Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well, at least they're honest (and, by the way, screw the Wayback Vacation Machine -- I'm too nonlinear)

S and I spotted this sign outside a restaurant along Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh. We didn't partake in any aperitifs, but I presume that even their "pretty good" wines were better and more reasonably priced than those we get in Delhi.

(An aside: one of my favorite things about Cambodia was the ubiquity of freshly baked baguettes, a legacy of French colonialism, I suppose, which also contributed, perhaps, to the wine culture.)

Our last day in Phnom Penh, S and I wandered down a few new streets and happened upon Red Apron -- "the Kingdom's FIRST wine boutique & wine tasting gallery," according to a brochure I snagged. After two weeks of sticking to a conservative food budget, we decided to treat ourselves; even if a half glass was $1.75 (the country's local currency is all but useless in most establishments), it sure beats the outrageous prices of piss-poor American wines offered in Delhi's five-star hotels -- virtually the only place one can get foreign wines, which routinely price, for example, Turning Leaf around $75 (the same bottle is available in the U.S. for less than $10).

ANYHOW, we ordered three whites and a red, one French, the other from the "new world" -- and none of which I can accurately propound upon, as I am a total amateur. We also had some delicious brie accompanied by piles and piles of medallions of rustic bread, and more happy I have never been. The shop was warmly lit, the staff incredibly professional (even when S oooooothily broke one of the wine glasses), and the experience a fabulous contrast to some of the trials and tribulations of budget travel.

I would highly, highly recommend patronizing this excellent place -- at No 15Eo, Street 240, in Phnom Penh. Their e-mail addy is; if you have the chance, take the time to experience what they describe as, "maybe our greatest reward[,] to be enabled to introduce the elegance dedicated to the world of wine and the tasting of these, through our Cambodian employees, to a country that has unfortunately been exempted for many years of this luxury that is often quoted as one of the ingredients in the provision of 'the joy of life' (la joie de vivre!)."

A pathetic Halloween this way comes

Do holidays transfer across borders? (Or, a rant on why the George Bush mask sold for hundreds of rupees in a Khan Market toy store does not a successful Halloween make.)Photo courtesy "Dead Air" on Flickr

So last night, despite my rampant anti-social tendencies, S and I ventured out to a party thrown by eM, former journo colleague turned professional blogger. Anyone who knows eM knows that she is an utter dear -- dainty and eccentric and at times a bit above-the-logical-plane, but all in a very well meaning, earnest manner, which seems to keep her surrounded by a revolving group of folks who are generally interesting.

Anyhow, eM was hellbent on her party being a Halloween party, which meant she harangued all attendees about the absolute import of wearing a costume. Any costume, just a costume, if you don't wear a costume I will stand in my doorway, yes, all 100 pounds of me, and prevent you from entereing -- that sort of thing. S and I didn't make an effort to dress up (although I kept a passel of jewelry and a particularly stank headscarf in my purse to convert my rather bohemian top in to a full-on hippie costume, just in case we were the only uncostumed ne'er-do-wells), and when we picked up our friend V, she was also lacking any visible theme.

We trudged up to eM's place, and entered a dark room full of people smoking, drinking, and conversing, just like any and every other Delhi party I have ever attended, save for eM, adorably donning aluminum-foil antennae and butterfly wings, and a sprinkling of roommates/close eM friends, cajoled into, for example, draping a dupatta over a skirt and tank top to mimic a toga.

There were quite a few firangs there; in fact, more than I've been in close proximity with since the days of the fabulous M&J, my American homeboys. Anyhow, many of them were Americans, and as such, had made some attempt to capture the spirit of Halloweens past -- donning costumes from sorceresses to Superman, which were abandoned in piecemeal as the night went on, as the apartment was not becobwebbed, there was no spooky music, no carved pumpkins greeted us, and there was nary a Mars bar or undigestible Sugar Daddy to be had, only bottles and bottles of vodka, like Seagram's Fuel was going out of style.

All of which just underscored to me how ridiculous it is to try and capitalize on the American holidays here. If I'm entirely honest, the only reason we Americans keep Halloween around is the candy, the joy it brings little kids, and the excuse it gives us to be someone else -- not a corporate hack, not a paper pusher, not a manual laborer -- for just one day.

All the English newspapers here have umpteen features on Halloween, how you can celebrate in Delhi, etc.; Star World is running a marathon of the Halloween episodes of The Simpsons; various Halloween-themed specials abound. But it seems to me that it's fetishizing the lives of Americans without really understanding that it's hardly some sacred ritual that should be exported and celebrated with abandon. I don't know, I'm not describing this well (which relates to a larger issue I've been having lately, that I'm feeling like I'm increasingly splitting and having blackouts and losing interest in things like, oh, eating, which is pretty concerning, but another story entirely). I can't criticize anyone for wanting to get in on the action -- most Americans love Halloween. But it's about candy, and shenanigans, and charade, not just slipping on a suffocating rubber mask and then getting drunk and ranting ad infinitum about the politics of language.

In the same way, when the South Asian student's group at my university in Chicago held Holi (a month after it was actually celebrated), I was rubbed the wrong way. It was a parody of something that is a fabulous, enjoyable celebration -- in India. Getting together, throwing a little color around, and calling it a day doesn't mean you've captured the spirit of a holiday. In both instances, one is just...attempting to capitalize on traditions without putting in the time or effort to reflect said tradition.

But then again, maybe I'm just a bitter fussbudget. People seemed to be having fun, and that's a positive outcome, whether they were dressed as pirates and hookers or not.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 3: Along For The Ride

A comfortable bus ride, S attracts us a border helper tout monkey, we meet an Italian and a Austrian who live together in Switzerland with whom we share a bumpy four-hour Camry ride, and we discover that Siem Reap really isn't a town but a playground for package tourists and the shopkeepers, orphans, and landmine victims who love them.

So this introduction may give you the impression that I hated Siem Reap, but that's neither here nor there. I'll try and address this later, but first, all the fun of recounting hours and hours of sitting!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to read, and I read anything I can get my hands on. I'm currently working my way through the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (I think my current count is about 40 down), and I figured a big, thick book off the list ought to hold me through the entire vacation. Which was partially true, because I was so unable to get into Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point that I didn't get through the 500-odd pages until the flight from Bangkok back to Delhi, and even then, I was really only skimming.

My plan was to absorb myself in the "Vanity Fair for the 1920s" to pass the four-hour jaunt from Bangers to Aranyaprathet, but I quickly discovered that the VCD of a Thai variety hour was far more entertaining. The time passed quickly, and when we reached the border, people just kept pointing, and S and I just kept walking, until we found ourselves in a line for holders of non-Thai passports that moved rather quickly (as opposed to that for Thai nationals, which was populated by at least 200 mildly disgusted folks waiting to gamble away some hard-earned baht at the casino about 500 meters from the official crossing).

Then we're all set to just walk up and apply for our Cambodian visas, and some sleazy guy in a stank baseball cap somehow manages to endear himself to S (the S is for softie!). Thus began an hour and a half of counsel and advice contradictory to every the tenets memorized by every Lonely-Planet-toting wanderer -- "I know the sign says that the visa is $20, but you have to pay 1,000 baht [closer to $30], or else they have to walk the paper to a man in Aranyaprathet, then get the stamp, then walk back, and this will take at least three hours; you pay the 1,000 baht and it takes 10 minutes." "This is a free bus that takes you to the Poi Pet bus station. I'll ride along with you so you don't get taken advantage of by bad people." "No, there are no buses that run to Siem Reap for at least another five hours. But if you pay $50, taxi leaves now!"

S is being cordial, smiling and nodding, and I'm rolling my eyes, sighing loudly, and trying to stop myself from screaming at our new "friend" to back his ass up. Around this time, at the ostensible bus station (which is really a dirt lot filled with Toyota Camrys, a small information desk thronged by men who get paid for "assisting" travelers," and a few rows of empty chairs), we decide to try and leverage an economy of scale (why oh why have I incorporated corporate-ese into my everyday vocabulary?) by hooking up with some other lost, Angkor-bound souls.

At first the couple seemed wary and wanted to check out the size of the taxi, for which they would pay $50; as they dithered about, S and I managed to bargain through our helper to go for $30. Just as we were about to seal that deal, the fellow foreign duo returned and told us to hop in -- halving the price for them, and saving S and I the hassle of potentially being crammed into a shoddy vehicle with numerous passersby interested in seeing how much money they could extort from us. Introductions all around, then we hopped in, leaving a pack of infuriated helpers behind us as we bumped down the road.

Highlights of the ride included a Khmer version of "My Humps" (confidential to Fergie: your insidious invasion of pop culture haunts me always!); a guilty sense of triumph upon our fellow travelers confessing they paid 1,200 baht for their visas; my womanly time of the month starting around hour two of navigating the potholed Cambodian road; and a large, poorly Photoshopped banner advertisement featuring Jackie Chan holding a can of some local brew, miraculously without using his fingers (a note from my paper journal: The sign we saw at a refreshment shack where our taxi driver stopped for the dust to be rinsed off our ride was awesome, because it had a picture of Jackie Chan -- which I believe was ripped from a Western ad for Coke. The can of the local beer (energy drink?) was just juxtaposed over his fingers and thumbs, because JC is damn near superhuman and his compelling personality attracts Cambodia beverages to him like so many kitschy magnets to a fridge).

Eventually, we all ended up at the Popular Guesthouse in Siem Reap, which was clean -- and cheap -- enough. We unloaded, then went to explore the town; after having a beer, I started writing more, as is my wont. My reflections, as I sat on a posh terrace on "Bar Street" sipping Beerlao and watching droves of tourists flock to Italian, continental, and Thai restaurants, became a bit philosophical (I may unfortunately be casting myself as an itinerant hippy with this travelogue...). On the car ride, we jostled a lot on the dirt road, and it was bumpy, but at least the monsoon is more or less over; it could have been much, much worse. Couldn't everything? For some reason I got to thinking about what would happen if I clumsily happened upon a landmine and had to have my arm amputated, and even that I think I could make the best of -- a bionic hand, or a chopstick I could hold in my mouth to select keys on my computer at the office. Does this qualify as a "can-do" spirit or a delusion?

That question still remains unanswered, but it struck me as the sort of view one has to adopt when one is constantly surrounded by poverty, suffering, people debasing themselves to make a living. When I first arrived in India, I would cry when my autorickshaw driver stopped at a light where women would approach me, touch my feet, ask for just one roti. It just wasn't conceivable to me then, the way that there is always a way down, no matter where you stand. Some of this ranting may make me sound annoyed, frustrated, even infuriated with the ... unpleasantries? that Western tourists encounter the first time they venture outside a place that has a veneer of palpable respectability, but looking back -- both on this vacation, and on my time in India -- I've developed a perspective that's less reactionary, a bit more generous. The tourist trade is lucrative at the border crossing, and every person passing through is an opportunity to put food on the table. Something likely beyond an individual's control has consigned them to a life that is so incredibly foreign to someone who grew up not wondering whether there would be water today, someone who could afford to scrape leftovers into a garbagecan that (likely) wouldn't be picked through by someone that didn't have enough to eat. I have momentary flashes of intolerance, but ultimately, I think I understand at least some of the forces at work. I suppose what I am (quite inadequately) attempting to say is that, although I quickly reach my breaking point when it comes to being petitioned for money, I don't blame the people for trying. I want a larger structural answer to this, to this endless mire, which will probably never come, and so to my fellow humans I try and be cordially dismissive, firm but not insulting.

Oh, this ramble has gotten out of control! I have taken some Valium and cold pills because I was having a panic attack and the dry heaves and couldn't work with my thoughts, and now they're all seeping onto the screen. Thus I bid day three adieu, in just as much a fog as I did walking back slightly tipsy from a happy hour in Siem Reap, with just as many unanswered questions and ill-informed musings as I bounced off S with his hand gently guiding me "home"...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Best. Story. Ever.

Ashok Das, I salute you, for "Politicians and their wild campaigns" (Hindustan Times, Tuesday, October 24), is a certified masterpiece.

I quote:

"Politicians are never known to be civil while dealing with their rivals -- not even in the best of times.

After incidents of leaders having a go at each other during assembly sessions comes the latest from Vijayawada, the erstwhile political and cultural capital of Andhra Pradesh.

It all started about 10 days ago, when Telugu Desam Party [TDP] activists in Guntur decorated a buffalo in Congress party colours and hung a placard around its neck which read: 'I am Rajasekhar Reddy. I am thick-skinned and insulated to criticism. Do whatever you like, I will not resign.'

The buffalo was taken around the streets of the town as part of the TDP's statewide campaign to force Reddy to resign in the wake of a Supreme Court order quashing the pardon granted to a murder convict.

The Congress hit back. They got a donkey decorated in the TDP's yellow colour, which, like the TDP's buffalo, carried a placard saying: 'I am Chandrababu Naidu. I speak lies and utter lies. I change my stand to suit me. I betrayed my father-in-law for the sake of power." The donkey led a procession of slogan-shouting Congressmen through the streets of Vijayawada.

Congress activists though the TDP hadn't been hit hard enough. So two days later, they took out another rally with a dog in TDP colours. This time, the placard read: 'I am Chandrababu Naidu. I only bark.'

The battle had just begun. They got a man to look like Rajasekhar Reddy and paraded him through the streets with a group of seemingly irate women chasing him and thrashing him with chappals, broomsticks, rotten eggs and tomatoes.

What were the police doing all this while? The drama was too good for them to interrupt [...]"

Disclaimer: This picture is from Vaarttha, a Telugu paper I found on the Interwebs. I'm not sure it's a picture of the incident (since I don't read Telugu), but it's from the paper's Guntur edition on a date near that mentioned in Das' article.

Maybe Anand Jon is blind?

Alert the paparazzi (S, are you listening?)! PARIS HILTON -- that's right, THE PARIS HILTON -- is coming to Delhi. Where she will likely flash her vagina with impunity (if you read Perez Hilton or Pink is the New Blog or A Socialite's Life, you know what I mean).

She will be in the very country in which I wore an Oxford shirt with only the top button undone and was approached in a market by a total stranger who proceeded to point at my fashion faux pas and, when I did nothing to ameliorate the transgression, buttoned it for me as I tried desperately to shrink into an aisle cluttered with grains and pulses.

Reuters reports: "Hotel heiress is to model for an upmarket American fashion line in India next year despite her music video being banned in the country for being too explicit, a newspaper report said on Monday."
Now, there are several things I found hideous about this story -- first and foremost, the fact that Reuters thinks this is worthy of 300-odd words. But perhaps the most obnoxious is the way in which Paris makes Americans look like ignorant, utter morons when it comes to conceptualizing other countries. Anand Jon, an American designer of Indian descent who ostensibly is providing the reason for Paris' interest in the country, is quoted as saying, "For her, India is the land of exotica and beauty. In response, her response was, 'I finally get to visit the exotic.'"

Yes, the subcontinent is full of nothing but curios and parrots and Oriental rugs. How utterly charming!

Also...she "finally" gets to visit the exotic? She couldn't divert some of that $25 million of hers, or take some time out from making sex tapes, to do it before? Kya nonsense.

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 2: Beginning to Chart Our Way

Chatuchak Market, an aimless bus ride, and the disappointingly tame Khao San Road: an abbreviated introduction to Bangkok in anticipation of the real gig, Cambodia.

Our second day remains a bit of a blur; I've scrawled in my notebook, "Bangkok. Not nearly so hectic, at least the parts of it we've seen, as it's made out to be. I feel surprisingly like I am in New York. [S and I] have fought a bit, but I suppose it could be worse."

I guess this abbreviated stream of consciousness is attributable to the sheer amount of stuff we tried to cram in before grabbing our Day 3 bus to cross into Cambodia. Because the details of much of our meandering would likely bore you, I present a list:

Eat breakfast; pay 70 baht for a rather poor "buffet" (muesli, Tang, warm pineapple, but some admittedly delicious Jif peanut butter) at the guesthouse

Ask the proprietor for some general advice on getting around the city

Pop into one of the ubiquitous 7-11s, due to an irrational desire to discover whether there would be lychee-flavored Slurpees (no)

Walk for about 45 minutes to what we thought was Chatuchak Weekend Market, but was instead just a busy road

Hail a taxi and persuade the driver to use his meter, through the liberal usage of pointing, then repeating the word "Chatuchak" until he realized that we, moron tourists, probably wanted to go to one of Bangkok's biggest weekend tourist draws

Marvel at the wonder that is the sprawling market -- bins full of thumb-sized turtles; lanes and lanes of puppies, kittens, even red squirrels; oodles of shocking yellow T-shirts praising the Thai king; lighters of all shapes and sizes; magnets; clothes, used and new, including some repurposed vintage Adidas shirts that appeared destined for Urban Outfitters; tiny speckled eggs fried by the dozen; tea served in a plastic bag, accompanied by a neon-green straw; blind strolling minstrels with mobile mics and amps; and more, more, more

Attempt to take a tuk tuk, get into a large argument with S about our next move, then take a metered taxi to explore travel logistics for the remainder of our trip

Visit Mo Chit bus station to determine the cost and time of the ride to the Aranyaprathet border crossing

Argue some more

Head to the train station to compare offering with other options; man at information booth vehemently counsels against the train: "It take very long time, and you stand. Very cheap, but you stand by Thais who want to go to casino for six hours."

Call S a huge dick, then immediately apologize to him for being a dirty cunt, before being accosted by a helpful woman who directed us toward a bus that would take us to Banglamphu, the traditional Bangkok tourist district that encompasses Khao San Road, hailed by every guidebook we read as dirty and full of cheats

Pay 8 baht for what turned out to be one of the best parts of our entire trip: a bus ride through town that offered a new perspective (for example, rather than being groped by a man in a spittle-encrusted kurta, I witnessed a sweeper woman get onto the bus, and when she stumbled, the fare collector actually deigned to help her gather her possessions and ensured that the sweeper got to sit down, something that particularly struck me as an event I would never witness in Delhi); got off at an arbitrary point that looked interesting

Took in sights, including ironic T-shirts, an old fort, and a pier; consumed dim sum, fresh noodle soup, and the thick batter encasing what was essentially a lollipop of meat (which carnivorous S graciously gobbled)

Visited a "China Emporium" where we procured a few very useful things -- a travel alarm clock (which lasted, I kid you not, until an hour or two after we returned to Delhi), a pocket knife, and tweezers

Finally reached Khao San Road, to be disappointed by the shockingly clean wide lanes (where are the cows? the rickshaws and Balenos and bicyclists and trucks?); ate some delicious noodly thing at a roadside stall instead of at an overpriced pub filled with drunken idiots with accents of all colors

Returned to guesthouse and slept

Monday, October 23, 2006

By the way...

As you may have noticed, I am monkeying around now with Blogger beta and various hacks created for the revamped service. And, as I know next to nothing about code, HTML, etc., so expect some malfunctions and a heap of idiocy.

By the way: purple monkey dishwasher!

The Wayback Vacation Machine, Day 1: A Last-Minute Scramble and a Drunken Duck

In which our heroine nearly misses her flight due to her unfortunate lack of foresight to remind her fiance to pack his college degree.

Our flight to Bangkok was scheduled to take off around 7 p.m., landing in Thailand 'round midnight. But first we had to check in and get our Air India boarding passes.

You don't realize the power of a U.S. passport until you travel with someone who doesn't have one.

S, being an Indian citizen, holds a passport that comes with a fistful of restrictions, which require a fair amount of kissing up to bureaucrats who will, if they feel generous, issue an essential (if somewhat incomprehensible) stamp or piece of paper or written permission.

I bring this all up because of an incident that nearly derailed the entire excursion. For all but six or seven countries, Indian citizens must have a certain stamp in their passport; I forget what it's called, but it's ostensibly to prevent human trafficking and other such badness, so I can't complain about its overall purpose or utility.

Anyhow, the travel agent told S that Thailand was one of the countries that didn't require the stamp, so we somewhat leisurely made our way over to Indira Gandhi International about three hours before our flight (better safe than sorry), expecting to quickly shuttle through airport security and lounge on badly upholstered seats sipping Nescafe and musing about our upcoming adventures.

It was not to be.

Instead, we (and by "we" I of course mean S) ended up in IGI's immigration office, begging unamused officials for help, for some way to escape the damning plague of too much time in Delhi. Our only hope, it turned out, was a copy of S's college degree, which struck me as a particularly strange sort of snobbery, the assumption being that if you're clever enough to pass through school, you won't get conned into being a sex slave or indentured servant or something. I panicked, because I imagined myself in S's place: I don't just keep my BSJ lying around, and while I might have a few copies somewhere, to try and find someone who could a) get into my apartment, b) sort through piles and piles of old magazines, newspaper clippings, tax returns, various receipts, and other detritus to locate the correct document, and c) find a shop from which to fax the degree to the airport -- all in less than two hours -- would be slim pickens.

But I digress. Unlike me, S is aware of the likelihood that someone may arbitrarily demand a copy of his educational qualifications, and he also has co-workers who apparently have nothing better to do on a Friday afternoon than go to their office and break into the file cabinet in which S keeps important documents. While this was happening, I distracted myself by scribbling in my travel notebook such astute observations as: "We have two hours. It's sort of like a reality TV show, only not. Sigh."

After that brief fiasco, everything went pretty much according to plan. Our flight featured a rather intoxicated man two rows in front of us demanding whisky from every passing air hostess; it also featured an obnoxious Hindi movie, as well as an undelicious, cold gulab jamun.

We touched down at the new airport (Suvarnabhumi) in Bangkok, which is sparkling clean, cosmopolitan, and a hint of artsy. Got ourselves some baht, delighted in the ease of visa formalities, quickly collected our baggage, and grabbed a taxi to our guesthouse -- all without once being harassed or propositioned or asked for small change.

The taxi was a sight in and of itself -- bright pink, small red LEDs spelling out something (I assume "hired" or "vacant") in the front window, and a prominent sticker in the passenger window proclaiming, "I love Farang! English spoken here" (an aside: farang has approximately the same meaning in Thai and Hindi, more or less meaning foreigner, with perhaps a connotation of whiteness -- hey, I never said I was a linguist). We hopped in, and S read out the name of our destination, then pointed to it on a Lonely Planet map.

S tried to make conversation, only to find that he couldn't understand a word of the English through our driver's Thai accent. I interpreted for him; I suppose I should have directly spoken to the our cabbie, but sometimes, even though I'm a feminist or whatever, I like to let the guy do the negotiating, mostly, I suppose, because I'm lazy. We saw a sign with the name of the neighborhood we wanted on it, and were pleased to see that the driver turned in that direction; perhaps he did know what we said.

Then we realized we were winding through rather dark, unpopulated lanes, and the driver was pointing at basically anything that resembled a hotel, and we just kept saying "Asha. Asha. Soi Intamara 3." He pulled over, gestured to our map again, and doffed some of the thickest glasses I've seen this side of the Ganges (comforting to know that he didn't see fit to wear them when we were zipping along at 100 km an hour). This exchange went on for about ten minutes, when, exhausted, he finally pulled out his cell phone and dialled the guesthouse number we somehow scrounged out of sheaves of hints and tips for the bootstrapper in exotic Asia.

A quick conversation, a minute's drive, and we were met at the guesthouse gate by a smiling man in a bright yellow shirt that was bordered with palm trees. Rob, our friendly guesthouse proprietor, pointed a few features out, but realized that we had probably been traveling for quite some time and wasted no time pulling up our reservation.

"So you wanted a double room, with a fan? No AC?"

I looked at S, thinking an AC would be nice with the humidity, but it was 50 baht (about $1.50) extra per night, so I forced a smile and said, "Just a fan."

Rob grabbed a key off the wall behind him and grinned. "Alright, then. We're out of fan rooms for the night, but since you had a reservation, and you said you wanted a fan room, we won't charge you extra for the AC." We shouldered our backpacks, headed up to the clean, spartan digs, switched the air conditioner on to a comfortable 24 degrees Celsius, fell into bed, and woke up around 8 a.m., primed for a day of wandering in a new place.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Damn those hussies!

Moronic letter of The Week (pun intended; October 29, 2006 issue) -- one Colonel Sanjay Kapoor of Delhi extols:

"Women have come a long way in the last decade but somewhere along, they seem to have gone overboard ('Welcome to she-zone', October 8). Women are running nonstop with the sole aim of overtaking men. In trying to compete with men, they have forgotten that they need not wear trousers, use alcohol, smoke and be ruthless. In trying to find a new identity women are losing the identity they had. Where are those doe-eyed women who could entice men by just fluttering their eyelids? She can be an achiever without becoming a man and killing her feminine identity. These are indicators of the suicidal and homicidal mission that women are on these days."

Umm...I just can't respond to this. If fluttering my eyelids is supposed to be my only claim to identity, then I guess I was born with the wrong genitals.

Piccies now online!

Because Angkor Wat was probably my favorite part of the Southeast Asian excursion, I present you this lovely shot at Ta Prohm, a temple complex overrun by large, almost braided trees. It really felt like a lost world in which one could explore, rather than a regimented, political maze through which one must deftly navigate.

There are now roughly 200 or so uncategorized shots on my Flickr account, though all the Thailand/Cambodia pictures should be tagged "southeast asia" and "october 2006."

Friday, October 20, 2006

On a different note...

Yes, I have lots of gushing to do about the utter fabulousness of my vacation. LOTS. As in, when I get back to home base, I'm going to go day by day and treat you to pictures, musings, and perhaps even very crude sketches of all I saw. You will likely find it painful, but I can't help myself. I like written records, and I like having as many of them, in as many different media, as humanly possible.

But what I really want to talk about for a second is politics. It's all very tenuous, rather uninformed theory, but I'm reading The Killing Fields by Christopher Hurdon. The introduction reads:

"This is a story of war and friendship, of the anguish of a ruined country and of one man's will to live. With these words the American journalist Sydney Schanberg began one of the most extraordinary documents to have come out of the war in Indochina.

It opened in war-torn Cambodia in August 1973. Since as long ago as 1968 there had been thousands of American B-52 bombing raids over Cambodian territory -- an attempt to dislodge the Vietcong who had established forward bases in the jungle from which to strike across the border at Saigon. Despite blanket bombing, and the replacement of Prince Sihanouk by the U.S.-backed government of Marshal Lon NOl, the Communists were making headway. Aided by North Vietnamese troops, the fanatical Khmer Rouge had beaten back Lon Nol's army to the Mekong River.

It was at this stage of the war that Sydney Schanberg persuaded the foreign desk of his newspaper the New York Times to take on an official stringer -- his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran. What happened to Schanberg and Pran, when the Khmer Rouge rebels overran the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and instituted a reign of terror, was the true story Schanberg had to tell."

Passages of this book just sound hauntingly like what is happening in Iraq/the Middle East right now. Schanberg, watching a reporter, recounts the man's dispatch: "But, as a senior U.S. official put it to me last night, 'We know very damned little about the Khmer Rouge.'" How much do American politicians really know about the machinations in the Middle East? How much do they understand regional warlords and the inability to control certain areas of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq?

Another section explains, "The final, last-minute plan, conceived by the French and backed both here and by Graham Martin, U.S. ambassador in Saigon, had been the bring back Sihanouk to form a coalition government in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was willing. But the dead hand of the Nixon Doctrine could not drop Lon Nol now. The plan and fallen through, and with it, any real hope of a controlled solution in Cambodia."

Bush is not in Iraq, but his policies are, for better or for worse. There has been a spate of articles comparing the current situation in Iraq to the Tet Offensive and stalemate in Vietnam, and it's just made me wonder. Not many people in the U.S. at the time knew what was happening in Cambodia, and Schanberg explains the difficulty of getting his stories to press -- not just because of logistical problems, but because of the perception that the reports would undermine U.S. interests. Are we destroying other countries to get to Iraq? What is the real story? Will it take ten more years for us to find out?

So many more questions than answers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wastin' away again in Sihanoukville

Ah. So I am breaking my blogging fast with a dispatch from Sihanoukville, Cambodia's "premiere" (only?) beachside resort. All sorts of crusty old men keep telling S and I that Sihanoukville now is like Thai beaches were 30 or so years ago, so I guess we're ahead of the curve. Rampant commercialization and ample sex parlors, here you come!

Lots, lots, lots to write about soon; wish I could upload pictures, as well. I haven't taken many nice shots, but S certainly has. I have mostly spent my time here reading, getting incredibly sunburnt, doing a little snorkeling, and monitoring the incredible swelling of a zit on my chin, which has in the last two days caused my entire lip to puff to such an extent that I look every bit the petulant, pouty brat I've always been.

Anyhow...drop me a line. Vacation is fabulous. Vacation is necessary. And cheap vacations to exotic locales...I'm not sure I'll ever have the chance again. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hello from Cambodge!

S and I have just finished the first official leg of our Thailand/Cambodia trippie; we'll leave Siem Reap (the tourist trap town just off Angkor Wat) tomorrow morning for Phnom Penh.

I've been doing a tremendous amount of writing (and taking pictures), but posting any of this -- or really, any coherent thoughts about the trip -- probably won't happen until we get back to India, which is October 21.

Suffice it to say it's been amazing. I'm fighting back the double threat of dehydration and exhaustion, and my thighs hurt from scaling temples, but otherwise? Fighting fit! Upward and onward!

Friday, October 6, 2006


Pre-script: this post is brought to you by a tequila sunshine, consumed in preparation for a ritual waxing before jetting off to southeast Asia.

I'm so excited! To go to Thailand! To adventure to Cambodia! To see Angkor Wat! To eat at Happy Herbs! To find a perfect postcard for Buaji and S's fam! To torture friends on Facebook about how it only costs $300 for me to go to Thailand! To get away from work for the first time in almost a year! To have everything I need in a half-empty backpack!

If you want anything, and you can tell me my middle name and approximate the size of my breasts, leave a message. If not, I may reply to your e-mail, but don't expect me to ship a Thai prostitute to your door.

Also, sorry for the excitement. I've only ever been in India, America, and Germany, which means I am a pathetic world traveler and have the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old on Christmas morning. Bear with me. I'll try and post while on the go, because God knows I can't live without my bloggery, but if I get caught up in, ya know, life, I'm hoping you'll understand.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Reason I'm excited about my Thailand excursion #951

From Overheard in New York:

World traveler: Really, you can get anything on the streets of Bangkok. Thai prostitutes, smoothies, passport pictures...It's like Craigslist.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Dussehra! (or, if you will, Burn, Baby, Burn!)

Kind of like Burning Man, except frequented by fewer naked hippies. My pictures are admittedly horrible, but I am too tired to be clever and write about how interesting this festival was, so accept my link to Wikipedia and enjoy the snaps.

Rang de basanti, yaar

RDB is on Star Gold since it's Dussehra/Gandhi Jayanti/every freakin' India holiday rolled into one day off, so S and I are watching it again. An aside -- of all the Bollywood movies I've seen, the only ones I can stomach watching more than once have all starred Aamir Khan. What a hunk.

Anyhow, this has reminded me of the utter insanity revolving around Rang De Basanti and the quest for the global validation of Indian cinema. That's right -- despite RDB's massive success in the subconty, the film's producers seem to think it will all be for naught until someone hands them an Oscar.

(Background: Each year, the Indian government vets one film as India's official Oscar entry for the "best foreign film" category; the powers that be in Hollywood take suggestions from various countries/industry experts -- as I understand -- to come up with their official list of five nominations. The last time an Indian selection made it to the nominations was 2001, when Lagaan -- another flick starring Aamir Khan -- was picked; Mira Nair's 1988 Salaam, Bombay! and Mehboob Khan's 1957 Mother India have also made it to the star-studded ceremony.)

Now, as much as I enjoyed RDB, it's a mainstream hit. It differs significantly from most Hindi filmfare, yes, but have any of these producers and industry wonks actually, you know, watched winners in the foreign film category? We're talking (Hollywood's idea of) hoity toity, high art -- not an overdramatic musical ode to the promise of Indian youth. RDB may be subtle for Bollywood, but most Americans (based on this one's narrow experience) would find it...a bit declasse, trying too hard to be trendy and deep. In contrast, Water -- Canada's entry directed by Deepa Mehta, focusing on the treatment of widows in India -- seems much more likely a pick for the academy.

I don't know. Perhaps my instinct is wrong, perhaps those LA types will be as enchanted by the exuberance and energy of the film that they'll shower it with awards. But not bloody likely. Why should people in India care anyhow whether a shallow slice of the American industry understands and applauds the film? It's been a critical success here, and audiences have flocked to theatres. Isn't that enough?

It just seems that people here are setting themselves up for failure. Now, with Lage Raho Munnabhai somehow throwing their hat into the ring, the producers of Rang de have struck back by announcing "that, aside from the foreign language entry, they will seek to field their film in seven other categories -- best film, direction, cinematography, art direction, editing, screenplay and sound design."

Now, I'll give it to them -- they've got balls. But if I'm going to have to listen to people trumpeting the importance of RDB for months, then carping when all their nominations are rejected, I might pull out all my hair. America is not the arbiter of good taste! The Oscars are just a huge industry circle jerk! These are people who showeredTitanic with praise!!! STOP THE INSANITY!

Welcome to the twilight zone

In a somewhat freakish turn of events S's family has just joined the legions Indian expats in America, offering an interesting contrast to my musings on American expat life in India.

For the ramblings of S's brother, navigate to Quite interesting, for me at least, to see the situation in reverse.