Friday, February 24, 2006

archive from Dec 04 SE ASIA: - I squeezed the sweaty Vietnamese man tight

This was originally sent December 30, 2004 from Bangkok

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get your mind out of the gutter. I hired a motorbike! I haven't really been able to use the internet for days, Hoi An didn'treally have any good internet connections. Actually, the electricity goes out once in awhile too. But don't get me wrong, Hoi An was a classy little town. Trendy little lounges with candles and real art for sale. It did have a really rustic vietnamese part to it, though. The first night I stayed in my usual slum-style hotel. After I arrived I explored the town and walked across the river to some fancy bungalows for $40 a night. TV, swimming pool, my own back deck facing theriver... I decided to splurge.

The best restaurant ever

The first night I wandered the town, then ate at a tiny restaurant Lonely Planet recommended (cafe des amis). A place where there is no menu, just what the chef Mr Kim feels like making that day. You have a choice between vegetarian and seafood. Nice little rickety tables by the river and street. Let me tell you, Mr Kim is a genious. Lots of fresh stuff, lemongrass, ginger, vegetables right from the market a block away. Mr Kim even walks around and makes sure you like it and are dipping things in the right sauces. He takes your chopstick out of your hand and makes sure you do it right. A pushy host, I can appreciate that. With 2 glasses of wine it came to 6 dollars. The food in 'Nam was soooo good. In Hoi An there was a woman selling deep fried, breaded pineapple slices. Those were so good. I'm going to try to make them at home. Later wandered into a bar because they were playing one of my favorite new CDs really loud, Thievery corporation. I wrote in my journal and met a swiss guy also travelling solo named Jurg. We drank some beer, swapped stories and agreed to play pool the next night.

Next day went to the beach 5 km away - I rented a rickety bike that was really uncomfortable, my legs are too long for their bikes. The beach,though - it was awesome. Clean, tropical, virtually empty. Women with black/red teeth (from chewing betel nut) walk around in those conical rice-picking hats and sell tropical fruit. I had a mango and the woman noticed my 15-20 scabby mosquito bites. She sold me some brown liquid to put on them for like 50 cents. It really did stop the itching! Later, had a 2 hour cooking class and got to make some vietnamese food like spring rolls, stuffed fish and squid. I hung out with Hillary andPauline from Scotland. Later I met Jurg for pool and I actually beat him once. I was tired so I called it a night and walked back across town (thank god I had a flashlight because there are no street lights! very safe though and not far to walk.) and passed the "Peace Bar" near my hotel. I talked to some more swiss people and had a beer with them.I talked to this one guy, really cute, for awhile. He was on a tour andwasn't too thrilled about it. We compared 'Nam stories. I asked if his life at home was one big Ricola commerical. He was with an old guy from his tour and the bar was closing so we went our separate ways.

Next day, dark and cloudy but I wanted to go to the beach again anyway. I figured I could just read in a hammock in the palm tree grove, which I did. I thought about the bike again and how much it sucked so I hired amotorbike driver. It was scary but enjoyable. You have nothing to hang on to but him and no helmet. He was a bit sweaty. We got really"close" on the ride. It was funny, He kept saying "it ok! it ok"because I kept sqealing and grimacing. We passed all the tourists suffering on the bicycles. To every one I shouted "suckaaa!"

I got back and ran into the hot, smiley swiss guy again, I never did get his name. He said he was sorry he couldn't stay another day. He told me that he went across the river to the poor part of town for a look and that it was interesting. I decided to do the same. The streets were dirt and I walked around the houses with open doors and chickens running around. You can see the trendy area from across theriver, it's like night and day. I walked past an open shelter area withabout 5 young guys watching music videos. They waved me in. I ended uphaving coffee with them. Win, who called me over, is 23 and his friendnext to him was wearing a ski cap. I asked him why, it's not cold! He lifted it up to show me his cut-up head from a motorbike accident.yikes! I talked to them for awhile, then wandered down the street some more. A woman who looked about 40, named Phouc, started talking to me. She invited me into her house. I was like, OK, why not. She lived in one room with her two kids. They had a cooking area outside and a bathroom. She thought I was 22. Turns out we are the same age, 34. It was very interesting to talk to her. I don't think many tourists ever wander over there. I'm glad I did. It was a great experience. I don't thinkI will forget about Phoc and Win for a long time.

Vietnam itself was a great experience. I can't believe more people don't go there. It is easier to travel through than Greece. The food is to die for and the people are NICE and honest. I had many people back home make a face and ask me if it was really safe to go there alone and the answer is an absolute YES. I am so glad I took a chance and went there for a week. Traffic in Hanoi made me insane and the country itself was like an assault on the senses at first but Hanoi itself wasn't so bad. In the nice hotel I get BBC news and I finally got to see the extent ofthe damage from the tsunami. I was absolutely shocked. Wow! And I was surprised that people were worried about me, from all the e-mails. I was just sitting around eating mangoes in Vietnam having a good old time and all this was going on. My friend Eva from the trek was still in Chiang Mai and said that they could feel the earthquake up there. I flew to Bangkok today to decide where to go next, because Bangkok is kind of a crossroads and you can get a ticket to anywhere. I didn'twant to give up on my dream of hammock on the beach for a week so I decided at the travel office (after kicking away a dead cockroach on thefloor) to go to Ko Chang tomorrow. It is a thai island but if you lookon the map, it is waay far away from the tsunami area, just off Cambodia. There is a beach there called "Lonely beach" that is rumored to be a laid-back backpacker place with lounges with pillows. That's all I really know about it, but that's where i'm going to try to go. I hope I get a place to stay because it is new years eve, afterall. Tonight I'm staying on Khao san road in Bangkok where all the western travellers go. My hotel, the Sawasdee guest house, is playing loud music constantly and there are sunburned people walking around with dreadlocks drinking beer. So this will be my one night in Bangkok, we'll see how it goes. I had the song in my head today. It's a good one.

same same but DEEFRENT!

One thing about Thailand and Nam that I have been pondering since I got here - I keep hearing the phrase "same, same.... but different!" you see it on restaurant signs and people keep saying it to me randomly when they try to sell me things. I didn't really notice until I woke up in the middle of the night thinking "same, same.... but different!" It keeps popping in my head. I walk down the street muttering "same, same... but deefrent!" (you have to do it in a thai accent) for no reason. There is ever a "same same but different guesthouse" I heard of somewhere. It's on food stall signs. It's like my own version of what is the sound of one hand clapping or what is the sound of a tree when it falls and no one hears. same, same... but different! What the heck does that mean?!?! same as what?! so today on the street I saw a shirt in Bangkok that said "same same" on the front and you turn it over and it says "but different". Is this some colossal joke that I just don't get? Am I going to have to buy that shirt?

Happy New Year! I hope 2005 is same, same... but different!

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