Arrival in Kota Kinabalu

A NEW POST!!

First, a note: WordPress doesn’t allow you to post new stuff at the bottom of the page. It posts things in reverse chronological order — which means that if you want to add more than one post, people have to read from the bottom post upwards, which is confusing. So I’m writing a single GIANT post. That way, everything will be in chronological order. This is what you get when you choose a free blog without checking the features first.

Second, I must begin with a little RANT.

BAD HAIR

I ran into someone a few weeks ago that was complaining about how bad her hair was when she was growing up. This middle-aged ***** had that shiny, poker straight luxurious hair that women flaunt at you in Pantene commercials.

perfect-hair

So if you are a former New Order-listening, hair-crimping, giant belt wearing 40-year-old, I donwanna hear about how bad you had it in 1986 because you couldn’t get your BANGS right.

bangs

I stood for 90 minutes every week while my hair was blown straight and then straight-ironed until there was a strange burning smell. I endured a helmet of frizz after a P.E. class of swimming. I suffered “Are you a boy or a girl?” queries when Mom had had it, and my hair was cut down to two inches. I waited patiently for three years while my hair grew out. The SunIn bleaching debacle was my fault, but I suffered through that too.

frizz

So suck it up, ladies. Just like I have no right to whine about my trials in front of someone who had cancer when they were 13 and had to go through high school in a headscarf – which, when you are 15, is probably even worse than chemo. When it comes to teenage girl hair, there is something known as the Chain of Suffering. And if you are whining in the vicinity of someone higher up the chain, a FLYING B*TCH SLAP is in order.

So back to my trip…

THE RE-RETURN

Yes, I promised I’d finish this thing, but then I took the summer off. I got home June 2nd, which I suppose means I took the last three weeks of spring off as well. But my blood is 100% Italian and we do that sh*t. Give your country no guaranteed vacation (yo) and they run the world. Give it seven weeks (Ciao!!) and they run the mafia. You may have noticed I bleeped a word. This is because apparently some of my parents’ friends are reading this, and in deference to my elders (I think half of them are no longer reading as of now), I am bleeping things like sh*t. It may be slightly annoying, like those neon signs atop cheap grocery stores that can’t bother to change their bulbs (you know who you are, W*lm*rt). But I turned 40 in August and am trying to be more grown up. I decided to split the difference. I’ll still tell you that you need a FLY*NG B*TCH SLAP, but I’ll say it with asterisks. Then I’ll make some 12-year-old joke about the first syllable of the word asterisk.

ARRIVAL IN KOTA KINABALU (May 23)

It seems that my first hour in any new country is a bit humiliating. Not entirely a bad thing, as things can only improve from there. My first of three stops was the toilet, which in this case consisted of a hole in the ground with a hose attached about 4 feet away. Not unexpected and not a problem, per se, but I would’ve been happier if I hadn’t foregone working out the previous 3 weeks and had wobbly balance from an entire day of travel. The main challenge with this system is that if you don’t position yourself properly, you have to adjust mid-flight. I still can’t fathom how pregnant, aged, injured, or obese women use these things. You’d at least think they’d have handle bars or something. In my defense, there was no place to put my bags down, so I was balancing with a backpack on my back and a purse in my arms. This could be an Olympic sport or some sort of humiliating frat hazing ritual.

Stop #2 was the first—the only, actually—shop I saw on the way out: Dunkin Donuts. There was even a police man buying a jelly-filled, so of course I had to get a photo after I stopped laughing. Donut-scarfing cops are like tourist-gauging taxi drivers—a universal phenomenon. Their glazed looked a bit slimy, so I opted for a sugar. How can you mess that up? Apparently you can—though I suppose a flavorless stale donut is what you deserve for ordering an Asian airport donut at 6:30 pm.

Stop #3 was the taxi line, which took me a few minutes to find, as it was about 100 feet from the exit, which also took me a few minutes to find. With every few steps I passed by another cab front seat window, bobbing my head down to peek in upon an empty seat, then bobbing up again, like a demented pigeon. Finally I found someone who explained that I had to go back inside and purchase a taxi voucher. This was a relief, as it meant I’d get a flat rate. I wasn’t in the mood for my first conversation in Malaysia to be with a shifty taxi driver intent on conning me out of my newly purchased and delightfully colorful Malaysian Ringgits.

Back inside I went, bouncing from counter to counter like a pin ball in search of the taxi service. I returned to the taxi line, ticket in hand, threw my stuff in the trunk of the first taxi in line, and slid into what I thought was the front passenger seat, as the back was littered with stuff. No one told me these people drive on the left like Brits, so my elbow banged against the steering wheel horn, alerting Kota Kinabalu to the fact that Kristin Fiore had indeed arrived. I slithered out and went around to the left side of the car. At least the horn blast told the driver that I needed a lift. He was about 20 feet away chewing on a cigarette. The ride was about 30 minutes—made even more awkward by the fact that I was next to him in the front seat. It felt like a teenager’s first date. It’s awfully quiet. Should I say something? Maybe he doesn’t even speak English. He probably thinks I’m an idiot. Does he think I banged the horn on purpose?

The hotel room was nicer and bigger than I expected (in Hanoi, I could sit on the bed and put my feet on the wall), though I didn’t stay more than 3 minutes. I packed my bag and scooted out into the night in search of food, following the smell of fish that’s overstayed its welcome. I found a large, familiar set of Vietnam-style food stalls along the water, though these were fancy—the plastic chairs were grown-up sized and they had proper plastic tables. Classy. People were washing dishes on the floor, but no one was cooking there.

I decided that fried rice with seafood was the least risky thing on the menu and scarfed it down in about 5 minutes before moving on to see if I could find the family. I didn’t see them until I returned to the hotel and meandered into the restaurant area. I had a great surprise – The Godfathers had joined us. Chuck (Uncle Cocktail) and Tim (Uncle Cookie) flew in from San Francisco to join in the festivities and help my mother navigate the perilously potholed and uneven sidewalks of KK. I stepped in a three-inch deep, water-filled pothole within an hour of my arrival. I call them “urban ponds.” Fortunately, my Keen shoes are waterproof. If you are not from Seattle, let me now introduce you to the ugliest shoes ever to crawl from the imagination of a product developer:

keensEven better when worn with socks, which is inevitable after 2 ½ weeks of walking 6 hours per day:

keens-socks

KOTA KINABALU

I’m not ordinarily a pool person, but I must explain my present change of heart:

  1. Pools here don’t stink of chlorine
  2. Pools here are 85 degrees, which is about 15 degrees cooler than outside, and they are only slightly wetter than the air
  3. Mosquitos can’t swim
  4. Pools rival Angry Birds as Fiore girl babysitters, diffusing nieces Ari and Lexi’s energy and inevitable sugar binges

Ari and Lexi spent a few hours each day in the pool, dutifully toted around on the shoulders Chuck and Tim, while John and I “rode the couch” in the shade, as he put it. As I dug into the 8th chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, I began to understand the ulterior motives for inviting the Godfathers, whose usual nicknames had been put on hold in favor of “Pigtail Panda” and “Pancake Panda.” I can’t figure how Chuck got pinned with “pigtail,” though I suppose “Shaved Head Panda” doesn’t have the same ring.

The group also hit the shopping mall only a few steps from our hotel, though within 10 minutes the men had fled and we ladies found ourselves alone among tables cluttered with Hello Kitty, glittering headbands, and all things girly. Most shops were surprisingly Western, with tee shirts, flip flops, electronics, and trendy get-ups, peppered with noodle stands and the odd Reflexologist. Within a few days, mom, Michelle, Jazz and I would hit the upstairs massage place for the indulgence of our choice. Mine was a no-frills back and neck thrashing that would make 50 Shades of Grey sound tame—courtesy of Paul and Jazz.

According to the 1987 Global Multi-level Mall Ordinance (GMMO-87) enforced by Interpol, there must be a food court on the top level of any large shopping establishment, and this mall complied. We had quite a gang up there one afternoon, as we always did on this trip, but I had hit my limit of oily noodles with stuff, fried stuff, stuff with meat in it, oily fried meat stuff on noodles, and stuff I can’t identify. If there is anything green on your plate at all, it’s likely a garnish. I ducked out with Michelle and had a much-needed Waldorf salad at Chili Vanilla, the restaurant we’d loved the previous evening. We managed to find several good places to eat over the week—including a fabulous sushi place and the restaurant at the resort where Paul and Jasmah had their civil wedding. Something amazing they have here are super-fresh-squeezed juices, including pineapple, apple, and watermelon. The apple is so fresh that it oxidizes before you can get to the bottom. To avoid this, you have to guzzle it like an Alpha Delta Pi girl on a Saturday night.

The main drag of Kota Kinabalu is only one long street, plus another that runs along the water, so we didn’t have the issue of getting lost or of spending six hours per day scouring the town. My feet loved this. We spent a lot of time by the pool, or eating. In typical Fiore fashion, we spent half of one meal discussing where we were going to eat the next one.

THE VILLAGE RESORT

Any time we went somewhere, the 11 of us (Mom, Dad, me, John, Michelle, Ari and Lexi, Paul, Jasmah, Chuck and Tim) piled into a giant white van, Scooby-Doo style, with Elmer at the helm. Elmer (as in Gantry or Fudd, depending on your maturity level) was a friend of Jasmah’s, our chauffeur, and a most exquisite guide, not least because he tolerated toting around a throng of sweaty, silly Fiores for more than a week.

Jasmah’s village, Tuaran, is a 45-minute ride into the hills of Sabah, Malaysia, through fields and clusters of rustic houses. There are a ton of dogs, several tiny, mangy, short-tailed cats, and the occasional water buffalo. As we passed a few, I wondered if we were to eat one of his cousins some upcoming evening. As you will hear later, everyone in Tuaran is a cousin. I had trouble keeping my mitts off the kitties, but between my promise to my travel doctor, my desire to avoid rabies, and the obvious eye infection that the first two cats I encountered were sporting, I managed to resist. This is not to say I didn’t contort to jut my head under the table and squeal every time I heard a meow. I meowed in return. This is the second time I meowed in public on this trip.

Our first dinner was a bit of an adventure. By the time we got there, the buffet was nearly gone (I think Paul was the only one who ventured that for his meal), so most of us got roti, which is like Indian naan, but filled with whatever you like. I got vegetable and egg. I asked for cheese, but they didn’t have any. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. I also tried coconut milk for the first time. And last time. I love coconut milk—the stuff that adds 1,000 calories to any Thai meal, but the water tasted a bit, well, wrong.

The resort where the civil wedding took place could rival any in a posh city, with multiple pools and a water slide that everyone under 50 in our group repeatedly enjoyed (the civil wedding was Saturday, but we all returned Monday to enjoy the resort for the day). Those of us over 90 pounds had to shoot out stiff, like the nut jobs that fire themselves from cannons. Otherwise you got a tailbone full of pool cement, as the pool was only about 4 feet deep there. They also had golfball-sized scoops of ice cream for $3. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. The ice cream by my apartment has a sign that reads, “SINGLE SCOOP (two scoops); DOUBLE SCOOP (three scoops).” The Asian scoop is the size of the taster spoon you get in America. This is why their “large” tee shirts cut off my circulation (I’m an American size 2 petite) and their “smalls” are the size of mittens.

My next post will be about the village and resort weddings. I’d post about it now, but my journal is in my new apartment, which I have yet to move into. I’m currently enjoying free dinners by Mom and dish-washing by Dad, who often insists on pulling my sofa bed out because of me achin’ back. I make toast, and by the time I turn around to put the jelly back in the fridge, Mom has already washed my knife, put it in the dishwasher, and cleaned the counter. Actually, I could get used to this.

Stopover in Kuala Lumpur

stewardess-1950sThe airlines have a commonly enforced rule that you can’t get somewhere you want to go without going somewhere else first. They have another rule: the longer your layover in said somewhere else, the more somewhere else is likely to suck. But I digress. Which I do a lot. Try to keep up…

I had a very short layover in Kuala Lumpur — though I could’ve made do with a longer one. Thanks to the authorities at the Kuala Lumpur airport, I got my triathlon practice in for the day (the mad dash, the cart dodge, and the carry-on lug). The gate for my Kota Kinabalu flight was changed three times, and the gates were literally as far apart as two gates could have been in the domestic terminal.

KLairport

It was hard to miss our group of passengers, which got larger with each pilgrimage. First it was a few families and myself, then a 20-teenager strong sports team in full dress joined us. Finally, four women in full hijab and burqa (body and head covering) joined us. Even their eyes were covered, and there wasn’t a finer mesh in that area so that they could see. I never heard them speak. They looked sort of like this. I didn’t want to photograph them — though I guess they wouldn’t have seen me do it anyway.

muslims

In addition to the creepiness of seeing women shroud themselves under sheets like furniture in a macabre vacation home come September, you’d think there would be something more practical in 100-degree heat than a black, full-length beekeeper suit.

beekeper

The airport also had multiple men’s and women’s prayer rooms. I was tempted to go in to see what the women’s was like, and then peek in the men’s to see if it was nicer (who knows? Maybe Muslims are better at the whole “separate but equal” thing, though my mosque visit in Vietnam suggests otherwise — the women had to sit on dirty rugs and peer though the kind of screens we use to keep flies at bay).

The vegetation in Kuala Lumpur as we landed was surreal – luxuriously full, stout palm trees packed against each other for miles on end, crowding the jungle mountains. These photos don’t do it justice — with the window goo and glare and plane’s speed.

palm trees in KL

palmtrees

Final Night in Vietnam

Tonight (May 22) I went to the Rex Hotel, which has been around since before the Vietnam war (just to remind you, I haven’t).

rexhotel

Generals used to go here to “debrief” for three minutes, then get pleasantly hammered and sing along to American music until it was time to refill the foxholes with a fresh batch of gun-toting 19-year-olds (anyone around in 1985 can’t forget this #1 ditty) …

I just went there for the rooftop view, and to avoid the supposed throngs of well-heeled (men) and high-heeled (well, mostly women) jet-setters and tourists drinking $20 martinis at the other hotels in Ho Chi Minh’s main square.

Rex’s rooftop lanterns and cool Asian looking thing behind the band that’s oddly playing American music. Cooler when you click on it to enlarge.???????????????????????????????

But before I even got to (read: found) the elevator, I met yet another horde of Australians and spent the evening watching them sling Singapore Slings and Tiger beers. Two of them were Vietnam vets returning there for the second time, surprised to find luxury hotels in place of dilapidated buildings, and McDonald’s in place of agricultural swamps. The only constants seem to be excessive heat, even more excessive alcohol, and hordes of Australians absorbing copious amounts of both.???????????????????????????????

I must admit I had no idea they were so involved in the war, but apparently they rode America’s tattered coattails down the rabbit hole (Iraq, anyone?), and their drafted soldiers came back to hostility and condemnation. I spent about 15 minutes dancing with one of the middle-aged wives, which the husband greatly appreciated, though neither one of us could figure out how to lead.

The most surprising comment of the evening was that the punishment for owning a handgun in Australia is 14 years in prison. That’s what happens when there is a minor gun incident in other countries. I Googled this and didn’t find consistent corroboration (there are so many gun laws and changes there), but I’m not gonna argue over gun laws with anyone who spent years shooting them at stuff.

As always, I had a great time with so many Australians on my Vietnam leg. But they are so ubiquitous, even in Europe, I sometimes wonder if there are any Aussies left in Australia. Maybe that’s why so much of it looks like this:

australia

……….. o o p s ** BEGINNING OF NEW POSTS IS HERE **

Hello again!! Yes, I have an excuse for blowing this off for 2 months. See, my dog ate my sick grandmother’s car accident, and my dentist appointment has the stomach flu, and …. oh screw it. I got lazy. Though I do have an excuse for not writing during late May.

Between singing karaoke, chasing down restaurants with A/C, photographing mangy cats and zoo tigers, and riding shotgun daily in a Scooby Doo style van of 11 people (which I will justify henceforth), I had better things to do than write dutifully every day in my awesome Doctor Who Journal (River Song’s T.A.R.D.I.S. journal — squee!) while in Malaysia…

Doctor Who JournalSooooo….  2+ months late, I’m catching up by wrapping up Vietnam and moving onto Malaysia. That part isn’t going to be in exact chronological order, as (1) I can’t be bothered to sort all of that out, and (2) our Malaysian gang spent 4-5 days in a row sunbathing, swimming, scarfing, sweating, singing (no shame), and sharing a great time together. Do you really want to hear four consecutive blog posts about the same shenanigans? No, you don’t. Besides, I have totally ruined the point of having a blog, which is supposed to have a modest post every day or two, not a sprawling novella that’s airdropped every month or two like a carton of foreign aid.

And so, to completely confuse you while retaining the LAW of BLOG, I’m going to add sections normally, which means you won’t be able to begin at the top (early Malaysia) and read down to the last new post. You will have to begin here in mid-blog and crawl your way to the top like a corporate stooge. ENJOY!!

stooge

Love Song to Seattle, sorta

I really am planning on doing the entire rest of this blog over the next week or so, I’m just swamped until then with other stuff. So here’s a poem to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” One of my favorites. Click here if you don’t recall which song it is.

I’m sittin’ in a far-off nation
Got mosquito bites and constipation
On a tour of Vietnam
(“I wasn’t born when we dropped the bombs!”)
Then to Malaysia’s coal-hot sands
Where Pauly Bear will give his hand.

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Home, with the tolls and gun fights.
Home, with the endless grey nights.
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Everyday our Deet-sprayed team
Snag cheap massages and ice cream.
Washing panties in the sink.
And, “Are those ice cubes safe to drink?”
And every stop without A/C
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Dodging commuter bikers.
Potheads, gays, and recyclers.
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Our hosts survived our wedding song
Of Karaoke gone so wrong
Huddling under ceiling fans
With pit stains, cameras in hand.
What do you think gave us away
As the non-Asian folks that day?

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Home, I want $5 coffee!
Price-gouging rent? Lay it on me!
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Day 13: Gooooooooooodbye Vietnam!!

I leave for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia tomorrow at about 9 AM, so this is my final hurrah in Vietnam. I was debating donning decent clothes and make-up, as I’m heading out to a swanky rooftop bar for overpriced soda, but when it’s hot out, my standards tend to slide into the gutter, where they mingle with the minds of most men.

I spent the morning at the fascinating — yet sweltering and cramped — Ben Thanh Market, fondling the merch and trying to slither away from shopkeepers (as you can see below, there isn’t much room for avoidance). They have a three-prong attack:

Ben Thanh market (this times 400, no joke)SONY DSC

(1) Spam: as in, the ubiquitous unwanted sales pitch. Every 5 seconds. “Scooze me Miss, would you come inside have a look? What you want to buy? Nice thing for you.” Actually I let this one slide, because I haven’t been called “Miss” in the USA since I was about 28.

(2) Tailgate: They then case you so closely that if you stop short, their nose hits you right between your shoulder blades. Sometimes I do this on purpose just to make them feel like a jackass.

(3) Illuminate: This is where they pick up every handbag or figurine under your nose and explain it to you, as though you’re either blind, retarded, or both. “Nice purse, see flowers. Rabbit puppet. Buddha key chain.” That is what I’d do when my nieces were 2 years old and I was teaching them basic vocabulary. My advice? Wear headphones when you go, even if they aren’t connected to anything. Not earbuds — you want to make sure people see them.
headphones

I bought some gifts and lumbered into the sunlight to find the Reunification Palace. I found my corner on the map but had no idea which direction I was facing. I thought I’d be clever and navigate by the sun. I then realized that I was at the %$#@! equator and it was noon. So much for that. Before long I realized that I’d passed right by the palace on the previous block. I didn’t bother to go back. A palace is like a party — if you can’t even tell when you’re passing it, it’s certainly not worth going to. Clearly, the Vietnamese didn’t perpetuate the grandiose opulence of their French former occupiers.

Here is what Google Images has to say about the palace, which looks like a giant office building from the Mad Men era, if you ask me. I sort of wished I’d stopped in, though, as that fountain looks inviting.palace

I bought two pain au chocolat and plodded home to shower off the sweat and sales pitches. When I got up to my room, the cleaning girl was lounging in my chair with her bare feet on my sheets. Really?? She jumped up when she saw me, the way you jump off Facebook when your boss walks by.

I did meander through a nice park though. Socialist / Communist countries always seem to have a nice abstract sculpture park.park_bird

park_elephant

Eat your heart out, Picasso…park_woman

park_wave

A final word on Asian stereotypes: If you think Asians can’t drive, let me tell you that in spite of the constant horns, absent lanes and stop lights, texting motorbikers, and six inches of space between cars, I haven’t seen one fender bender or heard anyone yell. Even the horns are not “Screw you!” New York horns, they’re for letting you know that a car is coming up behind you. About six inches behind.

Time to get ready for my evening, which consists of redoing my bun and shedding my jammies to reinsert myself into the afternoon’s sweaty pants. I will put on a clean top, though. I’m not an animal.

Day 12: videos + sight seeing. But not really.

Here are the two videos I mentioned before. One with cute baby monkeys in the Halong Bay floating fishing village, and one of me being a cat lady in said fishing village. In my defense, I’m not the one who pointed out the cat — I’m only the one who got all excited about it. Also, there is no visible cat. Also, I’m too cheap to pay for premium service from WordPress.com so they’re on YouTube.
monkey

I’ve taken to Googling things that I was considering visiting — Cu Chi Tunnels (an extensive labyrinth of underground wartime hideouts), Chinatown, and the fantastical Cao Dai temple (this is particularly cool, but not worth the bus ride). Let’s pretend I went. Here are some photos:

Binh Tay Market in Chinatownbinh-tay-market-in-chinatown

Cao Dai Tample in BFE
Cao_Dai_Temple

Cu Chi Tunnels
cuchitunnels

I totally want to play Whack-a-Mole with the guy above. How am I actually considering spending my penultimate day here?
youtube

Watching. Not doing. I do love donuts though, so no judgement here.

I did actually spend the entire day in the hotel, other than going out for food. I needed a break from sweating and walking, as I now have Snoopy band-aids keeping my feet from making me cry. DSC02074

I also got a 60-minute facial in my hotel for a ridiculously low price. I was considering adding a sauna / jacuzzi to the deal, but then realized I had spent the whole damn day avoiding being hot and sweaty, so why would I pay for the privilege?

I ended up going to a really good Mediterranean / Greek place that had great falafel. I will not tell you the name, though, lest you give them your business. I ordered a side of feta and they charged me FIVE DOLLARS. That’s like $.60 per cube of cheese. And they were little cubes, like dice. I thought there might be a prize inside one, like when someone hides an engagement ring in a French roll. No prize. And the trouble when you don’t have exact change is that you can’t refuse to pay for something, then give them a large bill and expect the money back you want. They seem to have mastered this whole capitalism thing.

In the evening I went to this highly-reviewed African / Casablanca-themed bar/restaurant called Mogambo. I’ve eaten very little Vietnamese food while here, as what I’ve had hasn’t been great. Mogambo was on a street filled with homeless / toothless folks, wrought iron window coverings, and garbage bins, so I scooted my arse in and out of there pretty quickly. Even the woman at the bar told me to hold onto my bag. I actually had a cheeseburger, as they are supposed to be the best in Ho Chi Minh. It was pretty good, though I ate an entire jalapeno in one bite and was sweating in places I didn’t even know you could sweat — like my eyelids. And my eyeballs, though I think those are called tears.

I also spent a few hours at a bar that was making the only noise in “happening” downtown Ho Chi Minh at 9 pm. A Philippino guy with no discernible accent was singing R.E.M., Adele, U2, the Eagles, and the like. I spent the evening with two Australians and an English girl. Air conditioning, cheeseburger, R.E.M., and white people. Talk about a gringo day. I’m surprised someone hasn’t come knocking to revoke my travel visa. I also passed by these shops on the way home from Mogambo:
??????????????????????????????? DSC01980

What I felt like today: sloth

Day 12: Too Hot for Pants

It’s 9:30 AM and I’m back in my hotel room on the bed writing this post. Why? It’s too hot for pants. It’s only 9:30, and in my hotel lobby — not even outside — it’s too hot for pants. If this were Holland, that might fly, but not here. Pants are sort of compulsory. So this post is going to be sort of random, because that’s what happens when you’re voluntarily in your underwear an hour after breakfast. Also, you whine. So here goes.

Whine #1
I’ve finally had it with going the wrong way down a street 75% of the time. I mean, the law of averages says that I’d get it right at least 50% of the time. But not me. Nope. I walked past the Irish pub I had just eaten at at three times in order to find the proper street to go into town last night. It’s only two blocks from my hotel, as is the pub. I wonder if this is what people mean when they say their food is repeating on them.

Whine #2
Why are you asking if I need a motorbike into town when I just blew off the guy standing 2 feet from you? Do you think I really do need a ride but am waiting for the right guy to come along? I wish I could just spit this out, but then I realize that if they could understand me, they would probably not be stuck offering rides on the street at 11 PM.

Whine #3
Beware more Asian stereotype banter: Contrary to popular belief, there are Asians that are bad at math. I know this because the street numbers do not go back and forth from one side of the street (even ones) to the other side (odd ones). It seems random. You can cross the street and go from #15 to #36. Why? Also, things will be progressing along swimmingly — 41, 43, 45 — then it will go 47A, 47B, 47C. Maybe it used to be one giant building that got split into three parts, but it doesn’t look that way. I bet someone was a bit sloshed and just skipped those three, then had to get creative. If they used calculus to determine street numbers, they’d probably do fine, but maybe because their educational system is superior and they probably learned to count at 8 months of age, they’ve sort of forgotten.

Whine #4
I want to go home. Not forever or anything, just to see my pussycats. Snugglepuss and Snuggleupagus.

Snagglepuss and Snuffleupags
snagglepuss snuffalupagus

Snugglepuss and Snuggleupagus. Even their freakin’ tushies are adorable. Go ahead. Adore.
bag

I realize it’s a 45 minute drive from my folks’ house — where my car is — to the boarding place, plus an 18 hour flight, 10 hours of layovers, cabs, and ferries, and $1,500 price tag. But the heart wants what it wants, and I want my boys.

I asked at the front desk where you can buy a cat, or an “animal for the house.” Then I actually meowed. That’s what they actually call a cat — mèo — also adorable. They probably thought I was still drunk from the night before. Still, this didn’t translate, so I drew a cat face on the back of a business card. Apparently, this is not a popular tourist attraction, because they looked at me like I had just asked where I can take fencing lessons to fight the ninjas hiding in my closet. After about 10 minutes, the driver wrote down a street name where people sometimes sell them on the street, like oranges or little plastic Buddhas. People don’t buy pets here. It’s like cocaine. You sort of just have to know someone.

Whine #23
Yes, I know it should be Whine #5, but in the effort to blend in, my numbering system has stopped making any sense. They say communication is 85% non-verbal. Which means that people should understand at least 85% of what I say, even if they don’t speak any English. AND I’m Italian, and we rock the hand gestures, so that should bump it up to 90%. When I get home, I am going to wrote a peer-reviewed scientific paper debunking this theory.

Whine Q
Pointing. One finger? Rude. Two fingers? Not rude. This seems to be a universal truth. WTF? Particularly given that it’s the middle finger you add to go from “rude” to “not rude.” What people are basically doing is being rude (index finger) + telling people to go $#@! themselves (middle finger). This makes me secretly happy.

Whine &%$
I have one slot in my head for foreign languages. Not one for French, one for Spanish, and one for Russian. And whenever I’m trying to communicate with someone from any of those countries, the wrong language comes out. It’s like picking a street. You’d think I would get it right 33.3% of the time. But nope.

And finally, this is not a whine. On the television in the hotel restaurant, they had a creepy show on how potato chips are made, like those lame French shows on making cheese. Worst reality show ever. Anyhoo, the guy they were interviewing had a hairnet on — and a beardnet.
beardnet

This also makes me secretly happy. Though I guess I should stop saying that if I’m posting it on the internet for all to see. And a man in a beardnet pointing with two fingers? Heaven.

Yesterday’s Massage
Speaking of another time I was not wearing pants… 234,000 VND is about $11 for a 45-minute hot stone massage for the back, neck, and shoulders. Yes, please. And at no extra charge? The buttocks. Not the part that refrigerator repairmen flash when they bend over to grab their tools. The part you grimace at when you put on a bathing suit after 35. Ladies, you know what I mean. And if you don’t — %$#@! you.

Not this.                                                          This.
buttcrack    buttflab

It was delicious, however. Though wouldn’t you know, when I was on my stomach with my palms facing up, a stone in each palm, my nose began to itch. There must be nerve endings in your palms that go to your nose, so that every time your hands are occupied, the damn thing starts itching. I then got a clavicle rub on my back. I thought I was going to get felt up a bit, but I guess you have to pay a bit extra for that.

To recap — yesterday I got screwed by a taxi driver, spooned by a motorbike escort, and fondled by a masseuse. I think I need a cigarette!
cigarette

When I read these posts before I publish them, I hear them in my own voice. This annoys me. I’m making an effort from here on out to hear them in the voice of Morgan Freeman.

UPDATE: It’s 12:18 PM and I still haven’t gone outside. I think I’m just venturing out to go eat today. My skin is 100 degrees for some reason. I’m also still in my underwear. I suppose if I’m spending a whopping $59 + taxes for this hotel room (my Hanoi room was only $29 per night!), I may as well get some use out of it.

Day 11: War Remnants Museum & Jade Pagoda

But first, a word about taxi drivers. Well, I’m trying to refrain from profanity, so I won’t post that word here, rather I’ll dispense pearls of wisdom so that you may profit from my experience. Speaking of profit—the only taxi driver that won’t fleece you naked (see photo of semi-nude sheep many posts ago) are the ones called by your hotel. The others will run the meter faster and faster until you have to dip into your 401k to pay the fare.

This happened yet again today, but I told the guy to let me out—which he did, in what the guide books surely call “Vietnam’s Compton.” Fortunately I wasn’t far from my destination, the Jade Pagoda. A guy on a bike offered to take me the rest of the way for 20,000 VND ($1). I accepted, and he promptly drove me 2 blocks. Ah, well.

See, I have been reticent to take motorbikes because I fear

  • they will get into an accident, as people here drive like they’re on meth
  • I will fall off the back
  • They will take me to a warehouse, where I will be sold into sexual slavery in a Vietnamese mountain village

However, spooning a toothless stranger on a motorbike and holding on for dear life seems preferable at this point to hailing another taxi. Tomorrow I need one for a 30-minute ride to “Vietnam’s Chinatown,” but I’m offering a flat rate.

I thought people might be interested in what the Vietnamese are presenting about the “American Aggression,” though I suppose you can guess, as I could. The museum, like the one in Hanoi, was very one-sided (as all war museums are)—though when Side #1 includes 100s of photos of grotesque, deformed children; burned villages, temples and hospitals; mangled bodies of villagers of all ages; schools 40 feet underground for protection; and 70 year old men being tortured, what Side #2 has to say in its defense becomes a bit less compelling.

The first photo is my favorite, actually. Nice to know our troops never lost their sense of humor. What’s inside is poison gas. They actually had many types of “agents,” not just agent orange. Blue, pink, and other colors were options as well. I suppose it’s like handbags. Having only one color in your repertoire will just never do! If you click on the images, then click the magnifying glass your cursor becomes, you will be able to read what’s in the photos.???????????????????????????????

DSC01956 ???????????????????????????????  ??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? DSC01945 ??????????????????????????????? DSC01941

I was a bit disappointed in the Jade Pagoda, particularly since it cost me the price of a nice dinner out to get there, but here are a few photos. Others didn’t turn out very well. First is a lion — one of two guarding the pagoda. His mouth is open. If you put your ear to his eye teeth you can hear him whisper, “Do not fuck with this pagoda.”
??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

Entrance???????????????????????????????

Here’s some guy. I’m too lazy to look up who, because I have a massage in 10 minutes. But no, it’s not Fu Man Chu, in spite of the moustache. 10 points for style, though.???????????????????????????????

Shrine ???????????????????????????????

Day 11: Ho Chi Minh City

In case anyone was worried that North Vietnam destroyed any potential for capitalism in Saigon, I offer the following counter evidence (best when clicked on):
???????????????????????????????Exhibit B. The post office. POST OFFICE, people.
DSC01931

The city itself is a hodgepodge of sketchy Los Angeles, Monte Carlo, Chinatown, and any other nameless big city. Pagodas happily share the sidewalk with graffitied teardowns, Pizza Hut, and Louis Vuitton. Pastel Tube homes scatter themselves along the freeway on the way from the airport. As always, the airport surrounding area ain’t that hot.

There are many restaurants with “Lucky” or “Happy” in the title, and they seem to do quite well. I’m thinking of opening one called “Happy Go Lucky” and making a mint. People personalize their motorbike helmets and masks here – it’s part of their fashion. Given that that’s all people see of them so much of the time, it makes sense. It’s rare to see someone over 30 on a bike, and it’s rare to see a car, so I don’t know where the older folks are.

The only French street names that were kept here are, interestingly enough, French scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie. Good on you, Ho Chi Minh! Someday we’ll have stuff like Britney Spears Street or Channing Tatum Avenue.

For my first meal, I went to an upscale restaurant / lounge called Xu, at the recommendation of Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, and general online accolades. This meal cost me more than a massage, but it was amazing. If I’d known ahead of time, I might have skipped it, but my lemongrass sea bass skewers on a bed of caramelized onions and green beans was fabulous. Here’s the décor:
DSC01819I would’ve taken a shot of my meal, but there are enough obnoxious photos of people’s food on the internet.

Other places I’ve eaten, which really aren’t much cheaper than Seattle — though I’m in the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Ho Chi Minh, so it’s understandable:

A French bakery as nice as stuff in Paris (thank you occupiers!)
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Cupcakes. My favorite food group. Check the design on those puppies!DSC01934

And places full of white folks where you can get an omelet, espresso, and orange juice for the low, low price of $15 (3x Hanoi).???????????????????????????????

There are also traces of Hanoi culture, though.
???????????????????????????????   DSC01881

My hotel leaves something to be desired – no sink plug so no in-room laundry, a forgotten wake up call, the internet is often down and Facebook is sometimes banned here, and a shower that leaks onto the floor. Nothing fatal, but I’d expect better. Hanoi was amazing.

Today I visited the city mosque, which was quite plain, especially compared to Buddhist pagodas. No shoes, no tank tops, and no women allowed. They are only allowed around the side in this shabby room that looks into the main area through a screen. At least I wasn’t stoned to death for accidentally going in (in my defense, I looked for signs that said “No Dogs, No Women” but didn’t see any). A man ran up to me waving his arms and shouting something unintelligible – presumably that I skedaddle on out of there before Allah smites me with an eternity of damnation.

I’m now off to the War Remnants Museum, complete with air conditioning, and then I have a neck, back, and shoulder massage with hot stones for about $25. Eat your heart out.

Finally, if you are one of the very few who receive an old-fashioned post card, you better be %$#@! grateful, because I sweat out about a liter trying to find the place.

A sudden typhoon has taken over the city, and people are scurrying like mice for cover. That happens here, as if it isn’t humid enough when it’s not pouring. Anyhoo, a great excuse to take a taxi. “Xin chào!” (translation: Adios, bitches!)