Sunday, May 01, 2005

Sunday best, fruit, and flowers

Sunday best, fruit, and flowers
Originally uploaded by XeOm.

Home now, as if I'd never been away. Click festival to see more Ha Noi.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Death in the afternoon

Traffic statistics all a bit too real since I saw my first fatality a couple of weeks ago.

For the record, accidents witnessed (or had myself):

--Fatal accident. Rainy afternoon, just before the roundabout leading up to Nguyen Trai, the 12 lane highway that leads to Thanh Xuan and the University. Poor man, lying in the mud, all forlorn, like a broken doll. Traffic too full on to allow anyone to stop, so everyone just veered around him and kept going.
--Taxi / motorbike prang in laneway at Thanh Xuan. Entire street involved. No one hurt, but bike trashed and taxi dented and run off road.
--Massive concrete bus-stop-cum-bunker on highway, trashed. Passed it everyday on the way to work. One morning: not just overturned, but completely mangled, as if a bomb had it hit it. Or, more likely, a truck.
--Near misses on xe om cutting between trucks, busses, and taxis. Way, way, too many for comfort.
--Bumps with other motorbikes/children on bicycles/pedestrians. Countless. Not just xe om drivers, but lifts from Vietnamese friends. I've got really good at hanging on with my thighs when we brake suddenly.
--Close shaves crossing the road. Surprisingly few. It's an act of faith to keep walking into oncoming traffic, but the bikes really do veer 'round you.

Am really glad to be in the old quarter where the traffic is nearly all motorbike. If I never cut between two garbage trucks at 70k/hr again it'll be too soon.

Making a list and checking it twice

It's the last week of my trip. No?! Yes!

So much to do--and so many questions: Do I really really have to go home? Can I fit all the shoppin' I want to do into the next seven days? How much ca phe sua will it take to wind up the eight stories I have on the go? Will I post some more photos before I go back?

Yes; I hope so; a lot; and maybe...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Xe buyt

When I'm not catching xe om, I'm on xe buyt (catching the bus).

It's a VND2,500 whole-city tour! With music. And getting on and off is a massive adrenalin rush. The busses don't actually... stop. They just slow down. Briefly.

It's actually not that hard to get on - point yourself in the direction of the door, and you're propelled on-board by forward momentum from the 15 people behind you.

Once you're on, sit back (if you have a seat to sit back in), relax, and enjoy the Viet-pop and martial music soundtrack.

Not sitting down? Hang on tight. There's a lot of sudden stops. Plus side: it's easier to fight your way to -- and out of -- the door when it's time to get off.

Bonus points: buses accept coins! True, the conductor will grumble and do everything short of biting your golden VND5,000 to make sure it's real. But unlike the market, he won't flat out refuse it.

(Apparently coins are bad news - they fall out of your wallet. And nobody wants to loose their money.)

Big guns, small tunnels

Heavy artillery
Originally uploaded by XeOm.

Photos from the trip from Hanoi, through Hue to Saigon and around at Flickr now. Click the tank to go to the photo page.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Cambodia Photos

Buddha gets a lift
Originally uploaded by XeOm.

Buddhas, temples, some more temples, killing fields, and then some more temples. Click small photo to see all photos.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Royal Cambodian Blog

Via Boing Boing: His Royal Highness, King Norodom Sihanouk, the father of the present King has a (sort of) blog.

Respondents to the Boing Boing post shed light on the (now previous) King's attention to media detail; the Royal Cambodian 404:

"The N. Sihanouk Website Team thanks its distinguished audience for its understanding and its faithfulness"

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Forty-five minutes in Laos

Stopped over briefly in Vientianne,on the way back from Phnom Penh to Ha Noi. I know heaps more about Laos than I did before!

1. The Vientianne airport is run jointly with a Japanese company. There are marble toilets. Well. Marble surrounds.

2. The Laos Airlines logo is a naif art frangipanni.

3. Airport economics makes a six pack of Beer Laos, at $US2.50, cheaper than a Maybelline lipstick ($US6).

They just don't tell you this kind of stuff in the CIA World Factbook.

R. I bought you a present at the airport! Hint: not Maybelline.

Horror story

The whole of Cambodia is amazing, but the Khmer Rouge thing is particularly full on.

Went to the Killing Fields today, where a smiley Khmer man showed me 'round the mass graves and nine storey high stupa filled with skulls. He was careful to point out axe and hoe marks on the skulls--the KR bludgeoned 2 million people to death with farm implements. Or sawed their heads off with the sharp edge of plam branches.

They didn't want to waste ammo.

After that, went to S.21 Toul Seng Prison -- even more horrible. The name means 'Poison Hill'. It's a high school that was turned into a concentration camp. They've preserved the cells and torture rooms--truly an evil place. Most awfully, the KR kept photos--utterly gruesome.

Now tho, it's just falling down concrete, gallows and bloodstains, frangipani, bouganvilliea, and butterflies.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Dawn breaks over the lost city

Angkor Wat 6:00am

Burning orange sun rises in a white sky, over ancient stones shadowed black.

Incense perfumes the air monks chant, 2,000 tourists are silent in awe.

Family night at Khmer village

Went to the Cambodian Cultural Village in Siem Riep last night and watched the Khmer Family Night performance.

I was the only not-Cambodian person in the audience, and while I’m still not completely sure what it was all about, the show was pretty wonderful.

Most of the performers were about 11 (except the monkeys, who couldn’t have been more than four and clearly loved the opportunity to do sommersaults and scratch their butts for a live audience). Every so often, in the middle of some very stern and dramatic performance, the teenage soldiers would start giggling. And when one of the Chinese Dragons took his dragon head off, he was wearing a Korn t-shirt.

There was heaps of audience participation too. Every time one of the gods, or kings, or wealthy merchants got it on with a goddess, or princess, or beautiful village girl, there’d be mass wolf whistles and cheering.

The stories, I think, re-told Cambodia’s history and legends. Even if I missed the finer points--who is that masked Green God the Monkey God is fighting?--pretty ladies in sparkly head-dresses, cheeky tumbling monkeys and star-crossed lovers are internationally understood as ace fun.

Specially if there’s lip synching, drumming, and acrobatics as well.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Holiday in Cambodia

Well you'll work harder with a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers til you starve
Then your head skewered on a stake
Now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done

What you need my son:

Is a holiday in Cambodia

Dead Kennedy’s (Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables) Holiday in Cambodia.

Reading The Killing Fields, it seems like the Dead Kennedys really understated things.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Breakfast 1: Pineapple pancake, big as, as... a big big plate. Pineapple so sweet and fresh it's like eating sweet pineapple-y sugar.

Breakfast 2: Pain au chocolat. Mmmmm. Chocolat!

Lunch 1: Coconut shake. A coconut! But mixed with ice to make a coconut slushy.

Lunch 2: Nap before dinners one and two.

Dinner 1: Fresh pippies, boiled up in front of me, scoffed with lime, black pepper and chilli, sitting on teeny tiny kiddy size stools on the side of the road.

Dinner 2: Amazing chilli potato snack things. Like potato gems. But long instead of round and street fresh not oven un-fresh. With lots and lots of chilli.

All street food made by tiny old ladies who teach you how to eat by mime.

What do you do with this Lime?! You squeeze it! And this pepper? You sqeeze the lime into it and mix it up! Then? You dip the mussels in the pepper and lime!

All italic instuctions mimed succesfully - mussels delish.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

In the jungle of screaming souls

Today, went to the mountains near the Laos border and visted the De-Militarized Zone.

Have been reading The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh. It's about the author's time as the leader of a Viet Cong forward patrol in mountains near the DMZ, on the the Laos border.

He says the place is the 'jungle of screaming souls,' where he can hear ghosts of the unquiet dead howling.

There are still huge swathes of country there that have never recovered from Agent Orange defoliation. Half a mountain will be covered in lush, green jungle. The other half will be bald: grass and low lying shrubs. Or choked with weed.

After the war, villagers used shell casings from the bombs that contained Agent Orange to cook in. Dioxin poisoning, cancer and birth defects are still a huge problem here.

Also went to Khe Sanh military base, which the VC used as a distraction, bombing heavily while they were preparing to invade Saigon in the Tet offensive.

Thankfully there was no Barnsey.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Golden dragons spitting fire

Our first tourist-y thing--we went to see the water pupets at Thang Long Theatre.

The puppet stories tell all different kinds of legends--a king wresting a magic sword from the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake; Phoenixes dancing, falling in love and making a baby phoenix; and funny fishermen chasing naughty frogs.

The puppets are beautiful - covered in lustrous gold, silver, emerald and ruby laquer and accompanied by fireworks and a traditional orchestra. The whole show is very pretty and funny and shiny and splashy.

Sort of like a panto, but with dragons, turtles, and unicorns. I swear, when the fisherman was chasing the cheeky frog, the orchestra were calling out "He's behind you!"

And water puppets are the central theme of a particularly enthralling VTV soap.

As far as we can tell--without actually understanding anything that's being said--a young girl from a water puppet village has lived in Ha Noi for some years. Now that her elderly aunt is dying, she must return home to the village and take up her place as a water puppeteer. But her uncle thinks she has been corrupted by life in the big smoke. He has his doubts about her retun. She is not keen to come back either.

Tradition prevails, and she takes her place in the water puppet pond just in time. The aunt has a heart attack in the middle of the first performance her niece helps out with.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Diesel and death

I never knew there were this many Hondas in the whole world, let alone one city.

There are so many motorbikes in Ha Noi that the local administration has stopped registration in some districts.

No-one wears a helmet, and an average 58 people are killed (and more than 100 permanantly disabled) in road accidents daily.

More importantly, I've learned there’s a cool way and a not-cool-at-all-way to hang on the back.
Cool: sit up straight, and put your hands on your knees. Tilt your pelvis forward and relax. Assume air of indifference to bikes, buses, and buffalo coming at you from all directions at once.

Not cool: wrap your arms ‘round the driver, close your eyes, and pray. Aloud.

Lucky the speed limit’s only 30k.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Hold tight

Xe Om are Vietnamese motorcycle taxis - literally, "Hang on!"