Friday, December 25, 2009

Depart Mental

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 21:  A United Airline...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
I don't like leaving places. Even when I am leaving home to go on a journey, I get very emotional.

I have a lovely friend who insists on dropping me off and picking me up at the airport when I undertake these journeys, and more grateful I could not be. However, I don't think that she knows that tears well up in my eyes as I grab the baggage from her trunk and head off in to the unknown.

By the same token, I get very emotional when I leave a country. It is unlikely that I shall ever pass this way again and inevitably the place and the beautiful faces of all the people that I have met there race through my mind as I silently say goodbye. This was the case in Ghana and it is the case in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Saying goodbye is very hard to do when you know that you shall never walk this ground again.

Such is the inherent nature of travel. On the upside an amazing new place awaits while you are on the journey, but eventually the next place is going back home.

Nonetheless, home is a pretty damn good place.

As I walk through customs I see two beautiful friends awaiting me, and all of a sudden it doesn't matter that my luggage is in Washington, D.C., promising to catch up with me.

In an instant I become aware that I haven't had a meaningful conversation in more than a month.

As we head to the car I light a smoke and look at my two friends, grateful to be home, but perplexed by the meaning of my journey.

Yeah, I saw a lot of things, but I have no idea what it means.

It is going to take some time to understand.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Asia Pictures And Videos

 Below are links to some 700 + pictures and twelve videos. I apologize for the shots of my thumb, the ground, and utter blackness, but hopefully there aren't too many of those. I hope you find a few images that convey to you the moments of wonder and astonishment, of horror and joy and the undeniable resiliency of the human spirit that I experienced .

Most especially let me thank you for letting me share this journey with you. The encouragement I have received from so many people means a lot to me.

My best wishes to you and your families.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas Day.


PICTURES (click the text link to see album)


Siem Reap and Temples

Tuol Sleng and The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh To Saigon

Saigon To Hanoi

Halong Bay

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mekong Mini's

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, CambodiaImage by victoriapeckham via Flickr
The following is a short compendium of odds and ends that were not worthy of blog posts, yet somehow struck me as worthy of note.
  • The tractor in Cambodia with the Nebraska plates.
  • Durian fruit expressly forbidden in my Saigon Hotel
  • The "no grenades" policy at my hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Perhaps they had a bad experience
  • Trying to eat a whole crab swimming in sweet chili sauce in the shell with only chopsticks while respecting local dining customs
  • Four people on one scooter, a relatively common sight
  • Cambodia actually has a shopping channel
  • The 60 year old mamsan who worked at my hotel in Siem Reap, calmly joining me at my table to roll a joint as I ate my breakfast
  • The street vendor in Hanoi who proudly displayed the barbecued dogs head as he cut up the meat. I give him points for honesty, but no thanks, I had dog for breakfast. I drew the line at frog, or at least I hope I did.
  • The "psychic" in Thailand who tried to hustle me by telling me I had a "funny face", causing a fellow traveler to laugh out loud as he passed by.
And lastly, this exchange with a girl of about ten, who was trying to sell me bracelets just outside Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Girl: Do you want to buy my bracelets?
Me: No, thank you
Girl: Very nice gift for your wife!
Me: I don't have a wife
Girl: Then nice gift for your girlfriend!
Me:  I don't have a girlfriend
Girl:  Do you know why you don't have a wife or a girlfriend?
Me:  No, I don't
Girl: Because you don't buy my bracelets!

I simply could not argue with that kind of iron clad logic, and, of course I bought a bracelet.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Back In The BeeKayKay

Bangkok ChinatownImage by Not Quite a Photographr via Flickr
Like sand through my fingers, it is all slipping away, and I can only watch the clock helplessly. At this point I have come full circle. The Bangkok that I arrived in is now the Bangkok that will initiate my return to familiar shores. Same city, completely different mindset.

About this, I am somewhat ambivalent. I would love to stay in this region longer, but I am also missing the familiar surroundings and comforts of my home. Nonetheless, I have two precious days left in the magnificence of Bangkok and despite my fatigue, I commit to not wasting these last few hours.

Fortunately for me, Bangkok did most of the heavy lifting in the waning moments. Once again, my greatest move was getting lost. I love walking in unfamiliar cities, but by now I was starting to feel familiar with the little corner of Bangkok that I had come to know.

My mission was take the one hour walk to Khaosan Road, so I could post a blog or two, have a drink and buy some gifts. My wayward sense of direction let me down once again. How is is that I can walk back to a hotel at 1am from this location, but I can't walk from my hotel to this location?

After heading in the right general direction on foot for about an hour, I began to realise that I was not going to Khaosan Road without assistance. Being the stubborn guy that I am, I refused to ask for assistance and kept walking.

Suddenly the crowd began to thicken and I initially began to think that a sporting event had just let out. As i continued to walk, I began to feel like a fish floating upstream.

One thing that puzzled me was the fact that 80% of the people that I passed were wearing pink shirts. In Thailand one should be aware of colours. Yellow represents the current government which came to power through a military coup. Red represents support for the previously democratically elected government. But why am I seeing all these pink shirts?

It turns out that I have unwittingly arrived in Bangkok during a magnificent celebration in honour of the King and Queen. I continue to press upstream against a sea of pink towards the buzz of the crowd, still thinking that I am heading to Khaosan Road.

I begin to hear music. Initially I think that it is yet another ghetto blaster selling stuff, but as I approach the pulse becomes deeper. I realise something is going on and all thoughts of Khaosan Road abandon me. I come upon a deep and wide avenue teeming with humanity. I estimate the crowd to be between 50,000 - 100,000 people.

Nearby are large television screens, and I see an orchestra playing, dancers dancing, and massive images being projected onto a large and majestic building. I turn around and begin to fathom that the events that I am seeing on this screen are happening live about three blocks down this magnifecent and humanity riddled avenue.

I have happened upon an annual celebration of the King and Queen of Thailand.

In Thailand, the king is seen to be empowered by God. He is also seen as a moderating political force. In short, in Thailand, the King is King. One should never climb over anything, as it may contain an image of the King. In Thailand you do not lick a stamp. The stamp contains an image of the King, and only animals lick things.

Needless to say, the celebration was astonishing and another unexpected delight. For two days the Bangkok night lit up with fireworks. Sadly, The King was not able to attend as he has been in hospital since September. Given the love for the King that I saw this weekend, I shudder to think how deep the mourning will be when he passes.

Long Live The King!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Temple Of Literature

{{en}}Văn Miếu (Temple of literature), Hanoi, ...Image via Wikipedia
Today was my last day in Hanoi. Taking my cue from the Lonely Planet guide, I decide to head out to the Temple Of Literature. Built around 1070, the temple is dedicated to Confucius.

I grab a moto from the Old Quarter, put on my helmet, hop aboard and close my eyes for the death ride across town.

As we arrive, I pull out some money to pay the driver, plus a generous tip for not killing me along the way. As I am paying him a small crowd suddenly envelopes us. It seems that I have dropped a small amount of money (at most $3) and one person has lunged forward to step on the wayward bill, acting as if he is just hanging around. Another man explains to me what has happened, and I thank him and the others who have gathered for their honesty.

I turn to the culprit and tell him to move while assessing the situation. Obviously, there is a lot of downside here, with the only upside being that I get my $1-$3 back. Clearly not worth it. I turn to the man and suggest he do something physically impossible involving one of his relatives. I then tell him he is a fine human being and wish him luck in his life. I then pull $10 out of my wallet and give it to the guy who first defended me.

As I shake his hand and walk away, a minor scuffle develops behind me over my misplaced lucre. Sometimes it takes one jerk to make us realise how lovely everyone else is.

Once inside I am again mesmerized by the timelessness of another place. Names of graduates are inscribed in stone dating back through the centuries. Sometimes when I am in places like this my mind boggles as I try and picture the people who walked on this same ground through the ages. I feel a lightning bolt rip through me and the ground pushing up at my feet as I shake my head in wonder.

Indeed, there is more to life than money.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Curious Case Of The Missing Contact Lens Case

Lens cover for storing contact lens.Image via Wikipedia
Unbelievably my contact lens case is missing. Again. After an epic search of Saigon to replace the one I had left behind in Phnom Penh, I am back to square one. I am utterly convinced that the maid in my hotel in Hanoi threw it out.

I wear contact lenses every day and have for years. It is as integral to me as my toothbrush, which was also thrown out, by the way. That is at least forgivable as it was in a squished cardboard sleeve that could easily be mistaken for garbage.

I can only surmise that whoever is cleaning my room does not know what a contact lens case looks like, nor what it is for, and once again I am reduced to using two water bottle caps to store my contacts in. This is not a big problem, until one needs to travel.

After searching fruitlessly through department and drug stores in Saigon, when I finally stumbled upon an eyeglass store that had what I needed I felt like I had won the lottery. I practically wept with joy at the sight of it and briefly considered forming a cult to worship the lady who sold it to me.

And now after an all too brief and mercurial relationship my contact lens case is gone again.

Rest assured I shall never forget its hourglass figure, or the way the threads of your lid meshed perfectly with your circular torso. I'll always remember how left was white and right was purple, the colour of royalty.

Alas, we'll always have Saigon, no one can take that away from us.

I have accepted the fact that while in Asia there will never be another like you. I have stoically accepted the fact that the best I can do in Indochina is two water bottle caps.

Now I will settle for fashioning a lid on my water bottle caps using scotch tape, but using this retrograde receptacle is the equivalent of dating a crack whore after knowing Marylin in the biblical sense.

Farewell contact lense case, surely you were the wind beneath my wings.

Now does anyone know where I can find some scotch tape in this town?
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay from sea levelImage by permanently scatterbrained via Flickr
Today I went to Halong Bay, the final checkmark on my must see list. Halong Bay is a Unesco World Heritage Site, a series of limestone cliffs that jut incomprehensibly out of the ocean.

Located about four hours from Hanoi, this miraculous locale rivals anything that Canada has to offer in terms of sublime natural beauty, a blessing bestowed upon us by nature that is difficult to convey.

In addition, Halong Bay also has cathedral like caves. Sadly, the batteries on my camera died, so no cave pictures available. D'oh!

Just when I think that my jaw could not drop any further, reality unveils another level. I am deeply humbled and grateful to be here in this time and place. I've uploaded a bunch of pics that you can view here.