Monday, November 23, 2020

Laos


Luang Prabang

We flew into this sleepy little river town from the big city of Da Nang. It was quite the contrast. The lush verdant hills announced its bucolic intentions. We booked 4 nights and ended up staying 12.


First Impressions 

All the signage is different. It’s a new interpretation on how a culture decides to build a civilization. Certain items get lodged in your memory and become those little things that remind you of a given country: purple sticky rice, insects on a stick, those delicious double halves of the coconut pancake sutured together with a toothpick, the broken toe booby traps that lace the city, the never ending length of the long boats with almost zero beam, the unique architecture and the inimitable clothing choices. $1USD = 8,855 Kip.








The drivers are much more polite than the VC but it is about 15% more expensive than Vietnam, and the cuisine is about 20% less appealing.  

But this thing they nailed:


Cook your meat in the center and your soup and veggies in the ringed trough. 

Can we just call this place monktown? Monks & Wats (temples) everywhere!


Why do they give us one menu to share? There’s a stack of menus right there! Give us each a menu!

They haven't figured out that "Vision File" is the name of the folder company or how to remove it.
Every restaurant has a menu named "Vision File". "Can I have a Vision File please?"

“Cop Jai” means “thank you”. “Sep” means “delicious”. You can super-size anything by adding “lai lai”. “Super Delcious!” “Super Thanks!” – We’re fluent and now so are you. 

Early Morning Monk Watching

We woke up at 5 to watch the procession of monks as they receive alms from the locals. If you think the monks wake up early … the market vendors were already up and selling. They do it every day. There is a whole world that happens before sun up to which I'm rarely privy. 


The Buddha says: "Clean, Clear, Calm: These are the characteristics of a noble person."


The Religion

Buddhism seeks to attain the middle ground. They don’t want the highs and the lows. They want everything to be flat and harmonious. 5 out of 6 dentists can attest that this is a roadmap for boring. I want the highs, and I am willing to suffer the lows. For me, Buddhism; not a good fit.

"The mind is like a naughty monkey – always jumping from here to there"


It took me a minute to put my finger on it, but it’s the shaved eyebrows that give the monks their peculiar alien appearance. The orange robes are an immediate eye grabber but it’s the absence of eyebrows that slowly worms its way into your vision. 


Elephants!

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no ethical way to see elephants in captivity. Sadly, there is also no other option other than captivity for these elephants. It’s not like it’s an injured otter that you can heal and reintroduce to the wild. These elephants would only be recaptured and exploited. The only good elephant sanctuary is one in which the elephants are “way over there” and you’re looking at them through a telephoto lens across vast amounts of space. Most of the places that use the word “sanctuary” in their title are the exact opposite.


That trunk easily weighs 50 lbs. He rests it on the wood post when not eating.

We Went Dancing

I'm a child of the 80s. I watch a Flesh For Lulu video and I get shivers of youth again. I live with a 25 year old and I wonder when this will become an issue. I started high school in Sept 1980 and graduated university in Dec 1989. That means I spent all of my formative years in that decade. I am Captain 80s. Hell, I was doing the 80’s up until 1992!  So is it really so strange that I get loaded and need to listen to The Jesus and Mary Chain? And yes of course I snap my fingers when I dance, can’t help it. How do you think that goes over with my childlike Latin girl friend? She’s got her hips on a swivel and I’m playing air bass (I switched from air guitar to air bass when I hit 40. Seemed appropriate). We got in a fight because I was exhausted and wanted to leave when it hit 3am. She couldn’t believe what a quitter I was

Halloween party. AB as Amy W

Can we agree to call them the “Quick Thumb Generation”?  If thumbs set us apart from the lower animals - “Quicker thumbs” is the natural evolution



Nong Khiaw

$5 and 4 hours later, we descended from the bus and discovered a delightful little town. Nong Khiaw exists on an elbow bend of the Nam Ou River. High cliffs surround the town. What the river divides, the bridge tries to stitch back together. There are a few tourist attractions, which are all water based. We put our name on them all. 


A skinny low boat took us up the river to Muang Ngoy. The boat was loud and uncomfortable, but the surrounding landscape was beautiful. We planned to spend a few nights but they were out of drinkable water and people were getting sick. We headed back down river for a hike through rice paddies to a waterfall. 


Vang Vieng

We’d been warned about this place. “Drugs and alcohol poisoning, mixed with super charged off road vehicles. Lots of ways to die. Total tourist trap. Loud and trashed, you’re gonna hate.” So we only budgeted a week. Wrong. We loved it. I’d go back and double the timeline. The drive in damn near killed us, so we should make our stay count. Our driver couldn’t have been more than 20 and was responsible for 15 souls. He drove way too fast around sheer drop offs without guard rails. Absolutely death defying. Hang one tire and they wouldn’t find the wreckage for a year. The sun went down and he drove the last 2 hour in pitch black. Thank god, I couldn’t watch anymore.


They’ve cleaned up their bad reputation and the drug/drowning deaths are way down from previous years. I did rent one of those super charged off road vehicles and when the throttle stuck at full revs I saved us by wedging my toes behind it and lifting it to reduce speed. We turned around and returned it immediately. I told them what happened and how dangerous it was. I hope the next guy lived. 






Our Formula

We spend the first half of the day outside enjoying the day’s activity and the second half inside hiding from the heat, rehydrating and editing the photos. It’s a good formula. 


I contend that it takes a year to learn how to enjoy wasting time. Those from the developed world are so programmed to be productive that on the last day of a 2 week vacation they are still plotting how to slip in one more temple before the airport. We are experts at wasting time. We schedule exactly one item per day and quite often it gets pushed until tomorrow.


Vientiane

I love this form of travel. We walk out a new front door every 4 days and stroll around our ever changing local streets to discover new places. “That looks like an excellent menu.” “Oh good, there’s a gym right here.” “That museum might be interesting.” I love the lifestyle but Vientiane didn’t hold much appeal for us, and that’s odd since it’s the capital city. I’m sure if one committed more time it might shine. I suppose we just stayed in the wrong section. 

For the 1st time in my life I’m larger than 90% of the male population but they can probably all disassemble me with some form of martial art. Doesn’t matter, I feel huge, until a Dutch guy walks in and orders a baguette. It’s the size of his forearm, and just like that I’m a lowercase “i” again.

Everything is relative and the big cities are international, even in little Vientiane.

UXO – Unexploded Ordinance

It just breaks my heart. These poor little people weren't even combatants, just the sorry victims of being neighbors to Vietnam. In fact – they are the most bombed country in the world. 

To put it in perspective: From 1964 until 1973 the USA dropped 2 million tons of bombs within the borders of Laos. From 1939 to 1945 all the allies combined dropped a total of 3.4 million tons during both the Asian and European theaters of war combined. 

The real horror is the unexploded ordinance of the cluster bombs. They keep on killing today. I can't enlarge the photo more. Try to zoom in and read the story in the brown box. Tragic.

In Conclusion - Laos Lags And I’m Good With That

It’s the only country in South East Asia that is landlocked. Without a seaport the world will leave you behind. It’s a little underdeveloped even compared to its underdeveloped neighbors. Cheers to isolation! Doesn’t bother me a bit - They seem gentle and happy. I like them just as they are. 

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby



Friday, June 5, 2020

Vietnam Part 2

A country of wonderful street scenes

The Sounds of Nam
Vietnam is a country of superlatives: Greatest food. Lowest prices. . . Ugliest language. What if the world voted and it was decided that Vietnamese could not be spoken above the level of a whisper? I’d pay a hundred bucks a year for that. It might be the only way to make their language tolerable. It sounds like ducks gargling, but loud and mean and aggressive and painful and threatening to your inner ear. They’re not mad at each other – they’re just Vietnamese.

Here are the 2 crux problems with the language – Like Thai, it’s tonal. For Westerners, it’s nearly impossible to get it right if you’re learning it after puberty. The second is that their language was translated into Roman letters in phonetic Portuguese and then translated once again by the French. What a cruel trick. The French language subsided as the one spoken for diplomacy over 100 years ago but every letter wears a chapeau or is under dabbed with what looks like shrapnel from an ancient typewriter.

It’s not just the language. The general noise pollution is so severe that the citizens are probably hearing damaged in utero. Before you go; do yourself a favor – pierce your eardrums. Not your earlobes, your eardrums. It’ll be a lot less painful in the long term. Of course you would then miss out on the native music which sounds like a bag of cats in misery.

They could learn from the English who are the only people on the planet who can whisper and mumble at the same time.

Nha Trang – Little Russia

Pedro, a native Spanish speaker from Ecuador was Aleja’s dive instructor as she earned her certification in this seaside vacation spot.

Cam Ranh Bay, which is just 45 minutes south of Nha Trang was developed in 1965 by the US military. If you fought in Nam you probably passed through CRB. It was lost in 1975 and the Soviets made it their largest port outside of Russia, hence the heavy Russian presence there today. They aren’t just tourists. They are the shop owners and the tour guides. Russians galore!

Cat Ba Island
You probably know this region by the more popular name of Halong Bay.

Timing the Contractions
You can make a contraction out of just about anything: Cranberries and raisins becomes “Craisins” But now how are you going to contract Crazy Asians? Are you just going to tell an insane Asian (there are zero acceptable synonyms for “Asian”) that it’s too late; Ocean Spray beat you to it, and now there’s no cool contraction left for you and your lunatic Asian brothers?
Everything is a bed when you work 29 days a month

Crasian Drivers
They are the world’s 3rd worst drivers (behind Peru and Colombia), but there is no road rage. They’ll do a 6 point U turn in the middle of a busy road and piss off 30 people but nobody breaks their poker face. That counts for something. I just don’t know how to work it into the quality of life matrix yet, but they should be awarded points on some scale.

Tam Coc
I refuse to write a travelogue but be aware… you don’t want to stay in Nin Binh, which is the name this region is labeled. It’s industrial and not what you’re looking for. You want to stay in adjacent Tam Coc. Was this my favorite part of Vietnam? Maybe. I’d go back and rent a scooter and do it all over again. I call every woman of child bearing years “Mamasan” and when something is good I say, "Number One!" They always understand and repeat. Tam Coc was Number One.










Caves galore (Actually - Disney Studios Hollywood made out of painted foam)





Hue City
The Kubrick movie Full Metal Jacket is set here. It saw intense fighting during the war and a small bit of the evidence remains. Go for the history, stay for the salt coffee. It sounds terrible, tastes wonderful.



My Facial Recognition Software Doesn’t Work In Asia
That girl could be 13 or 33. I have no idea. And forget looking at the body for the deciding factor – identical prepubescent bodies. It’s hard enough just to tell male from female. There are no curves. A fully developed woman looks like me at 13 – gangly & boney with no chest and a flat ass you could iron a shirt on. I just spent 4 years in Latin America. The lower units here are like the Grinch trying to ruin Christmas. While getting a massage one afternoon the masseuse pulled Aleja’s panties down way too far just to get a gander at her whole caboose. They haven’t seen rumps like that … ever.

Hoi An
This is a gooey little fly trap of a town. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave and then stayed nearly a month when I got sick.

The hosts at our villa. I will always go back to Hoi An and stay at Green Grapefruit Villa

      Aleja runs fake tours in Hoi An
"Follow The Corn"

I Got Sick
When you are poor you never stay home no matter how sick you are so I'm always afraid of who’s working in the kitchen. I got sick. It happens. Not a bad country to get sick in though - cuz of all that soup.

Hanoi
Not my cup of tea: Loud, congested, filthy, atrocious air quality and a shortage of smiles. We used it as a hub to visit the neighboring attractions. However, one of the niceties of South East Asia, and this is across the board – They will never ask you to leave if you’ve stopped ordering food. You can have one cup of coffee and sit for the whole afternoon. Try that at Applebee’s


Plastic wrapped in plastic

Crimes against the pizza
Sometimes chaotic systems work


The Economic Strategies

The communist North won the war and gained unity and autonomy and that's in the history books for all to read, but the economic model that the North fought for seems to have been abandoned in exchange for capitalism, which was what Ho Chi Minh fought against. So did the South actually win after all?

This photo was taken in the Hanoi airport. We dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on Hanoi in only a 2 week period, and guess what... Burger King takes US dollars. You really think we lost the war? They were going to be capitalists anyway. There's just no stopping it. One of many wars we didn’t need to fight.
Captured war plane in the pouring rain

They aren’t the most sophisticated capitalists however. Compare them to the Balinese. At least the Balinese try to make friends with you first, “Hi, where you come from? What you name?” In Vietnam their unsophisticated level of marketing begins and ends with a gruff, “You buy something from me!” I call it comrade salesmanship. They just haven’t had the number of years in the free market that the other countries have had.







War time tunnel systems

This Life Vs The Last One
I love living my life like I’m riding the metro – I’ve got all my stuff together in 2 bags, and I’m ready to get off at any stop. It has its down sides, but with one country in the bag, so far… backpacking South East Asia has been a winner.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby


Georgia

Crossing the Border The Georgian immigration lady literally put a diamond loupe on my driver's license and passport and went over every ...