to PP, stay the night, then get our asses on a slow boat to China (not really, but you know how the tune goes. Actually, it'll be a slow boat to Vietnam). That'll be probably a 3 day trip. Maybe 4 we haven't decided. Some good quality time with the Mekhong Delta before disembarking in Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon. I thought it'd converted over to Islam and taken the name HCM City, but around here they're all calling it Saigon, so who really knows. Maybe since Vietnam ain't on any Cambodians Xmas list (that may not be true. How would I actually know?) they are purposely not calling it by its new name to tease those commies? Something to look into I suppose.
Hm. I really don't have much to say right now. Hard to imagine for most folks I would guess. Had a veggie curry (see ma, no cholesterol. I am so good! That and we've seen rats, so maybe the chicken ain't never clucked....if you know what I mean) dish for dinner that's sitting rotting in my gut. Feels gooood!
Dangit! I'm having trouble downloading pics again! That is starting to get on my nerves. I have a bunch to get online but I just can't get them there. It's the Chiner govt I'd bet.
Sonja-this is a couple days late. I blame Rachelle. Happy birthday!
Stu and Brenda (sorry, joint wishes for you both. I mean, do you really think I have the time to type out 'happy birthday' more than once?)-Happy birthday!
If anyone wants a(nother) reason to feel bad for my mom: I am in Cambodia. My little sis is still in western China. My little brother leaves for Japan soon. That means 3 of her 4 kids will be far far overseas. Though Stu will be heading home much sooner than us other 2 (ha!)
Gotta run now. This computer has reached the end of its viable life. Can't download, so I'm gonna go Office Space on its ass
Maybe all that shlup combined is what prodded me into waking up in a cranky mood. Walking around the city didn't really improve that foul mood. It didn't make it worse, but, you know. You don't? Oh. The main issue is more having too many options I want to take right now and not knowing which is the front runner/best. I know, my life is hard. But this time it kinda is.
Here's a quick rundown of this city and some things we noticed today:
Most of Asia seems preoccupied with glossing over the bad/dirty with a veneer of nice. Efforts aren't always sufficient, but cleanliness is abundant. Walking toward our sights for the day, R commented that she doesn't feel as safe here as she did elsewhere, and not as safe as she did earlier in our time here (yesterday's killing field stories and the possibility of ex-KR's walking around unknown are definitely a part of that). A part of that is that it seems the need for that clean veneer is not needed here. Garbage lies strewn about all over, its scent wafting around in the heat. The buildings are rundown; although places we saw in China were pretty hard-up, it's not the same here. It seems worse.
There are homeless/poor all over. Many are missing limbs. There are a lot of kids. I have gotten pretty good at ignoring beggars, but when one guy comes up to you on crutches missing his left leg smiling at you and proferring muffled pleas, while behind him on a ratty old food cart looking thing a guy with no legs and almost no torso (is that the right word? it sounds wrong) tries to arm-push his way over to you.....it's hard as shit to look away and not stop.
Then you remember-2 in 7 Cambodians were killed in a 4-year period....
oof. Ok, the chills and despair from yesterday are not gone yet.
The streets are chaos. I think they are more chaotic than even China was. The irony is, I feel that crossing major streets here is easier than back home (though I am used to playing 'frogger').
There seems to be more repressed rage or despair or negativity here than there was in Siem Reap. But then it all started here, and many people after the 'end' came here to get out of the unpopulated places for a bit of an increase in security.
Enough. Too many whirling thoughts still. The sun is about to set, and they are stunning here. Last night's was the best sunset I've seen in a long time.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Our hotel hooked us up with 2 dudes on motorbikes (not motorcycles as they are in fact scooters with very low hp) and off we went-R on one, me on the other (I got the guy wearing a full face helmet. Not sure if that is a good sign or not. Probably not). It was quite the ride. Our first bike taxis and they are quite skilled. I was a tad nervous (being a nervous nelly of a passenger) as we whipped thru the very heavy traffic, narrowly missing oncoming trucks and peds and cars and buildings and alligators. But it was when we hit the gravel roads that I almost bailed off. These so-called roads are rutted and pot-holed and swarming with dust and people and bikes and various other damaging objects. Regardless, my dude opened it up and we tore down this gravel road, bouncing all over, right behind the bumper of the car in front of us. Oof.
But we made it sans accidents. As far as I know. I think I blacked out for a while.
Today (like almost every day the last 2 weeks) was hot and sunny with a clear blue sky. Very similar to the weather the day I visited Dachau in Germany. Inappropriate weather to visit the scene of a mass slaughter in my opinion. So it goes, there was nothing I could do about it. Hanging around the entrance gate were a couple of older limb-missing guys asking for $. R and I chose a guy and gave a bit. In we went, greeted right off with a large tower that had several levels full of skulls. Bypassing it at first, we walked over to a pavilion with boards of info. They are estimating that approx 19-20,000 people were killed and buried at this site. 8,985 have been disinterred and their skulls are displayed in memorium in the tower. Oh yeah-there are around 350 such killing field type sites around the country. Estimates range from 1-3 million people killed by the Khmer Rouge. Wow. Since we didn't get a guide we began to walk around and were immediately harassed by a bunch of kids wanting money for their pic or a pen or gum or anything. Not the scene we wanted to view this area in. So we headed back and got a guide which was a great idea. I am guessing the guy was early 20s (though what do I know? I am terrible guessing ages), and throughout our time together he was very serious and seemed very sad about the history. Hm, that's a surprise (sarcasm). What did we find out? I won't get into details because the way people were killed (not shot, as bullets were deemed more expensive than people. Blunt objects mainly) is very gruesome and disturbing. We passed by many shallow pits (were orignally dug several meters deep) and ya know what? Thanks to the recently ended rainy season, many bones have surfaced. Piles of leg and arm bones sat by several of the pits. Bones also protruded from the ground (macabre as it is, I had to get a pic of the tooth lined jawbone breaking the surface of the trail.) adding to the overall aura of the area. Dachau had none of that. This was way more disturbing. The tower was actually the first thing our guide took us to. The skulls are basically arranged by age and gender by level, and you can see the damage done (method of execution) to the skulls and the clothing that survived (the Khmer Rouge were in power from 1975-1979. This place was dug up in 1980).
Not sure what to say. Since the topic was brought up (duh. where were we?) we asked this guy a bunch of questions, since this is a time we have no desire to bring up with anyone else unprovoked. Pol Pot was crazy. Neither he nor anyone else was ever brought to trial or justice. Very sad. But wait, it gets worse. The army had to have people in it, right? Little kids made up some percentage (no idea how much) of this army. Many had to kill their friends or even their own parents. When the Vietnamese came in and tossed out the KR, they killed many the army. Which means many survived. And since no one was ever brought to trial, that means the people that committed these horrible acts are out walking the streets. Many are living by the Thai border, but who knows how many live here! Our guide told us that people just don't talk about it because you could be talking to someone who was involved in the mess. We hadn't thought of that. Our thoughts had only been sympathetic and pitying of the people we met. Maybe not all deserve pity (we discussed after the fact where the line of accountability is drawn. Many people had to do horrible things to stay alive and keep their families alive. Where/when did it become unoffensive to them?). Our guide said that violence (raids of looting and killing into remote villages) continued until 1995 but things are pretty peaceful right now. I missed the conversation R had with my driver and another random guy out front before we left. Something about how nothing is better, that violence (and much animosity towards the Vietnamese) is right below the surface, she couldn't follow it all but left a bit worried and more ill at ease.
I'll have to come back later and touch this up. I just can't imagine this stuff actually happening. It's despicable and utterly horrible. And scary what a person can do to his fellow man. Anti-westernism was big in the KR movement. Phnom Penh seems pretty westernized (kind of) right now.....
Since that wasn't depressing enough, I decided to go see S-21, otherwise known as Tuol Sleng-a high school that was converted to a prison/torture/holding place before shipping people to Choeung Ek. Rachelle went back to the hotel instead. Normal looking concrete buildings filled with board after board covered in pics of people that went thru there. Most were pre-torture pics. The boards with pics of little kids were the hardest to look at. As I walked thru the rooms used to torture people (some of the many) I looked at the simple frame beds and concrete floors and walls. In each cell a picture was hung of a person post-torture. Pausing (briefly) to look at a pic of a person (male, I think) laying contorted on the bed, blood covering the floor all around the bed, his head looking crushed completely, I heard some kids outside the compound laughing and playing. That was very strange.
I saw the cells used to hold people. I saw more pics of people as well as instruments of torture and drawings of torturings. There were pics and quotes from people (still alive and free) who worked for the KR. Some apologetic, some admitting nothing.
Surfing the internet to remember the Cambodian name of the killing fields I saw I came across an article (?) some guy wrote about his visit here. It's interesting (the early part is getting here and the city itself). I liked this passage:
But this was a trip I had to make. Ever since seeing the film 'The Killing Fields' years back I've struggled with answering the difficult question of how on earth an entire nation could literally commit suicide. Suicide. Our world is full of countless histories of atrocity, where one culture vents its wrath on another culture. This century alone, we've witnessed Jews, Armenians, Roma, Bosnians, Tutsis, just to name a few, led to their deaths for reasons no more logical than hate or fear itself. Yet in Cambodia, there was no dominant ethnic group oppressing a minority, no country wiping out its neighbor in the name of nationalism. In Cambodia, Khmers killed other Khmers, first over political struggle, then over social ideology, and finally over bloodlust and paranoia as ends in themselves. This small Asian nation not much larger than the state of Missouri exterminated as many as two million of its own brothers and sisters. Two out of seven Khmers starved or murdered in less than 45 months: April 17, 1975 to January, 1979. "
One of the placards on a wall at the prison said that every family in this country had a loved one die or be killed during the time of the Khmer Rouge. 2 out of 7 killed in 45 months (I'll trust the guy's math). That is incomprehensible to me. Hopefully the violence is done. Depending on who we talk to....no, strike that. I am not sure anyone we've posed the question to (not that many) feels that confident that it is over.
The first people killed? People of education, doctors, teachers. Our guide told us that they would feel your hands. If they were soft you were killed because it meant you were not a farmer or laborer. Schools and hospitals were closed.
Suffice it to say, we've been a bit melancholy this afternoon. I've written more than enough drivel for now. I may try to get something better down later. But I need to get my mind off of this and onto something less drowningly depressing. Maybe I'll pull Anchorman and watch that.
Every person I see that is over the age of, we'll say 24, had a loved one die b/c of this 'movement'. I can't fathom this horror and heart break.
Some things just kill your faith in our species, don't they?