Monday, December 22, 2008

Seeking Aspiring Fortune Cookie Copywriters Part-Time Opportunity

Spent yesterday on a freaking long walk through Chiang Mai that took me along the river Ping to Waroot Market where I wandered through random stalls and shops. Went through a huge display of hair clips and found myself in what appeared to be some kind of beauty store that for no good reason had a bunch of plastic wallets made from anime comics on a shelf including a stack made from one of my all time favorites "Spirited Away". The nextdoor shop sold everything from Ovaltine to school supplies and I indulged in one of my favorite shopping experiences in SE Asia, reading the copy on notebooks. I don't know who comes up with this stuff, maybe someone somewhere just drops a block of text into a translating tool, but it's amazing, sometimes it's bizarre translations of lyrics or just news copy that has nothing to do with anything and sometimes it's pithy truisms that read like Buddhist koans and have nothing to do with anything.

Some of my favorites from yesterday.

"Whenever I have any problems they come and stand beside be"

"Welcome to the lovely rabbit world you'll happy and sweet with me"

"have your wine salted"

"Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim of human existence"

"Knowledge, in truth, is the great sun in the firmament. Life and Power are scattered with all it's beams"

"love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that they themselves commit"

"Bad things have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss."

" 'I want to eat the best local food.' I'd like to place an order."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Guide seeking guidee; likes long walks through the jungles of Laos at night, drinking lao lao, and freaking the hell out of foreigners.

Dear SFTFTHOO, having you as my guide was an experience I'll not soon forget.

Honestly when you offered to take me with you to the local village to "get" some sticky rice I assumed you meant "get" as in "acquire and return to my lovely resort with" to enjoy the lush jungle setting in comfort. I did not realize you meant take the boat (board with motor on it) to a local village to make sticky rice at your friends house, then enjoy said sticky rice with friend and his house chickens (chickens that are allowed in the house and try to steal the sticky rice), to then consume buffalo soup (tasty), buffalo salad (raw meat?) and lao lao (paint thinner sold as a beverage in Laos) and to play tic-tac-toe until it was dark.

The romance of being in a foreign country, in an unknown location, with near strangers has so much mystery and romance ... in books. Since it was dark I again ass-out-of-u-and-me'd that we would take the boat back, imagine my surprise when you suggested we walk and led me off the road onto that little jungle path. Those steep hills flowing down to the river must look so pretty in the light I remember thinking to myself while slipping and sliding through the mud almost losing my shoes. Oh and the leeches! My gracious how I shrieked when I saw that first one on my ankle (you know, I thought it was a bit of leaf because I'd never even seen a leech before), and then I kept thinking I felt them on my ankles, though really it was just the two, ha ha ha! Oh, and the snakes (dangerous), and spiders (not, but huge), and the slippery little bridge made of three sticks of bamboo with the sheerest coating of mud, and me clinging to your hand the whole time (except for when you tromped ahead) because you had the flashlight and I couldn't see a thing and had no idea where we were going.

You were so assured that I followed you without too many protests. Though honestly when after a half hour of flailing through the mud you confessed that you were lost, I was vindicated, I mean, relieved. Luckily we were able to walk back to the village and take the main road (which was substantially less dramatic being even and leech free) all of the three kilometers back to the resort where I collapsed on my bed breathless from the excitement.

I have never experienced any thing like it.

Don't call me.

Yours truly,

Freaked-out Foreigner

Monday, October 27, 2008

Things to buy in Laos

the Dark

You don't know you don't know something until you know it. I remember a conversation (argument?) I had about contrasts and whether photographs stole a piece of your soul by fixing you in time at a given moment and somewhere in there was the point that in order to know something you must have a contrast, a before and after, e.g. for something to be hard there must be something soft or softer at least. Point being that you understand something through the things you have already experienced, the things you already know.

I've been in rooms with the lights off, under covers, in blackouts, in basements, in closets with my eyes closed, I've covered my eyes (no peeking), worn blindfolds, been on dark streets, in dark theaters, and even in caves before and I thought I knew what dark was. I was wrong.

In Vang Vieng there caves that go kilometers into mountains, the mountains are black volcanic rock knife edges that leave scratches on the sky, inside the bottoms of the caves are covered with a soft sandy mud that is carried on raindrops through the rocks and which acts like soundproofing. Between the entrance of the cave and the outside daylight is sorted into levels of shadow; at the very edge I peered in thinking "Wow. That's dark." In actuality I was only looking at an intermediate layer. Beyond what I could see as dark was the real dark, the whole dark, and walking in I traveled through that initial dark and looked back and saw the outside light and then looked forward and saw a dark as much darker again. I did that at least three more times before I was far enough in that I couldn't see the daylight or even where the daylight came from and there was the real deal, the Dark.

Things that go bump don't belong here because there is nothing to bump, only silence, and soft sandy mud underneath to smother footsteps, so moving forward feels like falling and vertigo reaches up and grabs my hand pulling me down to feel that there is actually something below me. I started to giggle from the fear and excitement. It was like being on a roller coaster of waves of emotion; relief when I stepped forward onto something solid, terror when I missed a step, excitement at the sensations in my feet. I felt like I had been swallowed by the mountain, the floor was soft and cool, the skin of some huge underground pachyderm or cetacean with bones of stalactite and stalagmite, I was Jonah without the sea. There were musical ribs and cool pools and quietly sighing holes that appeared out of nowhere, they didn't yawn because this was no sleepy goodnight dark. This was the staring "did you hear something" dark, the dark of life sentences or teen angst, the inky pit that leads you to examine your life and soul and give yourself bad tattoos.

You know, The Dark.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I may have possibly figured out how to add photos!

yayayaaaaaaaaa! it worked! more to come.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bananas and Rocks

Ever get a gift and when you first see it you think "what the f*&@" but later it turns out to be the coolest most useful thing and you never would have thought to get it for yourself?

I was going to Ninh Binh on a local bus full of guys smoking and drinking and sleeping in the aisle and thought that since my ticket said Ninh Binh "someone" would poke me and tell me where to get off, fyi Vietnam doesn't work like that, when I finally asked someone where I was, I was already in Hanoi; it was six am and already feeling a little grumpy before they pulled my dripping pack from the baggage compartment, when the smell hit me I got way more grumpy. Having never smelled fish pee, I can only imagine that it smells like a mixture of fish and pee and therefore that must have been what was dripping from my bag. I had planned to get right back on a bus for Ninh Binh but there was no way I was going to carry that stinking mess anywhere; instead I got a hotel and ended up hanging out for five days in Hanoi.

Five days that included: discovering Lamingtons (one of the tastiest confections my mouth has ever had the pleasure of), cake enrobed in chocolate and covered in coconut which must be served warm for the full effect; meeting a couchsurfer who took me out to a lovely temple on the lake and was able to explain the finer points of Vietnamese Buddhism, thereby answering questions I have been puzzling over for months (it's a mix of pure land, ancestor worship, and animism, duh); finding new sandals, that are stylish cheap and only slightly uncomfortable in black AND silver; discovering the cultural charm of water puppet theater, which is nowhere near as cheesy as it sounds and should not be missed; meeting a US pilot and having my view of the types of people who choose to serve in the military challenged, again; taking a walk into the slums with new friends and meeting a Vietnamese tea seller and her family, being invited to a lunch which included chicken on the bone, intestines and blood pudding all of which I ate with gusto, then we sat around and drank rice liquor and watched videos; and, best of all, met the people I traveled to Ninh Binh with.

An Irish community development worker, a Canadian student and part time mahout, two computer programers ((one american, one from the UK), another candian who is nineteen and traveling alone through southeast asia, and a jack of all trades who is off to teach English in Spain in between his diving, rock climbing, and band.

It was rockin! I don't even really want to talk about it because it's one of those wonders found by accident, tourist free, and so beautiful all I could say was "wow". So thank you universe for getting those fish to pee on my bag, I never would have gotten that for myself.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Barnyard in a bowl

It’s taken me quite a while to settle in the madness that is Ho Chi Minh but now I feel I’m finding my stride. The place I’ve living is right in plonk in the middle of downtown, which is in the middle of a consumerist explosion. Marc Jacobs and Chloe both opened new stores just around the corner and there are more places to buy pearls than pho but it’s still Vietnam and so there is great food tucked into little corners and alleyways and sometimes sitting in plain sight.

Today it was the xoi ga (sticky rice with chicken) place just two blocks over. I’ve walked by this place a lot and it’s always busy at lunch and I’ve wanted to try it but I have a place I go to that has really tasty cheap xoi ga and delicious che (sweet soup: a drink made with coconut milk and jelly bits and mung bean paste which tastes way better than that sounds), the xoi ga is in the form of nuc mam fried chicken and it’s delish. So faced with the decision of the known, tasty, and cheap vs. the unknown there just is no contest , … until today

And the title of best xoi ga and che goes to old faithfull., Che Xoi. However I may need to create a new category for xoi ga with eggies. Eggies are eggs before they’ve left the chicken and honestly I wouldn’t have eaten them if I’d known that but I didn’t so I did. Tasty little nibblets too. Though now I might have more trouble chewing through the membrane that connects them.

The eggies and sticky rice were snack sized and I was curious about a soup I saw someone order that looked like it had blood pudding in it. So I ordered what turned out to be crab soup. Crab soup with shrimp to be exact, and chicken, and fish, and pork. Banh canh cua has a weird gelatinous texture that I will never be totally at ease with but this was quite tasty with none of the mud flavor that can sometimes accompany seafood streetfood and there was a little piece of blood pudding after all. And there is something so Vietnamese about a soup with five distinct types of meat, though pork is really a vegetable here.

If you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh. The eggies place is on Nguyen Trung Truc and my favorite che place is at the end of Bui Thi Xuan. Enjoy.