Friday, August 29, 2008

Hanoi Day 3: Journeying

Last night I met Journey’s Steve Perry and Neil Schon in my dreams. I was singing them the words to their hit song Firewater (the lyrics consist of one word screeched operatically: Firewater). They really don’t have a song called Firewater and probably for that reason they didn’t seem too amused, however I was assured by a young lady afterwards that they were so I woke up feeling rather confident starting my day.

I'm rather surprised by the mildness of that dream considering what I discovered in the bathroom prior to going to bed. Behind the medicine cabinet was a frightening view into the wall cavity — a portal to a netherworld, large enough for a person to sneak through (I even looked behind the mirror to make sure it wasn't too way). Anyway I went to bed scared as hell and dreamt about Journey. I began to consider that that and the Traffic Lights could produce a supernatural short story set in Hanoi with some degree of weird potential about "Journeying" through time and space.

We had to be up early to get the bus to the bay for our overnight cruise.

There was a guy on the bus that we nicknamed Brian after one of Gavin’s characters in his novel. Brian kept saying stupid things to the tour guide and the four of us were snickering in the back of the bus like the cool kids in class. Industry: “What brand of scooter do they make the most of here?” Cultural differences in law enforcement: “In Australia police flash their lights.”

The boat was like a nicer version of a pirate ship and made of dark rose-coloured timbers. The food was fresh seafood and excellent. The cruise director was a bit of a scamp and a boor. He made a series of calculating moves regarding money and the completion of evaluation surveys that bugged me.

The views were nice and samey. The water was calm like our moods. We saw caves and went kayaking. I flipped the kayak and put De Campo in the drink. Blake and Contessa saw a giant water millipede. Contessa slipped on my wet footprint and broke three toes trying to get into the boat. I cited bad karma over the spring roll incident. We kicked back in the ship’s bowels and had some rejuvenating tequila shots.

At midnight we imbibed a warm bottle of sparkling rose to celebrate Blake’s birthday. It was a subdued moment.

Contessa didn’t go to the doctor. She would wait until the following night in Bangkok. Furthermore I had to get to Hanoi and collect my card from the bank before it closed on Friday!

We farewelled Blake and Contessa with tapas at La Salsa near the Cathedral in Hanoi. It was sultry. We sat on the balcony in the awesome heat, drizzling sweat, eating goast and blue cheese as the sun set and cheered a good forty-seven times (not Blake's age). My face gleamed like a perverted maniac covered in petroleum jelly.

My search for St John’s Wort, a natural anxiety fix continued fruitlessly, perhaps owing to the constantly agitated state this town is running on - they don’t have the time to be depressed. Their synapses are too wired for ambiguous soul-sucking fears. They’re too concerned about the next three seconds than anything else. This town MOVES!

Later, we perused the night market, De Campo and I. Knife-wielding maniacs on mopeds slashed open her bag at a busy intersection and her eyeglasses fell out. Meanwhile I bought three Lacoste shirts that fit perfectly. Score!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Postscript Day 2: Hanoi

Forgot to tell you why Blake and Contessa weren’t at their hotel the morning we were set to go to Ho Chi Minh’s together. Their hotel room stunk so bad of mould they had to leave in the middle of the night, Blake banging his suitcase violently down the stairs, waking the staff in sleeping bags in front of the desk (pretty common place for them to sleep).

When they tried to leave, the staff put their biggest crew guy (5’3”) in front of the door. Tensions mounted when Contessa sat on their Buddha shrine. “I thought it was a box. I was tired!!” They paid the hotel who overcharged them then paid a taxi driver who overcharged them to pay for a hotel who overcharged them.

Also, I neglected to mention what we did after catching up and sharing war stories at the Parisian cafe — we visited the Temple of Literature, a place of learning since 1070. “Just think people have been bored here for a thousand years,” cracked Blake, an architect transforming the high-roller’s room of a Macao casino.

We had a good look around and then we saw an alluring balcony across the street and thought how refreshing it would be to have a drink there. This was Koto’s, a happening place designed by benevolent sorts to get aimless cretins or disadvantaged punks off the street and into the mindset of a hot shit chef or bartender. The cocktails they made there were incendiary. Blake and I imbibed chilli-infused concoctions and began singing Bad Company’s Feel Like Making Love involuntarily. We also discussed Toto, but I am pretty sure that’s because Toto rhymes with Koto. I saved a couple slices of chilli from my drink to have with one of the spring rolls that were included in the Koto sampler plate we ordered, but never had the chance to use them as Contessa ate the last spring roll with utter disregard for my feelings!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 2: Hanoi Pt II

Don't get me wrong there's still some absolute assholes in Vietnam like the taxi driver who slammed the car door on De Campo and pulled a billy club out of his trunk and threatened to beat me with it when we said he was an absolute asshole for trying to rip us off on cab fare coming back from Ho Chi Minh's place.

De Campo, teary and shaken, took his number down, he sped off, a shopkeeper notified the police, we ran into our travel companions outside a Parisian cafe on the way to the police station, filed a report, then had a rejuvenating shot of tequila and a beer chaser back at the aforementioned cafe with our friends. Whew.

It was 11.45am.

Man that guy was a demonic dickhead.

Perhaps my pink polo shirt and baby blue fanny pack made me look too vulnerable and fatalistic like Judge Reinhold playing Harvey Keitel's pimp in Taxi Driver.

I told Blake and Contessa about my ironic Brando dream the night before and Blake said he'd 'been trying to get a booking with Brando for weeks and weeks and nothing.'That raised my spirits if not my fortunes. Heading to dinner the ATM ate my bank card. Got to the restaurant and had more rejuvenating tequila shots.

Da ting about extremely chaotic cities like dis is that the highs are galvanising and ecstatic and the lows call for rejuvenating tequila shots.

Day 2: Hanoi Pt I

I had a fitful sleep dreaming that I met Marlon Brando and his accountant, a young James Caan, at a corporate conference, and exuberantly, almost obnoxiously, laid on the charm. Brando was unamused, or if he was amused he did not show it, however I was assured by a young lady afterwards that he was so I woke up feeling rather confident to start the day.

Our travel companions weren't in their hotel so we went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum by ourselves. Prior to his death in 1969 Ho Chi - Uncle Ho to his people ('you ever notice how Ho Chi Minh and Col. Sanders are never seen in the same place?' Blake asked and I said 'well he's been dead for almost forty years...')- requested his ashes be spread equally throughout North and South Vietnam. Instead he was placed in a glass case in a freezing cold room surrounded by stone-faced guards, accessible to visitors at fifty cents a pop (A distasteful joke about Ho Chi Minh's head in a jar of rice liqueur was inevitable). Keep quiet though. De Campo said "He's trapped in a glass case of emotion!" and nearly got jabbed with a bayonet by one of the guards.

I have a hard time detecting flaws in Ho Chi Minh's politics/ideologies. He lived in France for thirty years under a different name and was there during World War II when Germany occupied France and France occupied Vietnam, so there's no doubt what side of the fence he was on then. Though I'm pretty sure Fascism appalled him.

According to the guidebooks, Communism best suited Ho Chi Minh's anti-colonialism.
He seemed like a freedom fighter and Communism was probably the best way to rally large numbers of people. The costs of being Communist was huge. The US specialised in sending messages to the big people (Russia and China) by crushing the little people (Vietnam). After years of funding France's ultimately failed attempt to take Vietnam, the US stepped in and it was awful. Just awful.

Ho Chi Minh lived an admirable life in a home of modest means with an unexciting Peugeot that's still in the garage. If this is a smokescreen to cover up a life of cocaine bars and loose women, please correct me, but Ho Chi seems an altrusitic chap who gave his all the the people. I wonder if Bruce Springsteen has Uncle Ho's head embroidered on the buttcheeks of his jeans.

Day 1: Hanoi

Compliments on my fanny pack continued in Hanoi. Our travel companions were aglow, abuzzed and agush over its strange aesthetic powers.

I had fun riding bikes around the Old Quarter with Blake the next morning. He maintained his composure and his hair ended up pretty much the same way it started. Dukovny-esque.

It was pretty trippy dodging the high-paced throngs. Old guys pulling carts of mangoes suddenly apearing from out of the blue, lots of women in pointy straw hats carting avocados and bananas hanging from baskets at the end of bamboo poles they had balanced on their shoulders, mopeds up the ying-yang tooting their horns, greyhounds swivelling on spits in a giggle of yelping blazes...

Across the street from the Quilt Society where Blake and Contessa were finalising the purcase of an exquisite bed spread, De Campo and I were shooting through the saloon doors of Highway 4 and sauntering in like a couple of shit-eating cowpokes hankering for a thirst.

Highway 4 specialised in rice liqueurs. Big jars like the kind scientists keep fetuses in were collected around the bar and full of the stuff. The most interesting ones contained geckos and honeybees. The English guy who ran the place was sitting nearby. He had Steven Seagal karate hair and porkchop sideburns. He pointed at the rice liqueurs menu and suggested we stick to the fruity ones. Blake had a White Ginseng called One Night, Five times. The Great Contessa's tasted like floor varnish. De Campo's were the tastiest if the least adventurous. I had Traffic Lights, a tricoloured cocktail (red= Mulberry liquer; amber=orange juice; and green=creme de yum) that turned me into a clairvoyant. I was suddenly nine minutes ahead of everyone as I sped through the red light and quickly approached the yellow. 'What Traffic Lights?' quipped Blake.

My stomach ached for food and the wild horse pie, grlled dogmeat and crickets on the menu had me twisted up in nervous knots. Who would have known, not even my psychic drink could have foresaw this, me sticking a roasted sparrow into my hungry maw a few hours later, but that's what I did and you know what, it was good, but not as good as the corndog shrimp or the crabmeat and at least I didn't eat the head however I will say this: the talons were fantastic!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No One Gets Out of Here Alive (or Linda Hunt call your lawyer)

The apocalyptic cab ride from the airport to Hanoi's old quarter was like a scene from a weird movie: Escape from New York or the Year of Living Dangerously, except the cab driver wasn't the bodacious Adrienne Barbeau and I am no Linda Hunt (though my uncharacteristic emotive performance forthcoming should earn me an award in the academy of life if there ever was one).

It took us a little over a half an hour to cross over the street to get to the Hanoi queen II, our hotel, by which time at least a thousand scooters zipped by full-throttle. I already hate the motor maniacs. The rule of the road is there is no rule of the road so run like buggery, be assertive and pray they brake!

No wonder these kids are so adept at videogames their moped hand-eye is startling.

Please kill me.

The acne-complected teenage desk clerk had bad news. The family in the room we booked were apparently very sick. Sensing mischief in the impish cock of the desk clerks pimply brow we called bullshit - the turd nonetheless relocated us to the Queenstar, a hotel that smelled of mice with louvred windows peering into a ventilation shaft festering with a great deal of mould. I drove a beer into my stomach to take the edge off and grabbed the phone (it didn't work of course had to call the desk dill in to work a turn key), checking the recommendations in our rough guide. We found a vacancy near the cathedral.

As we departed the queenstar lobby, I was handed the phone. It was the unscrupulous desk clerk of a ratbag at the Hanoi Queen II. A terse argument ensued. I endeavoured to eviscerate his corrupt soul. I took him apart with a flurry of hard nouns he would have gotten the gist of because the next thing I knew he had lost his cool, raised his voice and effectively snapped. He shouted in my ear and then he hung up the phone. Linda Hunt eat your heart out. Unbeknownst to me, he had whispered dark voodoo vengeance upon my vacation experiences. I would pay.

The next hotel was clean with balcony and our holiday companions, Blake Menzies and the Great Contessa, over from Macao, were right around the corner from us. We walked over and raided their fridge. They were watching Indochine on the laptop and never looked some goddamn life-affirming. We needed them more than they needed us to be sure and they would deliver by God...

*the remaining manuscript has been lost*

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dead Fish Bar/Restaurant, Siem Reap, an emotional watershed

We had some time to kill before the glorious night market opened so we took refuge inside this bar and restaurant called the Deadfish. Don't know what compelled us inside as it had a really dilapidated facade and building materials cluttering the entry (we both agreed later that it had an amenable ring of familiarity like it had been written up in the hotel guidebook or something).

Constructed from reclaimed timbers, sheathed in corrugated iron, sat on slabs of concrete, the Deadfish is a tall, dark A-frame with four floating mezzanine floors (vertiginous dining areas). A neat trick I never considered for expediting snacks are these trays fixed to diagonal beams delivering drinks from the bar to levels 2-4 via a system of pulleys (the kitchen has its own food lift).

Architecturally Deadfish recalled one of those optical illusion prints by Escher (as in you turn the building inside out and shake it and it's not too different) that are popular with 19 year-olds who are into crystals and Frank Black solo records. The darkness and use of timbers give it a more rustic, log cabin feel as opposed to some airy-fairy print. We were super stoked.

Now whoever said Angkor draft was no fun needs to have their esophagus keg-tested by Deadfish inc. The two pints I drained were effervescent, full-bodied, luscious, thirst-quenching, drippy, runny and damn tasty.

After a couple of those, I had a look around and in one section I noticed a creepy amphibian trawling the shallow waters for lichen under the sub-floor of the guesthouse of which there are rooms for rent at reasonable rates. We were warned not to get too close to the fucker because they'll rip your arm off. A one metre gap of dryland between the creature and the short fence stood a statue of a miniature croc. Some stairs nearby led to a toilet were I had an agreeable number one and returned to the landing near the stairs.

It's a little hard to describe on an emotional level what happened next but needless to say on the far wall what I thought was a concrete crocodile was a real one and I was certain of this once it winked at me. De Campo exited the loo too and nearly crapped herself when it yawned in her personal vicinity. Only a short knee high fence separated us from this magnificent survivor of yesteryear. Five emerged from the depths of the sub-floor when plates of fish were brandished. We ended up feeding them two plates of guppies. It was a lot like feeding dogs, but more fun. Evidently these dudes live under the guesthouse, which was built on a crocodile farm. They have to keep them there or else they'll be turned into wallets.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Siem Reap

We have cable in our hotel room. Been watching some exciting kickboxing. Real nail biters. Russia responds violently to the genocide in Georgia. There is civilian atrocity all over CNN. Jurassic Park dubbed in Cambodian is arguably a better film though the Laura Dern voice is all wrong. However the Goldblum character nails the louche smoothness just fine.

The flight over was even smoother than Cambodia's Goldblum. Clouds like cotton candy and big foamy bubble baths, I snoozed a lot of the way. I don't think it was a coincidence when I awoke the second time an air hostess stood before me with a refreshing towellette - I had drool connecting my chin to my grey fleece.

A massage and a mind-altering pizza coupled with a trip to Angkor wat, an extraordinary temple, led to a weird spell of dehydration that caused me to think aloud while watching Cameron Crowe's elizabethtown back at the room. Orlando Bloom is a designer of some bullshit shoe that looks like crap. He talks on his cellphone way too goddamn much, the superficial jerk. Kirsten Dunst is sickly as the stewardess sent from God. This veiled Christian rock movie totally sucks, but it's kind of fun to sit there and bag it out after a day visiting temples and consider how much more meaningful your life is compared to these douchebags.

Beers are seventy-five cents and deodorant is three dollars fifty. We are drunk all the time and we smell. When the cocktail lounge at the pool picks up, the whole place turns into a pastel party headlined by Sergio Mendes in the back of your mind. I read Chapter Ten of Gavin's side-splittingly witty novel and Catch 22 submerged from the neckdown. Construction noise pretty pervasive. Stacks of 2x4s fall off trucks next door, jackhammers fart aggressively into the street. There's always this guy swinging a sledgehammer into a tin sheet. What's up with that. Angle grinders, motorbikes, young children playing and squeeze toys that sound like monkeys going at it fill the air. You get used to it after awhile. The air is ultra thick with humidity. Mostly cloudy, a mixed blessing as it dimishes the sun's blistering intensity, but diminishes colour possibilities when checking out the temples. Our hotel earns four stars (would be five if it had a fridge).

I sure thought Siem Reap was total chaos the day we arrived - now I'm totally digging it and I've made it 24 hours without an epic struggle on the toilet.

Shoutout to Sunsense, innovators in sunscreen Technology. I tend to avoid protecting my legs from the sun. My leghair is a type of screen made of hair, requiring vast amounts of ultra-violet to perforate the epidermis.

On the third day, I woke up without diarrhea and a curious compunction to spend money, so I procured a somewhat wacky-looking fanny pack and have it strapped to myself in all situations including those involving pre-marital relations.

The seafood salads here are the best in the world ever. De Campo rates the rice paper rolls even higher and she is not wrong. We had a gorgeous lunch inside a butterfly sanctuary. The restaurant pays poor people from the country good money to catch them. Behind my chair a gigantic neon-brite butterfly that looked like a crawdaddy with the wings of a bat, a very unwieldy flyer, grounded itself and I played an indirect part in the rescue of the big creature as it proceeded to get covered in small ants.

Our first morning my mirrored sunglasses came apart in my hands and I replaced them with rose-tinted Ray Bans for the meagre sum of $4. Just to give you an idea of the cost of things.

I've never seen so many bananas attached to one scooter.

I tried the Cambodian specialty, the Amok, on a degustation plate, and found it to next to awful. I kindly informed an English couple who had sidled up next to us at the balcony of this restaurant that the salads were good, the Amok bad. The English fella, who had a spectacular tan and a muscular build in the mold of Lorenzo lamas, kindly informed me that he was willing to give the Amok a try and that he would disregard my other recommendation about the salad also. I think he was practicing some form of reverse discrimination as I was not a man of colour.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Attention Pockets!!

I’ve got it really bad for the new Silver Jews album. I’m singing the songs even when they’re not being sung to me. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a floppy disk and and more.

“We’re coming out of the black patch/we’re coming out of the pockets!”

When a song about squirrels sums up your place in the world, even though that place was never a place you've been known to frequent or come out of no less you’ve got no choice but to GIVE IN.

Like I said, I actually don’t know if I’ve ever come out of either of those places, but nevertheless I still see if strangers have an acorn or two to spare in their pockets. It's not very often that they do, but we all need a reason to get up in the morning now don't we