Monday, March 26, 2007

Avocado Juice

Have I mentioned to enough people yet that I'm addicted?

I see a cart on the street. Some green, rough skinned fruit. Blender. Questionable looking ice.

A beeline, I tell you. I've found that the grosser looking the set-up, the better the juice. My plan is to set up shop somewhere amidst the construction in the Bowery - I figure that should make me tops...

Anyhow. Na Trang was worth all it took to get there - super town, could live there really. Dream of a beach town, full of Aussie ex-pats who kept saying things like "I had a pash on the beach". I love "a pash" better than "a snog" by damn far. Also, love those rough and tumble friendly types who are just so willing to bring any old person in and make her feel as though she's amongst friends. Met a trio of Queensland travellers and a few of their local friends - diving. Good for that at least, the underwater - dynamite fishing has pretty much destroyed the reef, though it seems to be starting the long process of regrowth. Saw some gorgeous blue starfish, cuttlefish and a few genuinely new looking forests of coral. Great colors. Those were moments. The rest was a know. When a dive is boring. You listen to yourself breath alot...

So, the Aussies were there and they pretty much swooped me up and took me out for a totally singular night on the town, which felt GREAT after missing friends all these days.

Hard to leave those sandy alleys...probably would have stayed on, if I had even half an inkling of not getting myself back to NYC and fast!

Hanoi, now. Quick.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Twenty-five bucks and a cracker, do you think that's enough...

Name that tune!

PW, no fair! You know all the tunes.

OK. This might be a bit longer than usual as I've got lots and lots to catch you up on, as I've been on the back of a motorcycle for the past three days descending from Dalat to Nha Trang. Cool mountains to sunny beach (and, I'd better get my rather sore bum over to the dive shop soon enough if I plan on descending further tomorrow!)

What to say about this much touted EASY RIDER trip - it was a mixed bag - just beatiful in some ways and in some ways was very weird as I was subtly (yet RELENTLESSLY) sexually harassed by my driver. Which is not something that feels great when you're in the middle of nowhere and the guy is your only link to the wide world. And your passport is strapped to his bike. And you have no clear idea where you are, where the next stop is or what you would do if something truly upsetting happened.

Which is, in itself, truly upsetting. But...

All in all, it turned out to be nothing too bad or unhandleable - just a constant guard up fending off kind of thing -- and, if that's the worst that a trip on my own to SE Asia can dish out -- well. Then. Hey!

The upshot though is this - if you do this, be VERY picky about the rider you take. They might seem innocent at first, but if I had to do it again, I would think thrice.

That out of the way, there was so much to see - the great, beautiful center of this country. Rolling hills and jungle; crashing smoky waterfalls. Definitely a trip to do with someone you like! We stopped just about everywhere, to see how everything was made, grown and processed - mostly in small private homes that welcomed me in and allowed me to poke around. A mushroom grower; silkworm grower; coffee plantation; rice paper noodle maker (yum. yum. yum.); pepper dryers; brick makers; cement bonsai dish casters. Endless places, endless faces. Tribal villages, set against the rice fields at sunset. Roaming elephants. Waterfall hotels with cicadas so loud they burned my brain. Oh, and.

OVERRUN with cicadas - after dinner I unlocked my door to a veritable plague! A plague I tell you! I could barely get the bug net down - as it was i trapped about ten inside and had to flipflop them to death before climbing in! HAHAH! Later in the night, they had infiltrated. Had to pull in the flips again...smacked and smacked and smacked until the buzzing dimmed...

I sit here now, sunburned feet - trying to make the impressions fit into a quick couple of words. All bad aside, this was a great thing to do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Away from cities: two books and two bus rides later


The last few days feel as though they've flown by, having left Pnomh Penh for Saigon; arrived in that new, big, bustling city of scooters; and, now, found my way up into the chilly central highlands. Dalat, to be specific!

First Saigon - crazy, somewhat endearing and far too full of people! I spent most of my time just trying to navigate District 1, the so-called center of a town as sprawling as anything LA has to offer. Sightseeing of a sort at the Cu Chi Tunnels - it felt wrong somehow. Wrong to be tramping over ground where so many met such violent ends. Tunnels themselves were a claustrophobic testament to a country's absolute RESOLVE. To think of living down in those deep holes, crawling around and plotting war...well, one realizes why we couldn't possibly have fared differently here. Why we can't possibly fare differently in Iraq today. Ah, correlations. Geography changes, lessons seem not to apply.

Enough politics. Though on a last note, I saw a chilling exhibition of war photographers and their works; that is to say, war photographers who were killed while on assignment, following their story - in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia. Gorgeous looking young men, with keen eyes and messy hair. Men that were born in places like Vermont and died on Route 1 Pnomh Penh in April of '74.

Thankfully left this behind with seven hours on a bus and am now sitting in the cool air of DaLat. Tomorrow I set out for my big three day motorcycle trip into the countryside - should end up somewhere near the coast...


Think no computers for

Oh, and by the way, the books were the devastating I MARRIED A COMMUNIST and the truly lovely little Nicole Krauss book THE HISTORY OF LOVE.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Swimming From Cambodia

Well, not exactly.

But, some Spaulding Grey tribute is necessary when one has spent even a moment in this country, no? For me at least. So there you go, naked guy in the rumpled suit.

Leaving Pnomh Penh in an hour, sipping a coffee in this super civilized airport that sparkles with shiny newness. Funny port of entry and exit, bearing little resemblance to the whole. Adjusting to my new group-lessness; always a difficult thing after the whole adjustment to groupness. Funny thing these trips - one goes into them feeling quite alone and striking out. Two weeks later there's that insta-bond familiar to all who spend time with strangers under extenuating circumstances. So...I miss them. Funny. Yesterday was a bit of a travel fog with the bus from Siem Riep (temples, lots of temples - if you go, skip the sunset and hit the non-touristy circuit whenever possible. Soon the place will be a Disneyland of destroyed archeological possibility). Six hours later I am here in the city. Today, it's off again.


Cuchi tunnels and wriggling around like the Vietcong, maybe a stop to see the entombed HCM himself. I'll let ya know...

Missing you all, everyday.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Let it be known that the least important or interesting thing a person can do in Siem Riep is to see the sunset over Angkor Wat - a mob of awful tourists lurk, dusty, at the top. They pounce on any sign of orange in the sky and move en masse, damp from a day's climbing and dodging stone outcroppings. SKIP. Major SKIP.

But, do see all else soon. The future is bleak, considering that the few people who have been here before call the place an 'archealogical disaster' - the number of visitors has expanded exponentially. Still, now, in the off season it is a revelation and a beauty to behold. Breathtaking I would even say.


I've been invited to Burma.

Some people (a-hem, myanmar!) 's worst fear come true. Relax though. It's for next year! Oh, yes. Another worst fear come true..the pre-pre-pre far trip planning! But, oh yea, will I go.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Pnomh Penh

I don't believe that I've said enough about the city of Pnomh Penh, what it feels like to be in this place. A strange one. Like a city waking up after a long sleep and shaking its limbs - lively on all fronts. Our hotel is nestled into a district about a mile and a half from the more touristy riverfront area (a nice walk, down wide boulevards and through some central gardens/open areas past the palace). There are tuktuks outside, same guys everyday. They know us by now, the end of the build. They wait, in the morning, for Jack our group leader to take his daily 6 a.m. ride to the bakery for fresh croissants. I see them as I leave for my run - they say hello, wave me on, tell me what to expect in terms of bread as I reenter. Altogether pleasant.

The traffic is abyssmal. Like any SE Asian city, the streets are clogged with all manner of transport - motorbikes, SUVs, bicycles. The trick to crossing is to take a deep breath and move forward without giving anything a second thought. It's all about the physics of movement and adjusting pace ever so slightly as necessary. in our bus, at times, we are stuck for an hour just trying to get home. The AC makes in fairly easy to bear, as does the view out the window.

At night, WEsterners SWARM and I mean SWARM the riverfront, the restaurants, the streets. There are so many of us! What's everyone doing! Loads of good places to eat, more to drink. Think lots of people here come for a permenant drunk, or at least the semblance of one. Best place for happy hour is the FCC, looking out on the river and feeling the breeze. Lots of other nice-ys too though for anyone willing to branch out and find some of the 'good'ice (which is the circle, not the square) LOL.

There is little by way of begging, or even curious stares. Everyone seems to enjoy growing prosperity, or at least hope - but, with a past like this...sunny sides are easily found.

I'll miss it here, as we move off and onward. The build ended this morning. WE go en masse the fifteen of us to Angkor Wat - then, it is me, on my own for ten days. Don't have solid plans, bookings, etc. I'll email when I can, and try to post - though honestly, after working on this last screenplay for three months, writing for fun feels...............not so easy!

Love ot everyone and thanks for all of your notes and emails.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tuol Sleng

So, we're keeping a group journal for this trip...and, although no one who knows me will believe this, I HAPPENED, and I repeat happened, to be passed the thing on the day of our journey to The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng (S-21, the detention/torture facility within Pnomh Penh).

There's not so much to say actually - again, the horror of the situation defies not only words, but emotion. When such egregious crimes have been committed - how can someone have a proper reaction? What is the proper reaction when confronted with utter and compete horror...the Khmer Rouge (like the Soviets) were all for the niceties of imprisonment and execution, keeping detailed records on the most minute details - before and after photos of victims. These are displayed at S-21, alongside the original instruments of torture; the tiny cells in which inmates were housed - replete with scratched doors, still oily from so many grasping hands. Every tour guide emphasized, with amazement, the fact that Pol Pot was Cambodian - killing, starving, torturing other Cambodians. Work/Death were the only two ingredients acceptable for a life under Ankar.

There is a great Philip Short biography of Pol Pot that came out last year, should anyone be interested in a factual historical look at the relevant forces that not only brought his regime to power, but that shaped him as a young student in Paris.

For a more fraught and frankly emotional account, look for First they Killed My Father' - a first person account of the atrocities.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mango Coconut Rice

Much needed day off yesterday...well,not day off exactly. More like a day repurposed. Still full of stuff that required bus, entire group, etc. Visited an orphanage in the morning - I must say, it wasn't tougher than the garbage dump we visited afterwards. A fledgling Manila or Lagos with children running after the trucks, climbing aboard and sliding down in the sludge in pursuit of a plastic bag. Sobering and beyond real can an outsider even begin to experience empathy or pity when there is so very little to do on a practical basis. That's what I ask myself and throw up my hands and try to work harder on the house we're building. Those kids at least will not be barefoot on reconstituted refuse...that's the hope at least.

In stark contrast, the evening was filled with a cultural program welcoming our group. Traditional Khmer dancing, cooking lessons and other can a person truly cry in the morning and then eat mango coconut rice in the evening. Wally Shawn...calling Wally Shawn.

Read THE FEVER. You'll get my point.

Realizing I'd better make some better plans for the second half of my journey - time's a ticking and I'm just learning the river is too low to take a boat to Battambang. Reconfiguration to occur this evening - but, think I'll just shift and head to the dive boat a day or two early.

I'm spoiled with email here - it could end at any time, but for now is a joy. As are my runs along the Mekong. Perfect songs into that groove...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Day 3 or how life is more about bricks in Cambodia than Shashamene!

Here's one for you Ethiopia types out there who might be reading...or, for those of you who are asking "How is this work different than what you did in Ethiopia?"


First of all, this is no Habitat "village", as it was in Shashamene (with seventy some houses of same design on a deeded plot of land). These houses are built on a case by case basis for qualifying families who already HAVE land. We have two going, each of different design but consisting of similar materials. BRICK. And plenty of it! I'm becoming quite the mason, until things get over my head. Then, the rows get wobbly and someone must come behind with tapping trowel in order that I don't collapse the thing on my head.

There's a similar amount of super-heavy lifting. Heavier, it seems, since we do it BASKET by BASKET, not on a clever barilla. I never thought I'd be longing for one of those...huh...but, long I do. Çause the baskets are rough as hell on the back and not at all effective when trying to move a massive pile of clay dirt or gravel or stones all the way over to the other side of the lot. Well, they are better than hands.

Anyway, yes. The work is different. And, it's still just as enjoyable to be outside watching a house go up - no matter the materials used to construct. There are less kids here than in Ethiopia (about seven as opposed to what seemed like scores). The homeowners are not as helpful, they are in fact a bit critical if things aren't quite perfect!

I'm so sleepy every night I can barely stand to check my emails - but, I am checking.

Last night had the lovliest happy hour at The Foreign Correspondent's Club (as in the one in The Killing Fields) - everything it is cracked up to be, for sure. Though not many correspondent's left (might change with the anticipated Khmer Rouge trial???). Anyway, tropical and great with a view of the Mekong and Tuel Sleng - wooden beamed ceilings and slow whizzing fans...afterwards, at dinner, I was a great champion of ordering...

deep fried tarantulas.

I screamed as I watched everyone else try a leg.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Long flights, arrivals and the city

As i just wrote in an email..this place is Westernized, man! Loads of products available like Listerine and Kettle Chips, Evian water and Neutrogena soap. Compared to Ethiopia it is like being in New York City opposed to Chippewa Falls (huh?) The flight was too long and I zoned out on bad movies and long hours of slow reading the mega-issue of Vanity Fair. Blha. And, Blah. But, spent a few hours this morning walking wide boulevards and gazing at moldy colonial architecture...nearly dry Mekong river...Silver pagoda. Glad I"m here. Tomorrow begins work proper...HOT work proper. It is nearly ninety degrees and we are building in the flattest, driest plot of land I've ever seen. Pouring cement and laying masonry...practical skills.

Do a habitat trip. You won't regreat it, I think