Sunday, January 23, 2005
It didn't take too long for events to take an...exciting turn.
One of my first nights here in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was spent in a disco. Yes, I know. Most of you that know me know that dancing and dance clubs are not my favorite place to spend time. Well, this is Uzbekistan and I figured it'd be more interesting than at home. I was right.
It was a nice place, though unlike a fancy club in the States people were not all dressed up in the fanciest shite. I saw many jeans (nice one) and more casual attire (by US club standards). Me? Looking as good as possible. Oversized travel pants and a fleece. I left my flannel at home.
The music was pretty good. Heard a lot of US songs (Nelly, Usher, etc), and many repeats (requests doubled and tripled up some songs). No worries.
The crowd. Whew. Very cosmopolitan. Uzbeks, Russians, a Candadian (?), 1 Americans, Tajics, Uyghers, Koreans, and many other nationalities I don't know. All dancing differently. Not the huge bouncing gyrating crowd I'm used to seeing. Little pockets of differing moves. Fun to watch, which is all I was there to do. Here are some of my faves:
The guy in a suit (sans tie) who stood in the middle of the floor, right hand in his pocket, left hand snapping. No other movement except his head that was chick scoping.
Another guy all in black with a black beret. Stared out at the floor, intensely morose and volatile.
2 Russian girls. Not to generalize, but I've decided that Russian girls scare me. Russians are not a small race, and many of the girls I see are taller than me. These girls were....bigger than me and very drunk. At one point they offered me a shot of vodka. I declined in fear. Later, as I stood and talked with one of my new friends (sis's old friend), one of them ran a finger or 2 down my back (they were sitting next door) then reached a hand out as I moved away and stared as though she were going to grab my ass. Frigthened, I fled to the dance floor to join my sis and her other friend. They were surprised to see me and amused at the look of abject terror on my face. A few minutes later, while they laughed at my story, the abover girls stumbled onto the floor. The scarier girl shoved some random girl who turned, grabbed hold of the 3 foot bleached blonde ponytail, and pulled it off! The now hairfree girl lunged and was kicked out screaming and convulsing by the Russian bouncers. I remained in hiding until her friend joined her outside
The Russian bouncers. Ya seen those movies with big Russian dudes wearing running and sweat suits? They exist. These guys were all around the floor keeping order. Very large men. Nice enough though. I think. I can't speak Russian, you know.
I guy we met at the english institute earlier in the day (taking care of business) who followed us around for the rest of the night. This dude was mostly full of shit about everything he said. Claimed to be a saint who could work miracles at will. A vegan, though he ate meat for dinner because it was "a holiday". He is also going to personally eradicate violence in the world and make all women sane. Like I said, the guy was full of it. Anyway, when we first got to the club he told me that he was a terrible dancer (true) and was shy so he'd only dance in a large group (very untrue). Minutes later he followed my sis onto the floor and spent the rest of the night (regardless of how crowded or empty the floor became) with his eyes mostly to fully closed, head back, arms scattered all over hell, moving to some beat that wasn't coming out of any speakers I could hear with a huge idiot grin plastered to his face. Yes, he looked silly, but he looked so blissfully happy and unaware that is was great!
The place closed at 5am, but we left early. 4:15AM.
Now, how would you get home at 4Am in a strange ex-Soviet city? Taxi, right? Not us! No taxi, no bus, no walking (way too far). No, we didn't find bicycles. We hitchhiked. The club was down a dark road so we stumbled back to the main ride (tired tired tired), past a couple of policemen (no harassment which was nice. I was too tired to enjoy that) and down the road a ways. Hands out until a car stopped. The guy stopped because he recognized us from the bus earlier that day! How strange is that?
Now after almost a week in Tashkent we are heading out. A bus will take us to Bukhara this afternoon where we will probably be staying with a couple more of my sis's friends. After a fdw days there, to the small town she worked in back in her Peace Corps day. Then: Samarkand, Khiva, and I forget where else until we get back here in early Feb. Should be a blast. Don't worry, I have a ton of film and a couple mostly empty memory cards for the dig (don't worry, R. I took out the card with the last downloaded pics of us togehter so they're safe).
Then try to explain to them that no, you don't have a job. On purpose. That you quit just because you didn't really like it. No, you weren't unhappy. No, you weren't paid poorly or treated badly. It just wasn't good enough. And finding another will be no problem, you just have to decide which is good enough for you. And talking about traveling (they can't. no money), the freedoms we have, the simple niceties that we take for granted, etc.
Uncomfortable to say the least. Maybe to them it isn't that bad to hear, but to hear the words coming out of my mouth makes me feel like a complete ass to say the least. I need to start giving a different reason for why I am traveling and not working.
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Please: read it with an open mind, get thru the entire thing, and take some time to think a bit before attacking and crucifying him and/or me. The tough part is, many of the thoughts and ideas he puts forth were not very clear to me before we started traveling. And it's taken a bit of time for me to drop the defensiveness and allowing myself a clearer view of what's going on and .
I am typing this up, copying from the magazine it was printed in. I was unable to find the article online which is why I am doing this. Any spelling/grammatical/general flubs are a product of my typing. If someone has legal issues with me over this, let me know. I'd gladly link this article instead of typing it up. But I think the message is important enough for me to take the time to do this.
Any italicized or bold sections are my emphasis.Later, I'll expand more of my own ideas and recent thoughts. Don't worry. And these last few days in Uzbekistan are only serving to bolster and improve my thinking and embolden me in how I'm thinking lately. So be ready.
THE AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
Even the Roman Empire fell, overrun by a band of "barbarian" Visigoths undaunted by the power they were tackling. But they were just the final instruments of Rome's demise. The real fall befan centuries earlier when a bloated empire became arrogant and hubristic. Sound familiar?
I honestly don't know what the future hold for the United States of America, but after a five-week visit back to my home country and the presidential election, it appears that my vision for the USA is far off track. I am not a self-hating American, nor do I want to be a mouthpiece for the intransigent Europeans who feel so culturally superior to their trans-Atlantic counterparts. I hoped I would not be writing this article and yet here I am forced to confront the fact that my country isn't just in a rut, it's diseased.
It's easy to point out where America has gone wrong over the last four years: the Iraq War, abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, failing to push for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, insulting ourallies, and making enemies out of people who once looked to us for hope and inspiration. But these are just the outward and most recognisable symptoms of the cancer running through American society-the actions the rest of the world sees without truly understanding the root causes of all of this. If these were isolated incidents, caused independently of one another and without a clear tie into the fabric of what American society has become, then I could optimistically opint out to the rest of the world that there were 55 million of us that voted for John Kerry. Unfortunately, those numbers belie a much greater and insidious affliction in the vast majority of my countrymen.
Jerry Springer not withstanding, American TV (the only form of entertainment many AAmericans can afford and/or have time for) continues to paint a rosy picture of life in "the greatest nation on earth". That message, delivered by the media, is only reinforced (not the other way around) by a goverment which continues to tell its people the "American dream" is alive and well. And though that message obviously conflicts with what the average American sees in his own life, when it is delivered forcefully, ad nauseum, throughout every medium of communication he knows, he eventually believes it's his own deficiencies which rightfully condemn him to working 80 hours a week at Wal-Mart (my parents recently met such a person) for wages which can barely sustain an individual, let alone a family.
READ THE REST HERE
A sad sad place. Depression and futility reign supreme. At least the Communists were successful in getting almost everyone (except the elites. Someone's gotta run it all, right?) to live at the same level. It's too bad that level is so low and spirit crushing and sad.
It's great seeing my sis again, and her friends are great. Very hospitable.
Yesterday was a holiday and we went with one of my sis's friends to a relative without the relation tie for a visit. Lots of tea and a ton of food. Brenda told me too late that it is ok to say no more, and you don't have to finish all the food on your plate. If you do, it gets refilled. I gorged. Very good though.
The woman we were visiting is about 78 and a very sweet woman. She had an incredible smile and the friendliest and fiestiest eyes. It was a great visit. Something that would have made for great pics, only getting them would have been incredibly rude. So sorry, there are none.
have a little notebook to carry around with me I can write these
things down. And then if I remember that this notebook is in my
pocket, I can read my notes and act on them. So here we go
I saw a preview for the new Star Wars movie a week or 2 ago, and had
chills the entire time (don't worry. I'm not weak. It was a short
preview). Have you seen it? Sir Alec Guiness as Obi Wan is talking
about Anakin becoming Darth Vader against scenes from the new flick.
The Williams family.
In 2 weeks in Thailand we encountered: a place that kept playing Hank
Williams music out into the street. A guy wearing a Hank Williams Jr
shirt (a Thai), and a westerner dude wearing a Hank WIlliams III
shirt. a sign of something I am sure. A sign of what, I have no idea.
Possible new career. I'm going to buy a bus and start a shuttle
service to the ski areas in the winter. Improving the I-70 corridor
into the mountains to relieve the overabundance of traffic is quite
the issue right now, and we need more talk about smaller ideas instead
of just these mega expensive 'solutions'. Don't worry, it'll be fun.
Good music (not only my choice), food and drink vendors and quick and
reliable service. Maybe some dancing girls (and one dancing guy.
maybe) to entertain. It'll be good fun and will make everyone happy. I
am willing to start collecting money from interested investors.
Walking around the main backpacker's area in Bangkok we passed a long
gate thing. Had picture after picture after picture of people missing
from the tsunami, names of people missing, pictures of the waves
coming in and the destruction. A large box for collecting donations. A
prayer stand. Another very very long wall listing the names of people
known to be injured or killed. And people all around sporting quiet
looks of sadness and compassion. Pretty surreal and very sad.
This computer lab is way too loud. This stupid little kid next to me
has no idea how to talk in a less than screaming voice and is quite
accomplished in throwing tantrums (playing an interactive game of
shooting and stuff and apparently doesn't like anyone beating him)
My ears and head hurt
Friday, January 21, 2005
We haven't done too much yet except sit around and eat and drink tea and talk. Although last night we went to a disco until after 4am. The most interesting people watching I've ever seen. More on that later when I have time. A riotous night to say the least.
Odd thing-I am sending this blog thru my mom. Not because I can't get into blogger, but because I keep getting logged in as a couple different people instead of myself! Very strange.
All is well, so no worries. It's not nearly as cold as I'd expected, though I did spend $30 for a big warm jacket. It kinda feels like springish back home. Only colder. Don't ask.
My flight here was beautiful-I saw Tibet, the Himalayas, the Indian Sea and even the mountains bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan (no sign of bin laden. I looked). All beautiful and very rugged.
Tashkent is a semi-typical big city. I don't stand out too badly as there are many Russians (the main language in Tashkent?). It's very very interesting. Updates later. Gotta go meet Granny
Monday, January 17, 2005
Rachelle's flight for Australia took off a couple hours ago. I am still in Bangkok in a seedy though very nice hotel. Seeing her off was....pretty damn sad. This is going to be the longest stretch we've gone (since we first met) without seeing each other. Bummer, to say the least.
Things are gonna be a little weird for a bit. Since leaving home 4 months ago, every minute of every day has been spent with R. We've seen, done, experienced quite a bit and to now experience so much more without her is gonna be very strange. Fortunately she is meeting up with her parents and I my sister so that we don't have to adjust in hermitic fashion.
Travel safe, baby. I'll see you soon.
On a screwier note, the hotel I htought I'd made a reservation at was apparently full. I found out when I got to reception (after leaving the airport). Fortunately, since we are out in the middle of nowhere, there is a hotel next door (they do offer hourly rates). A bit seedy looking, BL Apartments or something. However, it's one of the nicer rooms I've stayed in. It's about $10US cheaper than where I was going to stay. AND, it not only has a tv and a bunch of channels (most in english?), but a dvd player (I'm watching Anchorman tonight!) and a stereo! So I just discovered that the cds I bought in Vietnam do in fact work. That's fun.
My flight leaves tomorrow AM at 9:15 and I will hopefully be meeting my sis at the airport in Tashkent. Haven't heard a word from her in a few days, so hopefully her overland trip from China went well. We'll see!
That's about all. Last night we stayed in a nice hotel, a bday present from R (along with dinner and a couple gifts.). It was great! Dinner was at a mexican restaurant. One dude was at a mike playing his guitar and singing Eagles songs, another guy at a table had his guitar and played now and then, the owner was walking around singing the entire time...it was a riot! Decent food. On the walk home we stopped for a pint of Guinness (haven't had any since Sept) and ended up having a couple while listening to a Thai band play Beatles covers. And they were very good. All in all it was a very entertaining night.
I am also sad to report that R won the 'double solitaire end of Corey and R traveling together in Asia' tournament. I still say she cheated!
Everyone behave. Tashkent has internet cafes as far as I know, but I am not sure how long we'll be there (only a day or 2 I think). Then we're off to the middle of nowhere! What this means is that email and blogging will most likely drop off precipitously for a couple/few weeks.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
A couple of extra notes on that Briton we met in Chiang Mai:
ok, maybe only one (until R reminds me in the morning what I am forgetting to say now).
I showed him my right arm that night. For those who don't know, I got tattoo'd there last summer, right before leaving Denver (Th'ink Tank. Good place.). My right arm from top shoulder to mid-bicep has a Jackelope (Ray S.) riding a motorcycle (Dad) while holding the Union Jack (mom). When James saw the British flag riding around on my arm he almost fell off his chair. Said it was the wildest thing he'd seen. I do what I can.
And now (this one is for you, Stu), there is more. I had something done the last time we wree in Bangkok. I don't have the cd with me, but eventually I'll get it on the picture site for Thailand round 2. My left arm, from shoulder to just past my elbow, is now graced with the presence of a large spiraling dragon. It's awesome!!! Rachelle wasn't so keen on my last one (despite the significance), but likes this one even though it's bigger. Don't worry, all was clean and hygenic and all that.
Time for bed. Tomorrow we need to get up early and do stuff, ya know?
Don't worry, I have a very thinksome blog in the works (mostly due to someone else's work, but that's beside the point)
Sleep well my little chickadees
Our dinner was greens cooked in garlic and yellow curry (shared dishes) and some drinks. The best food I think we've had in Thailand. The softly gay waiter/owner/mater d was very nice and all that. Trying in vain to ignore the car wreckish movie and simply enjoy dinner and our conversation, suffice it to say that we were startled when my hat was lifted off my head and I turned and found myself face to face with an elephant! (Explains why R hadn't said anything for 2minutes previously, instead just sputtered and pointed behind me) The guy aback the elephant and the road guy both gigled and the elephant blatted at us. The drunk woman fell out of her chair, in hysterics (comedic as well as terrified). Don't worry, it is an open air restaurant and I was quite close to the road (though not close enough to get runned over). Seems these guys go around with their elephant (where do they store him? In a garage or what? A dog run seems a bit cramped) and sell bananas to people and let them feed their pet. A couple from next door came over and fed him. Quite cute actually. The pach would trunk snag the 'nanner and stuff it in. When the plastic bag was empty, that'd get grabbed and handed up top to rider man.
Sounds interesting, though a bit unhygenic, eh? I'm not done yet.
No one at our place fed the guy (looked a little worse for the wear, and his blatting was quite frequent. If you've never eye gazed an ele from up close, they're pretty sad eyed creatures), and the men got a bit animated. Which riled up Dumbo (not a flyer, this one). The blatting increased, and some hoppity began. I started getting a bit nervous when his head began shifting the roof above us. Staring in omniscient fascination, it wasn't until I turned to make a smart-ass comment to R about the current lack of elephant scaring rats that, that I noticed that I alone had remained in the dining area. The rest cowered in the kitchen, peering out to witness my fate.
My head dropped low, and a smirk crossed my lips. Maybe now was time to fulfill my destiny. I arose from my seat and faced the now charge bluffing beast. My vocal cords issued a warning-"DO YOU SMELL, WHAT THE ROCK IS COOKING?!?!"
The elephant stopped.
Stared at me....
Stuck his trunk out to its full lenght....
And let loose the mightiest trumpet I've ever heard from a live pachyderm (though some of the blasts in Dumbo and the Jungle Book were rather loud. But those don't count because Disney IS Beelzibub incarnate)
My body splattered against the rear bamboo wall, leaving welts that remain even now. I crashed to the ground, in shock, and watched as the grey wall moved towards me (both his trainers were staring in shock; one upwards; the other downwards until the ele moved forward and the roof knocked him to the ground where he continued to stare in morbid fascination).
Unable to move there was nothing I could do. Rachelle squealed from 20 feet away and the cook began to barter with her for my meat (might taste better than dog, you know).
His left front leg raised up.
Eye contact was established.
The leg came crashing down with incredible force....on our unfinished dinner.
Eyes still locked, he issued a dismissive flurmph, smiled a bit (not pretty. At all), then walked away.
The trainers eventually took chase.
My state of being was inquired at, and my feet were regained.
And we had to pay for our dinner. Couldn't even finish it, b/c most of it was still on that damn elephant's foot!!
And yes, this was in downtown Bangkok
Wild west can kiss it. Asia is much crazier!
Finally! I not only have my Uzbekistan visa in hand (well, it's actually in my backpack) but now I have my plane ticket as well! I fly out at 9:15am on the 18th!!!
Getting my ticket was a mess. Ended up running thru the rain for a bunch of blocks, searching for the building (had no address, only the name of the place). Found it, slipped thru the lobby and up to the 29th floor and into the Uzbekistan Airline's office. After several minutes of bumbling, I was able to get the lady behind the desk (english speaker) to understand that I needed to pick up and pay for my ticket. She pulled it up and her first comment was: "Hm. We can't sell one-way tickets."
I got one way b/c sis and I will be leaving overland thru Krgyzstan (sp?).
This response was expected and I gave her a brief overview of our plan and mentioned that I did have my Chinese visa in my passport which proved it. (I guess some people get to Uzbekistan and decide to stay illegally? In the middle of winter?) She went off and had some coffee and strumpets (she was part British) excusing herself as having to "talk to some people". Coming back she let me know that they could issue the ticket, talking as though a huge favor was being done for me (as if paying almost $600 for a one-way ticket and going to a frozen landscape to spend money wasn't favor enough?). And she told me that they take cash. Only.
Off I ran to the ATM, where I was able to take out....not enough money. In 3 goes at the machine I got out about $200. Then the machine(s) told me that a hold had been placed on my card. Crapper! I had some cash that I'd taken out the night before but was still about $10 short. Off I ran, scampering around trying to find Rachelle (we were meeting at a coffee shop. Took her too long to get ready so I left her behind as I was running late and the place closed at noon and by the time I left the hotel is was getting on after 11am) to borrow more money. Finding her quicker than expected, I rushed her to a couple different ATMs until we found one that worked and she bummed me some money.
Falling back into the airline's office at 12:15 (people were leaving) I tossed the cash at the woman, grabbed the ticket and took off running....only to be stopped. I had forgotten my change!! I left with some advice from her (she's been there) and a ticket and visa! And plenty of excitement!
Thursday, January 13, 2005
In my last post, my intent was not to compare R's size to that of an elephant. The point (terrible) I was trying to make is that rat's terrify R, so maybe rats would scare an elephant. Oops.
As far as I can tell she hasn't read that yet....though it may explain the random shoves off the curb...
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Let a brotha know!
I didn't go on this trip expecting to find 'answers' or clarity in my life, though I had hoped like a banshee (screaming bunchee?) that I would.
Well, you may ask, have you found said answers?
(For the record, Hank Williams was just letting me know that he is so lonesome he could cry. It tugs, man.)
As some know, confusion reigned supreme before I left. And now....it has somehow found a way to increase its hold on my psyche and life. Yes, I have found more aspects of life with which to be confused.
*My bucket's got a hole in it, yeah my bucket's got a hole in it, yeah my bucket's got a hole in it, I can't buy no beer*
It's tiring, ya know? Foundations rattling, apathy being overtaken with anxiety and frustration and...ach.
Just saw a headline from Reuters: "Iraqi elections less than perfect". I think you'd find a lot of people that might apply the same headlines to our elections the last two terms, eh? Maybe they didn't have decent candidates either (I don't feel like reading the article)?
No energy now. Gotta sleep. Excited to get my Uz visa in hand tomorrow. Seeing the posters in the Embassy have me even more fired up!
On to Waylon now. Bob Wills is still the king, ya know?
I think I'll go wander the streets of Bangkok now and try to find an elephant and see what happens. How do you go about provoking an animal so much bigger than you? I'll toss a rat at it. That always gets R riled up
Monday, January 10, 2005
It's true, not everyone wants to travel internationally. And some people have decided that they are unable to accomplish this.
I fault Mother Culture and the bullshit she spews. This'll be a rant for later, but for now it's all about what we are told to have as our first priority in life-working hard (all the time), working for retirement and being a good consume...I mean contributor to society.
I'm reading 1984 right now, with Huxley's 'A Brave New World' next in line. I think I've found our Big Brother in today's society. Gotta omore fully form thoughts before putting anything on here.
Yes, that does tie in to the paragraphs previous.
Wait for it
Last night I conned Rachelle into abandoning our hostel room in favor of the common area so that we could sit at a table to play double solitaire and simultaneously watch some soccer and drink an adult beverage.
It worked. We left the room and set up shop. As our first game began, a guy at another table started ignoring the other 2 sitting with him and struck up a conversation with us.
We'd heard about this guy from an Arizonian couple that'd been on a 3 day trek with him. A crazy Brit who made it his goal in life to destruct all of the bamboo rafts in their group (he succeeded). Basically another crazily hysterical fellow from Britain. Making his acquaintance had been a goal of ours (a sedate inactively participitory goal). And there he falls right into our lap almost literally.
At first it seemed to me that he really wanted to talk to us, and from the get-go his questions and all were not serious, but a bit probing. Obviously trying to feel us out and get to know us a bit.
You might be asking why he'd want to get to know us so badly. Well, aside from the obvious (our.....Rachelle's striking good looks) it's pretty simple. And his main reason became fairly obvious with one of his questions early on:
"So, how come Americans don't travel?"
Uh.....we tossed out some reasons (excuses) that sounded accurate but very.....lame. Here's some quick background on this guy: he's 36 and has been traveling since he was 18. In that time, he's spent a considerable amount of time in London only 3 years. That's a lot of traveling; travel thru Asia, the Middle East, Europe and all.
How many Americans has he seen in that time (before this week)? Seven. Get that? Only seven Americans in 18 years of travel. Simply said, that's pathetic. In the last week he's met 5, and it's the first time he's spent some time with Americans.
Granted, he hasn't been to the US (yet, it's in the plans), but let's take a quick look at what his previous opinion of Americans was. Thought they were loud, braggadocious, senselessly competetive ("yeah, you have a nice car but mine is bigger". Though he admits some Britons are like that as well), and insulated. Unfortunately movies have helped him develop that opinion. No other way to really counteract Hollywood until he comes over to the States. Very nice guy though. I was very impressed with him seeking us out to actually discover what this rare animal, Americanus Isolationalisticanus is like (unlike 3 others in our hostel who we heard bitching away the other night about how they hate Americans though they don't know any, and don't want to know any).
Very sad. We've heard words said that around 10% of Americans have passports. That number may be higher, but the estimates on this website put it at under 20%. Don't read the comments. They will only make you mad (idiots). Just read the stats.
It's all starting to make more sense. People don't like us for many reasons, but having never met us, they have not been given any solid proof to contradict the media and movies (hooray for Mikey Moore!). They don't know that yes, Americans are very nice caring and friendly people. Granted, we do have many loud self absorbed assholes, but what country doesn't?
Moreover, here we are the most powerful country in the world right now, with a staggering ignorance of the rest of the world (just like the world can't really know us until they meet us, the same goes for us. Can we really make intelligent decisions on what a family in Bangladesh needs or wants without having talked to them?). Fine, the general public doesn't need to know, right? But who elects our leaders in? Who votes them in or out based on their voting record (we'll ignore all those for now who take the easy/think-free way and vote only along party lines)?
For god's sake, where had Bush been before he was elected to office? Mexico (is that correct? Help me out. I don't feel like searching right now)? Very sad.
My point. Hm.
Fine, many people feel no need to travel and prefer to stay at home and not learn about the world (yes, there is a LOT more to this world than the US. And yes, the rest of the world is just as important as us). But what the hell?! Is that the only reason people don't travel? Our excuse last night was that our society teaches us that working and preparing for retirement is what's important, not enjoying your life while you are young (alive). He scoffed at that. As I do. So you retire 5 or 10 years earlier. You missed out on what, 30 years of living for that? What if you don't live that long?
For fucks sake! How screwed up are our priorities? Horribly, I'd say.
There is no defense. The strongest and most powerful and influential country in the world, with the people most able to travel (yes, you are. For shites sake, my brother who makes no money was able to travel around Europe for a couple/few months. With only his money. White collar workers? Your excuses ring hollow in my ears. Been there, proved it wrong) is the country with very little overall knowledge about the world it is ruling.
On a lighter note, we mentioned to this guy a certain Larry's opinion that China may be the next country to take over and lead for a while (for those who just choked, laughed, scoffed... It's true. One day the US will not reign supreme. History repeats, ya know?). After snorting some beer out his nose he made it clear that if that event looms, that we need to get our asses in gear and step it back up. Funny.
A little worked up I am. True dat.
It's really not that hard to travel. Getting a passport is relatively painless (unless you take bad pics. In that case, customs folks merely laugh at you. Trust me on this) and travel agents can do wonders if you want to go that way. Overall, however, we have it very easy. Most of the world has people that speak english, and many travelers also know some english. Which makes our lives much easier.
Check it out.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
That has changed.
Here we are in sleepy little Chiang Mai, a safe haven and respite (more or less) from the hurly burly chaos that seems trademarkian of Asia. Our hostel is tucked down a back alley, off the main streets, a quiet nook surrounded by lushish vegetation. Safe place. But it turns out that they lock down tight as well. Let me explain.
There is a night market about 20 minutes from our hostel. This night market is several blocks lined with vendor stalls selling just about any touristy thing you could think of. Fortunately for people like me, there is a collection of bars and restaurants (and a climbing wall?) about mid-way thru the narrow warrens packed overflowing with people and begging buy my stuff calls and claustrophobia inducing climate. One of the bars is called "Man's Place". Catchy, it's just too bad that every time I pass the place they have tvs playing crappy music or something like Enya (or some type of music that should prevent and self-respecting man from sitting down). While Rachelle shopped, I sat by the climbing wall and sipped coffee, ate some fries, wrote in my journal, and goggled over the noise. Not people. Music, I think. Every bar and restaurant and-sideshow-in the area had their music cranked in a war of sound, thinking that if their music drowned out the rest they'd get the customer. All I got was a headache from undisipherable noise.
Eventually Rachelle showed up with arms full of bags. Oogled, I followed her away from the noise to an internet site where I began downloading more pictures. She eventually tired of sitting there and left. I continued to blog and IM with a friend of mine and then my brother.
Around 1am, panic set in. The place was charging 30 baht an hour. I'd been there 2. My poor math summed up my bill to 120 baht (I had about 2,000 baht on me). Mildly panicking I startde to gather my things. But then redid my math and relaxed. I left half an hour later and bobbed home in the dark to my popping tunes. A tuk tuk driver looked back and laughed as he passed. I musta been singing out loud. Too bad he didn't see the pole in front of him-crowsh! He was ok. As I skipped past him he was still laughing at me.
Finally, I arrived at the hotel and was greeted by large iron gates closed across the drive and a very thick chain and birdhouse sized padlock barring my way. Stupefied, I ignored the obvious and pushed no the gate. No luck. A hotel employee I'd never seen before came up and asked if I had my key. I said no, it's in the room with my girlfriend. He shrugged and went back to bed.
Stuck and now growing increasingly conflustered (worsened by my steadily filling bladder), I decided that drastic action was called for. I began this part of the adventure by flinging my backpack over the 8' tall fence. Unfortunately, it wasn't until the apex of the bag's arc that I decided to remember that both of my cameras were inside. Fortunately for all involved (except the upcoming savior) a dog was sleeping just the other side of the fence, and his ribs absorbed the impact. The dog seemed none to pleased as he yelped across the yard.
Wiping the sweat from my brow, I began to scale the fence. All went well until I started down the other side oblivious to my pants that had caught on the fencetop spikes. I slipped but didn't fall. Instead I hung upside down, my shirt falling up (down) to cover my face.
Giggling at the inanity of the situation, I hung aloft, waiting for the inevitable: my pants tearing and me falling on my head; the hotel worker helping me out; R coming out and throwing blunt objects at me; the police showing up and cartnig me off to jail.
There was another option I hadn't considered. The dog from earlier in this tale quickly moved from savior to antagonist. Sensing my helplessness he shuffled over, and I swear he was chuffling in amusement. First he grabbed my shirt and pulled and yanked and bludgeoned me around and against the fence. Boring quickly, licking my face came next and slight nibbling around the ears (whispered sweet nothings from a foul breathed canine is not in the least romantic) followed by jumping up in a vain effort to reach the Mars bar in my pocket instead only clawing up my chest and face.
Finally he shoved off and I began tugging at my overstrong pants. Then I heard a noise. I looked up (down, over) and saw that my 'friend' had returned, with friends of his own. 8 of them to be exact. They sat down and began to bark. And bark. Not menacingly, amusedly. And they continued this until hotel guests began to file out.
If you some some poor sap hanging upside down from a fence with a pack of dogs barking at him, what would you do? Help him out, or are you mean spirited like EVERYONE in that hotel who gawked and then rolled with laughter. Rachelle came out last (some how sensing that I was the cause of this new disturbance). One quick look was all she needed before joining in the laughter and regaling the crowd with other episodes of my stupidity. As sat and enjoyed laughing at me, my pants finally gave way and dumped me unceremoniously (is there any other way?) onto my head. CLONK, THUD. Those were the noises.
The dogs all came over and licked me 'clean' (you ever met a SE Asian dog? Not clean or cared for or hygenic or anything of the sort). All I could do was lay there, since all the stars in the smoggy night sky had come down and were holding my head at bay.
Finally clear headed enough, I stumbled thru the now roaring crowd and fell into bed.
R grabbed my bag in plenty of time to take plenty of pics. I deleted those
Friday, January 07, 2005
All of our Cambodia pics should be online, though not all have been labelled (and some may not have been rotated correctly yet. We'll get to it eventually).
Also, there are 2 new links: one for our Christmas and one for New Years. Neither contains that many pics, but the powers that be (R) thought it'd be nice to have them in separate folders.
Eventually I'll get started with the Vietnam photos. Probably not tonight though. This computer ain't the fastest you've ever seen. Besides, I have other things to do.
Ah, not really. You caught me.
Warning: don't be alarmed by me in a 'stache. It's a bit frightening, but it's ok. And it is gone. I got tired of looking in the mirror and wondering why some 70s era porn star was looking back at me. The feathered hair hasn't gone anywhere though.
To make it worse, when we were in Ha Long Bay, Mickey the crazy Brit, asked me: "Ok, mate. So what's the deal with the mustache?" No respect (RIP Rodney) is what I get.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Today we are taking a walking tour around Chiang Mai. We need to move since we've been lazy lately and the cooking class we took yesterday left us bloated and 15lbs heavier. There are wall remnants arond the old city and it's about a 3.5 mile walk. We're about half way thru. But I made us stop at the cheapest internet site we've found yet (here) b/c of the conversation we've been having and the ideas/questions that have been coming up. Careful, it's politically based. Let's go
Last night we got into a pretty extensive conversation with a couple from Holland. They threw out a couple of questions to us, that not only were unanswerable (for us), but really made us think. And worry a bit, I guess. What were they?
1. For a country as large and all powerful and great as the US, how come the only 2 viable candidates were agreeably undesireable and less than satisfactory. How come worthy people could not be found.
2. How come you only have 2 parties?
It is very very sad that from the pool of resources we have, that decent candidates have been lacking in the last couple (or more?) presidential elections. We are the world leader, yet we can't find anybody good. That is sad, and a bit scary.
We have 2 parties. Many (most?) people decry our lack of multiple parties (some say we really only have 1....). Yes, there are a couple others out there, but they have little to no effect most of the time. Holland is one of those countries that elects many parties into power at the same time-their power is proportional to the percentage of the vote they receive (I believe). What does this mean to me? All people of all beliefs (more or less) in the country are represented in their govt.
If we did the same, then we would be on our way to forming a true multi-party system. ALL parties would have a voice. What else would this mean? In elections, people could actually vote for the candidate/party they want (Green, Libertarian, Dem, Repub, etc) instead of for someone to defeat the candidate/party they like the least. I wonder what the voting demographics would look like were that the case? How many more votes would go to the smaller parties instead of the 2 (1) big ones? How long would they be relegated to obscurity if their voting base were allowed to increase by eliminating the feelings of futility we now feel? Maybe then we'd actually form a multi-party system?
Radical idea? I don't think so. Should our govt, that is supposed to represent the American public actually represent the very broad spectrum of people that live in the US ?
Is this possible? Sure. Hard? Definitely. The hardest part, maybe, would be getting the Dems and Repubs in charge to actually listen to the majority of the population (i.e.-not the 1-5% [i forget the #s] with the majority of the money in our country) and make these changes. Which would in effect reduce their power. Can we get them to agree to this? I don't know. If most of the country calls for it, and it still doesn't happen, what does that say about our govt?
Neither R nor I claim to be all-knowing (or all that knowing) about politics and how it all works. But after talking with people with such varying backgrounds and ideals, we are left feeling like our govt is a bit lacking and could/should be improved for our own benefit.
My thoughts and ideas are by no means fully developed or thought out. This is a new line of thinking, and actually has me ramping up to get involved again instead of constantly shirking away from political talk.
Let the comments commence. Whaddya think, Big Bill?
Here's what chaps my ass. So many people have their opinions/judgments thought out ahead of time and judge us based not on us, but what they believe about the US (whether they've been there or not). Most frequently, we have to stave off attacks based on Michael Moore (again, thanks a lot fatty) and his misinformation (which many people admit they know is falsified and for effect, but they still use it as a basis for their arguments/opinions.). At the same time, these people ignore the fact that they are guilty of the same type of ignorance and small mindedness of which they accuse us. They also ignore anything bad their people or govt have done/are doing. Fine, we are the lone super power and subject to intense criticism. All I ask is to talk to us before condemning us. And cut out the hypocritical emotion-based bullshit. It gets very aggravating.
And the thing is, once we get to talking to people and get away from politics, it's usually very nice and fun. We are guessing that their side of the political conversation is a bit toned down, which is good. If it weren't, they would be closing their minds to a possible friendship based on broad generalizations (which they don't want us to be guilty of).
Yes, a tad frustrated at this point. Is it so much to ask to be able to meet people and start off without a personal attack?
It has happened, don't get me wrong. In fact we've found that people from the UK, aside from being an absolute riot and a lot of fun to hang out with, seem to be the least judgmental. Take Mickey for instance. This guy was on our boat tour in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Spent the night conversating with him and others. And while he isn't a fan of Bush or many of the things the US does/has done, he has no problem admitting that their govt is not an innocent (as some people have tried to lead us to believe) and has committed 'crimes' in the past. This is nice. And unlike a story we heard from an American in Hanoi-in a conversation with a French girl, she would not admit or just didn't know what the French had done in Vietnam (or Africa....). She tried to tell them that her country had never done anything wrong or aggressive. Many people give off that feeling, which is BS for the most part. How many countries, in their history, have never been a part of or instigated an act that was not approved by the 'world' or even by the country they are invading?
Fine, condemn us. But don't ignore history and patronize us with the holier than thou act. Makes me huffy
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Another painful blow was dealt us. A long questionnaire eventually ruled both of of us out. Rachelle was axed first because of her nose pieeircing. Though that was unacceptable, a tattoo was ok. Unfortunately, the malaria medication we are almost done taking is also an antibiotic, which is not allowed either. That sucked. But they checked my blood type-O negative. Who knew?
My point? Oh yeah. Donate. It's getting used and it's needed. I think all you need to do is turn on the tv or open your eyes and you'll hear some tidbit about what's going on over here. So yeah, get some cash over here. We are lucky enough to lead comfortable lives and make plenty of cash. Time to share.
Speaking of which, there are individuals who are worth billions or millions of dollars, right? Are they donating (I don't know, actually)? And all these so-called celebrities that are adored world-wide. What about them? They can afford to toss out sizable chunks.
Thought: the US didn't pony up all its money right away, and was criticized. Where was the criticism for every movie star that makes millions per movie? Or people like Bill Gates and the owners of Google? People who are millionairs or billionaires? If we hold this standard up to our govt, shouldn't it also get applied to these people? Maybe not, maybe that's a bit drastic. But the thought was: the US is the richest country so they should give the most. And this expectation doesn't apply to people? No, I am not talking communism or socialism. I am talking about giving more priority to human life than a bigger home/car. Let's get real. Which is more admirable and worship worthy: making a movie/tv show/album/etc, or donating a large chunk (small to you) of money to a cause like the tsunami disaster relief? No, you don't need all that money. And I guess you can feel comfortable and guilt-free living in your 30,000sf (or more, if you really want to impress/show off) home while millions are now left home/food/water-less? Shit, I don't have a job and I still feel guilty not giving or doing a little bit more (I do have to make it home some day. Right?). Maybe these people have contributed a lot, I really have no idea. The Bush's and Clinton are calling for donations. I am guessing they've tossed a sizeable amount in? And wonderful world savior John Kerry. Has he? Hell, all he needs to do is marry another rich chick to offset a contribution. Not that he is hurting for money as it is.....
Anyway. I digress, even though I didn't start out with any set point or objective. Felt like ranting. Haven't done it in a while. Not sure it came out as well as it could have. I could say I'll work on it later and clean it up, but I know I won't and I don't want to lie to you. That is not a good base for any relationship.
We are now in Chiang Mai and just finished getting a 2-hour Thai massage. It was awesome! Yes, we are going back tomorrow for more. Tonight we have a dinner/traditional Thai dancing thing we're going to, and in the morning is our first(?) cooking course. Good times.
One more thing-my Uzbek visa is being processed, and my ticket is on hold. I fly out of Bangkok on the 15th. A 5 hour flight. Don't ask how much. Not a popular route
Monday, January 03, 2005
Walking from the train station to the mall, we passed by an Auntie Ann's pretzel place (yes, we stopped. Got an original with cheese dip. Loved it!), the Hard Rock Cafe (selling crappy food at American prices. Even had a Harley dude sitting out front checking his bike out) and way too many people and shops.
The mall? 7 enormous floors overfilled with people shopper types wandering all over the place not looking where they were wandering stopping going buying talking milling about etc. Not too fun. Keep in mind, I hate malls back home, yet here I was in one in Thailand. Not so....good? Interesting place. Sorted out by floors, no pesky wasting of open space. A nice cozy (claustrophobia inducing) set of warrens throughout. Floor 1? Not sure. Didn't go there. Floor 2-accesories; floor 3-clothes; floor 4-cell phones (primarily)(yes, an entire floor of cell phones. This was the busiest floor in the place. We made the mistake of trying to walk around and almost suffocated. R did get herself a nice hello kitty cover for her new cell phone. Cute, eh?); Floor 5-Furniture; floor 6 was the tourist floor. Trinkets and gadggets and tshirts and help desks and elephant rides and a tiltawhirl replete with cotton candy and massagist-types on board. Floor 7-movie theater and food.
Our original intent was to catch a movie. Ocean's 12 was playing and we decided to see that (R is on a HUGE Matt Damon kick right now and wouldn't even consider seeing a picture without him in it). Problem was, it was only 5:30 and the movie played at 9. Time to walk shuffle shove dodge and feint around the mall. Overall it wasn't as damaging as I'd thought. I was intrigued with the structure of the place and the efficiency with which it operates and the skill with which the escalators have been assembled the bathrooms were wonderful and the girl/boys (by that I don't mean the girls and boys. I mean the boy/girls. There is a large contingent of them in this country as you may recall from a past post. For some reason they gravitate towards the travel industry. Sometimes.) friendly and courteous. Ok, you caught me. Actually I went into a blank trance while following R around, envisioning riding a motorcycle up the escalator, forcing people to dive off either side; dropping a stink bomb on the phone floor just to see the madness, and other fun stuff like....anything. Anything but being in a crowded shopping mall.
The 7th floor is where we (I) made our (my) stand. After wandering the rest of the floors, I dropped my armloads of bags (R's. Gotta be gallant and carry them for her, ya know?) at a coffee shop and sat writing in my journal while sipping some blessedly hot coffee. Finally show time arrived!
Unlike theaters in the US, we were not allowed in until the 'start' time. Ticket said 9pm, that's when we entered. While waiting, we ate popcorn and watched westerner after westerner try to get in early-they'd get in the door and come right back out. This kept happening. People did that even after watching the person in front of them fail. Some even tried it more than once. It was pretty amusing.
In we went, thinking there'd be few previews and no commercials. Not so lucky, Pierre! I think that pre-movie tradition may be longer here than back home! The previews went on for a while, with occasional commercials mixed in. After about 10-15 minutes, we all stood to pay our respects to the King (loud loud music playing while scenes of this guy's life showed on screen. Longest reigning king ever. He's been on the throne for something like 70 years [no joke] and looks only about 50) then sat down. A few more previews and the flick started.
Funny stuff! R kept hitting me and telling me how cute and how great Matt Damon is, but I managed to look past that and enjoy the movie. Silly, but good stuff.
Running home, catching the last sky train, wandering back down the streets past beaten up dogs and cats and rats and vendors.
Reminds me. Our first night here we walked around for a while. Stopped at some place with huge headed guys to check it out. Ended up in what looked like a concert venue (band stuff, stage) stuffed with tables and chairs, party expectant. We downed an ale and vanished before....whatever got going. Odd.
But that wasn't my point. As we made our way back to the hotel, this first night of ours back in Bangkok, what did we see walking up the road towards us? 2 elephants! No joke! There were a few guys selling something while meandering these pachyderms up the street. I watched, hoping that one of them (elephants) would take out a car but they are surprisingly nimble. As they passed I cowered behind a few old Thai women praying that elephants are either afraid of old women or at least sensible enough not to stample any. It worked out ok. No crunching for me. How funny is that? Elephants, wandering down the middle of a big city.....
Saturday, January 01, 2005
How'd it go out here? Not too bad. Not too badly at all. Our flight into Bangkok went without a hitch. No delays or anything. The airport didn't seem very busy to us. The only obvious signs of what happened down south are the flyers all over the airport asking for blood donations from foreigners. I guess Asians are RH- and most westerners are not? Which makes for blood shortages. Anyone know what blood type I am? I forget.
Never mind. A taxi dumped us at the door of the RW Marriott (doormen?) and we checked in. Our room? Shitebox! On the 12th floor with a hellishly nice view looking out over the city. The room was huge, the bathroom was huge, a shower AND a tub. Tv with 3 movie channels, 2 huge comfy beds and all sorts of goodies. It was great!
First order of business? Nap. Then a short walk. There was a grocery next to the hotel and it was almost like being in a grocery back home! We went looking for some wine but came away with wine, cheesy poofs, nacho chips, a block of cheese, salsa and refried beans. And milk and brownie mix. It was awesome! No, we didn't have a feast (at first). Our dinner reservations were for 8:30 so we showered and got dressed up (I even ironed that damn suit of mine! Who is this guy?) and went to dinner. Had a nice dinner and made it downstairs to the....big area with tables and waitresses and a band/dance floor by about 10. It was great! We each had one drink (cost us about $59US each) and listened to the band. Playing mostly upbeat western music (even some Bon Jovi!), it was awesome. At one point some girls in traditional (?) dress came out and pranced a bit. Then the countdown, balloons and singing and whatnot. Fun times. By 1, most of the staff was out daning with the crowd (I know. I had a great view from our table-which was placed on the dance floor) and one girl got R up to dance with her. I declined. Why? My dancing bone hurt.
So it's late, right? Bed, right? Nah. Fancy hotel and food to eat, no sleep allowed! Feeling it necessary to maximize our usage of the place, we broke out our food and had cold nachos while watching movies until almost 4.
Up. Guess what we did? We went and used the exercise room! We both ran for about 20 minutes and I played a bit with the weights. It felt SO good! Then pool time. While R cooked, I went back to the grocery to see if they'd restocked on something I had forgotten about, but wanted badly (all we saw was the empty spot on the shelf). Nope. Out of stock. What a tease! I was looking for the tabasco habanero sauce (don't worry, i got it somewhere else tonight). Instead I walked out with a box of mac and cheese (kraft)(I'll find a place somewhere eventually to cook it up) and a bag of pop secret popcorn (eventually it'll get cooked). Then we packed up, took one last beautiful round of showers, and ate the rest of our beans before grabbing a cab to our new place. Further from the main area. But way cheaper. Not a bad place. As it turns out, it's a couple bloks from a package shipping place (more boxes coming home, mom!) and 2 blocks from the Uzbek embassy (where I need to go on Monday). Good times.
What next? At 4am my watch alarm is going to ring, and we are going to watch the Rose Bowl! Our place has a bar/restaurant with tvs and cable and the game's gonna be on! How cool is that?
Yes, we'll be sleeping in tomorrow.
Happy new year
Make some nice resolutions that involve sending me money and stuff. I swear I'll appreciate it and send thank you notes.