Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Blind Massage aka The Painful Lesson

For no real reason, I associate blindness with mystical power. Backflips, telepathy and such. Maybe it's because every martial arts movie made between 1971 and Infinity features a sightless old guy that can regulate on everyone. Actually, that's exactly why. There.

ANYWAY, when Chris and I came upon a school-for-the-blind-slash-massage-spa in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, I imagined the perfect massage: precise, powerful and just a little bit magic. Plus, if your masseuse is blind, how shady can the massage be? "Two, please."

What did 3 dollars buy us? An hour of painful, horribly off-the-mark back torture. I kept thinking, "it's supposed to be like this right?" He pounded my spine. He slapped my head. Was that a noogie? I think he punched my kidney!! Wait a minute. Did we just get conned?

"No," said Chris. "We just let blind guys give us massages."

Monday, February 25, 2008

I Drank Snake Today

My only admission: "I fell."

Chris calls this an "automocycle." China has the one-child-per-family rule, Vietnam has the two-wheels-per-duder rule. You can push it to three wheels but you'll need an extra guy and like 400 more pounds of shit to haul.

At least once a day one of us says, "Now what?" And the answer is almost always white coffee (black-as-hell coffee with condensed milk) and Chris drawing the shit out of some shit.

Outside Binh Tay Market, where the world's souvenirs are amassed and distributed. Millions of hats, nested pots, flip flops. You can find a knock-off of yourself here. We got shopper's fatigue just by looking at the piles of stuff. Video on the way.

Oh, you want to see my passport? Here it is. Don't Bullshit Me.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two Wheels and a Can-Do Attitude

They flout the laws of physics. They stack on, pack in, and pile up. They never say die; only "more straps."

This animal, by the way, was still alive and trying like hell to kick its way off.

Friday, February 22, 2008


My last post was less about my opinion of Vietnam than it was about my disgust with consumer culture infecting every last inch of the world. My point was that tourism (people like us) are the reasons that my perception of modern Vietnam is more about westerners than about the Vietnamese or Vietnam itself. And I didn't quite expect that.

I think what is interesting is there are some enterprising young people in Ho Chi Minh City who have developed an 'in the know' proposition. Today we're hooking up with some locals from a new company called Connections Vietnam, who I read about months ago. They provide a friend for the day and accompany you around town, filling you in on the real deal, being your local knowledge. I think it's quite an interesting idea. You don't go see sights, you don't go on tours. You hang out, go to their homes, you cook with them, they tell you stories, you learn about what being a 20 something or 30 something in today's Ho Chi Minh City is like.

Not sure what to expect but I asked if we could learn how to make Bun cha.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Modern Vietnam

I'm gonna keep it real.

Vietnam is not about pretty beaches and lush rainforest, picturesque villages with artisans and craftspeople, developing cities with bustling neighborhoods full of individual personality and charm. It's about toil and grime and staying off the streets by hawking worthless knock-off shit to westerners.

It's about catering to all the fat, white tourists stumbling off their tour busses as they chug from town to town. It's about "Good Morning, Vietnam" t-shirts and authentic vietnamese lacquer "art" galleries and those rice paddy bamboo hats. It's a caricature of the worst kind because the Vietnamese in these villages don't care about their national image, they're trying to make a buck. And the tourists are promoting this fucked up cycle of what Vietnam "is".

We've quietly mentioned these observations to each other and have tried not to let it affect our overall perception of the place but it is creeping in. It's depressing really. We've tried to make light of the fun/scary things that have happened, like the bus incident (which really was both fun and scary simultaneously) or to focus on the food, which is the real reason we came. But it's hard when you're constantly face to face with misguided cultural supply and demand every second of the day.

Vietnam, we hardly knew ye.

Food Coma

My digital camera liked sea kayaking so much it decided to give its life to the mythical dragons that live in the icy waters of Halong Bay. But the good thing is that it's forced me to start using my fancy camera. I "think" I'm finally getting the hang of it. I've been practicing my f-stops and shutter speeds on Patrick and the food we've been eating. Have I mentioned how good the food is?

This is a sampling of what we ate today.

Below are shots from this small market on the river in Hoi An. Everything is in round baskets or tubs which gives the pictures a nice uniformity that wasn't planned (but which I like a lot).


We took two buses from Hanoi to Hoi An. Each had its own special quirk. One bus had beds instead of seats. The other bus didn't work.

Hoi An is an ocean city packed with textile shops. You can pretty much walk into any building and demand a custom suit that fits better than your skin, all for about 70 bucks. Also, the show China Beach took place right around here. The only real interesting thing about our time here was the food we ate. Total stomach boner. But we had to work at finding the good stuff.

This brings me to something Chris and I call the "Don't Bullshit Me." If you prove you're hardcore, people won't try to hard sell you on Oakleys, Zippos, and T-shirts that say "Good Morning, Vietnam!" (seriously, pretty f'd). We've been flexing the Don't Bullshit Me by chewing on super hot chilis, sporting authentic, painful sunburns, and eating food we can't recognize in dodgy, poorly lit places. It seems to work.

Confession: I did buy some Dolce & Grabana [sic] shades. Couldn't help myself. I think they actually amplify sunlight. My pupils are sunburnt. I can see the future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Internet refuses to work in Hoi An

We have good stuff to report but the Internets won't let us access to view the site properly. Maybe at the next destination we'll have better luck. Da Nang, then Ho Chi Minh City.

Monday, February 18, 2008


It's been a long, exhausting, cold couple of days. But Patrick and Tiger beer have kept me company on the fake Junk boats.

Licking the street

My version of heaven goes like this: sitting on small plastic stools at a small fiberboard table covered with ripped plastic looking at little bowls full of chopped cilantro, sliced orange chiles, garlic in vinegar and a huge bowl of beef noodle soup.

In 2002 I decided to start traveling to cities and countries that I consider the tastiest – and Hanoi, Vietnam is right up there. Eating street food is dirty, smelly, uncomfortable and totally rewarding. Taking the first bite makes the grunge recede a little. The second bite makes you sort of “get it.” The third mouthful and you forget that you are not Vietnamese.

Looking for food on the streets in Vietnam is tricky. Most of it is cooked on the ground, on plastic stools, and it isn’t immediately obvious what it is that’s being served. And while that hasn’t ever really stopped us before, I know that Vietnam serves lots of stuff that even I’d be hesitant to eat: cock testicles, scorpions, cobra hearts, pig brain – I’ll be honest here, the only reason I’m not being more adventurous is because I know we have two more weeks of street eats and I don’t want to risk my immune system before we get to Saigon, where the real flavor starts.

Last night, the proprietor of our hotel, Flower, took us to get beef Pho, the staple in Vietnam. Mine had half a cow heart in it, ventricles and all. It was tasty, but not super appetizing to look at. So I didn’t take pictures. The memory resides in my stomach.

This was more shareable so I’m putting it out there for you to be jealous of. You know who you are. (Apologies to the vegetarians - there are pictures of animals that we ate)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Merrily, Merrily, Merrily, Merrily...

We're trying pretty hard to circumvent the Vietnam tourist stuff, but sometimes it's unavoidable if you want to see some of the awesome things. We took a bus to Ha Long Bay where over 3,000 limestone cliffs stick out of the water like giant overgrown tombstones. Mortal Kombat 1 took place right here. Or maybe it didn't, but it should've. We spent two days on a ferry that was decorated with a dragon motif and had fake junk sails. It was amazing!

The bay was surreal, thanks in part, to the terrible hazy weather. It made all the islands float in midair. We went INSIDE one of these archipelago cliff-caves and found, along with all the tacky lighting and souvenir shit (sea shells. belts.) the scariest looking rock formations ever. Nature is nuts. Rocks rock.

It's also like, 40 degrees (Sub Zero Wins). Seriously! It's cold. There's no birds. I have a backpack full of shorts and so does Chris. Tomorrow night we head South. Please.