four . five . one D . I . A 7/3/2010
I . P . A continuing my pre-trip tradition of visiting the airport bar prior to departure. This bar is always packed; the Sky Bar (down by my gate) is dead. I prefer this bar, this energy, this color palette. Just talked to Alex, which is great because he’s been to Southeast Asia and had some good advice to give:
1. Keep your head on a swivel.
2. Go with your gut.
A particularly drunk with life woman whom I sent next to on the flight from Denver to San Francisco gave additional advice:
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius
So from what I can tell, I am to “go with” both my heart and gut. I surely hope that my head will be included in the equation when necessary.
It’s 11:20 and I’m bored to tears and yawning like crazy. I have already been in this food court for almost two hours and I have two more to go until the flight leaves. At times I am in awe that I am doing this, flying half way around the world to Vietnam by myself.
6,921 miles to destination.
I can hardly even fathom such a destination. We will travel almost entirely over the ocean. Good thing I can swim?
Somewhere between 7/4/2010 and 7/5/2010
It’s really 5:00 A.M. Hong Kong (no clue what it is in Vietnam or home and we have about 40 minutes til landing). It must be the pills because this has been the easiest long plane ride I’ve ever experienced (and the Europe ones are shorter). I suppose it will become normal real soon, traveling across the world as I have and I must begin to adapt, to mask my peculiarities, to morph them to theirs. I am not much tired, not much hungry and have a two-hour layover in Hong Kong. Then one more flight and I’ll be there, finally
and the vacation can properly begin.
I have jumped a day and a bit ahead leaving SFO at 1:20 and now am here, on the cloud-littered sea outside of Hong Kong. Where has my July 4th gone? I suspect it is there somewhere in the fireworks and the food they ate, and the food I swallowed. It’s sunrise and the view is beautiful. Boats and streaks of pink swell the horizon.
I’ll never grow tired of watching the landing to a new place peering out from my airplane window to the Hong Kong coast below.
And so my time in Hong Kong is coming to an end. The only casualty so far on the expedition has been one of the earbuds to my ipod. This is unfortunate but not necessarily unexpected. This is not the first earbud fatality; I highly doubt it will be the last. Being in a foreign airport is very much like being in a domestic one, parents with children, rolling suitcases rumbling a hygienic soundtrack, announcements over the loud speaker, and so on. The differences, however, are more entertaining. Signs that say: “Beware of cart” with a red triangle over a picture of an aiport cart. And why yes. I do get it, it’s just the lexical nuance of a H.K. airport using “Beware” instead of a more appropriate word like “Caution.”
It makes me smile to myself.
I’m not really lonely. It’s not difficult to travel by yourself.
I have all these thoughts anyway, it’s nice to carry them from airport to airport. One to go, visa to stamp, food to eat, and then find my hotel, and hope Elisa can find it too.
My biggest worry, well maybe not the biggest, but one I carry (most like my luggage) is this fear that I will fall out of sense again. A mind is a terrible thing to leash, but in my case, it is prudent.
I am only vaguely aware that I am now a minority, how odd.
—> “Sarcasm is when you tell someone the truth by lying on purpose.” Chuck Klosterman <—
Approaching HCMC from the North and therefore get to see the entire coastline of Vietnam. Water crawls in and out at every chance and the land makes a futile attempt to grab at it as it leaves to the Pacific, paw-shaped protrusions spiral out from its uneven ends.
It is quickly nearing time for all of this to be real.
Perhaps I can feign Alice for a spell, fall down a rabbit hole shaped like an airplane, parachute down into this strange Wonderland and search for the perfect potion that will leave me my perfect size, muchness included.
Me, a Green Saigon, and a pepperoni pizza. I’m astounded by the motorbikes here. They drive six abreast in one lane, they drive in any lane they please and they continually honk at one another. I’m sure I was ripped off by my cab driver, and part of my right foot seems to be having hot flashes.
Just talked to my mom, it’s 12:30 there, it was good to hear her voice and I wanted her to know I’m safe. But it was good to speak with her, for her to hear my voice so she knows I’m safe.
I wander how they’d do here. It would just seem too peculiar.
I am definitely still acclimating. I am T-minus two hours arrived after all. A sunglasses peddler has just stumbled into my café and the English-speaking man sitting behind me reminds him that those sunglasses are not Oakley’s and that he works for the company. (Should I mention I went to school with his son? I decide against it. Not that I was contemplating saying it aloud, best to keep your head down in a new place eh? Besides, I doubt the sunglass peddler relates to Shane Oakley much on a personal level.
Funny. Neither did I).
The tourists are very international here, perhaps more so than Europe. How lucky am I to get to do this. People always say they would like to… and I’ve taken that ellipsis and turned it into a prologue.
Back when Southeast Asia was just a dream borne while dating Kyle, or reading Tim O’Brien. Or perhaps it was all of it, perhaps none.
I shower and nap in the hotel room and thoroughly enjoy air conditioning for the first time in my life. After eating, I ventured out to Pham Ngu Lao to see what the backpacker neighborhood had to offer. Sun swelled down as motorbikes kicked up dirt and I walked in circles until I was thoroughly lost, guidebook in hand halfway to Chinatown. (It seems every major city has a Chinatown). A cyclo rider convinces me to take a ride and I sit back and become the definition of tourist, for they are the only ones who ride in the cyclos. He sucks up my money when I pay and before I know it I have paid several dollars too many. My mind feels like sludge and I am sick of this “guerilla capitalism” that is already holding me captive.
Elisa has arrived as scheduled and we exchange text messages while her plane taxis the gate, and she finds her bearings in Tan Son Airport. She comes in, and chat over bananas and peanut butter, high on the prospect of 12 days to explore a place, because you always remember the smell.
—> Afternoon in the War Remnants Museum.
We wander through replicas of prisoner camps, gaze at grainy black & white photographs of Vietnamese in pain.
Everything is written in Vietnamese and English. We find our way upstairs, an exhibit showing posters from countries who were against United States’ involvement in the war.
There is no memory, no stereotype.
An American is just another tourist with dollars to spend.
On a six hour bus to Phnom Penh, it is July 6th but I feel like we have done much more today. Something to note: Elisa and I went shopping in a Vietnamese supermarket and I purchased my second corkscrew abroad. The first was in Paris and now Vietnam, specifically Saigon. Fitting as France colonized Vietnam.
I was refused pho in a restaurant, what else? We walked ourselves on a tour and Elisa was an amazing navigator.
We are finally out of the city and I love it. Feels much more relaxing than the constant motorcycle hum and the beeps of their horns as we play frogger crossing the street.
We roll into customs at the Vietnam/Cambodian border. A man takes Elisa and I’s passports and jumps into a bicycle and rides away. We stand nervous, though the man has assured us he’ll back soon after doing administrative work for our visas. Return he does and we have stamps and stickers in our passports in exchange for the 25 dollars we gave him. The line going through customs is comprised solely of those people in our Open Tour Bus, an air conditioned bus ride filled by tourists going to tourist destinations. I walk through customs and am shunted to the quarantine room. My face is noticeably anxious as I go through scenarios of getting stuck in Cambodia. One of the men there takes my temperature and tells me I’m fine. His colleague says “Smile! In Cambodia, we smile.” I do so reluctantly, aware that I will be able to get back on the bus. The man who told me to smile speaks impeccable English and talks of graduate school and doctorate degrees like its nothing.
He is no doubt the nicest local I’ve encountered yet.
Elisa joins me, gets her temperature taken and after a few words, we go back outside to board the bus twenty-five dollars lighter and healthy enough to enter the former Khmer empire.
I am perusing old emails with my airplane pillow inflated around my neck. The Chinese/Vietnamese (?) women across from Elisa and I address me as princess. My iPod and inflatable pillow must look pretty peculiar to them. I turn my attention back to the ruffling of papers in my hands:
“The Vietnamese plant the rice.
The Cambodians watch it grow.
And the Laos listen to it grow.”
Funny moment to be written amidst the bumps of the road and the dark of the moon: We bought rolls (which have something sweet in the center of them), white cheddar and pork tenderloin. We munch with the other Chinese women gazing on. The bus has stopped in front of a Cambodian rest stop/restaurant.
The bus is rolling and my grip is uneven as I clutch a wine bottle in one hand and a plastic water bottle in the other. The wine sloshing about my knees as I force it in the plastic bottle, something that has proved to be extremely entertaining to both Elisa and I and our princess court across the aisle watching for what those peculiar yellow-haired girls will do next. The road is bumpy, the sky is dark and around me is a buzz of bilabial and lquid sounds, cacophony to a head that understands English alone. There is Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean perhaps, but no English, no Romantic language where I might guess a noun by its feminine ending.
The ever-present beeeppp pervades all as we surge confident down the road, Phnom Penh or bust! Pensive dusk-covered fields around me, Asia chatters in words I can’t see. I talk tongues to myself as if trying to make conversation, a Westerner, a bus, and the night outside.