Archive for February, 2008

February 29, 2008
Rating: UmRating: WellRating: OKRating: NiceRating: Kickin
(0 votes)
Loading...
Filed Under (Travelog) by justin
Thus concludes a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.
 
Exertion encourages sociability. I met more foreigners on the Wall today than downtown yesterday. Only the rare exception didn’t meet my gaze. I got a few nods, and one guy even managed a ‘Hey’ between pants. I’m crediting the difficulty of the climb with the difference. It could be the commercial nature of downtown that caused the withdrawal, but I don’t think so.

And the wall hike was certainly exerting. Anyone who has been to the wall or talked to someone who has been knows it’s more than just walking. 

Jasmine Tea

A successful climb means mounting countless indefinitely spaced steps and uncomfortably pitched ramps. 
[Refill jasmine tea here] Add snow, then have people walk all over it to pack it down and glaze it over. I hoisted myself by the handrail as much as I walked. The sun and traffic had melted it down by the time I made my return trip, but I got up in time to catch frost on the trees at the top.

I didn’t really feel bad dismissing the vendors with a bu yao and a hand wave, and I was ready to help a few English speakers learn the art, but they weren’t overly receptive. Dan paid the full price to get his name engraved on a bronze plate despite my warning. The Chinese man next to me agreed with my estimation that it was too expensive, but Dan didn’t believe either of us. Or didn’t understand the local’s concurrence with my evaluation. Or didn’t care. I didn’t when I first came. Too bad the exchange rate only favors those who understand economics.

—————

Another lesson learned: Know the names of the places you want to go. Then, when you lose your original directions and no one at the tea house has an English map of Beijing, you can still get there.

To be fair, I wasn’t stranded. I could get to various places and find my way from there, by taxi or by memory of the previous day’s events. But that was hardly ideal when I was trying to get to a specific new place.

My good choice? Looking for the directions in the tea house before I tried to get on the bus. And having a cell phone and English speaking friends.
 
(18 Jan 08 | Beijing)


February 28, 2008
Rating: UmRating: WellRating: OKRating: NiceRating: Kickin
(0 votes)
Loading...
Filed Under (Ponderings, Travelog) by justin
Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy. 
 
Buddhists call it enlightenment and describe it in terms of repeatedly beating yourself against a wall until, dazed and bloody, you turn go the other way. Psychologists only slightly less violently describe it in terms like absorption, saturation, and explosion. Literary types like to label it inspiration and credit their muse, while more religiously it’s known as an epiphany. For most of us, it’s finally getting it.

I read on several travel sites that you shouldn’t give money to child beggars, but I could not make sense of that. Wouldn’t children be more deserving of assistance? A few blocks to along Sisowath Quay was enough to make me appreciate the guidebooks’ insight. The child-beggars just bothered me. I didn’t know why or how. I just knew they did.

Child beggars

My insight came as I was making use of the wireless internet in Café Fresco. The café is on the corner lacking a nice view of the river, but providing plenty of passersby for visual consumption. I was thoughtfully gazing past my computer and out the window when a boy forcibly arrested my attention. He was poorly dressed but happily jumping around on the sidewalk while his mother talked nearby. He was enjoying his view of the café customers. He met my gaze and reciprocated my smile. It was the same happy interaction I’ve had with countless other kids on this trip. The wave was what killed it. It tipped Mom of about his happy interaction with a foreigner and quickly intervened. She inverted his hand and helped him into his practiced supplicant posture. The smile faded, the happiness evaporated and he was again the disturbing beggar boy.

Call me naïve, but forced depression just rubs me the wrong way. As does exploitation. His mother’s exploitation of her son’s helplessness. Her exploitation of my magnanimity toward her son. I’d have gladly played with him, taught him some English, bought him a meal and generally had a grand ol’ time of it. But I resented being lied to. She didn’t money to feed him. He wasn’t sad, poor and needy. He was still uneducated enough to be content with his low-income life. His mother was working hard to change that.

Perhaps that’s part of how we need to act as children to enter the Kingdom.
 
(04 Feb 08 | Phnom Penh) 


February 27, 2008
Rating: UmRating: WellRating: OKRating: NiceRating: Kickin
(0 votes)
Loading...
Filed Under (Ponderings, Travelog) by justin
Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.
No, it's not Thailand, but it fits.
 
I steeled myself against the onslaught of vendors as I crossed Tha Na Phra An exiting the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaen complex. Swarming vendors were no match for my well-practiced, detached disinterest. Proud of my ability to shun faux Bangkok, I waded through the stream of tourists to check my planned course of travel against my guidebook. As I hadn’t eaten all day, I gave in to the urge to visit the Lonely Planet-pimped restaurant. The crowd of tourists inside doubled the severity of my self-mocking. I sheepishly ordered from the all-English menu and tried to hide my guidebook.

Waiting for my food, I watched the amulet seller outside the window. He hit up Thai and farang with indiscriminate futility. Eventually, a waiter took him out a meal. I was surprised to find myself thinking of his work as his career, his pop-up table as his desk, his guidebook-recommended restaurant at his back as his regular lunch break.

I surreptitiously scanned my guide’s description of my next stop. I rejoiced to find it would be less crowded and kicked myself for not following the advice to beat the crowd at the palace. I imagined wandering the palace alone and sitting in the café surrounded by Thai co-clientelle, realizing with a start the café would not exist, nor would the palace be open for viewing if it weren’t for the hateful tourists. Nor would I have a guidebook telling me what to see and how to see it.

As I visit new places, I’m always tempted to throw away the tourist help and just wander—avoiding anything touristy. Sure, I’d probably miss the key sites, but I’d see the ‘real’ city. The city that is supported by the dollars, euros, yuan and yen of the tourists. I’d have seen something authentic, but it would not be the Bangkok they write books about—in Thai or English. The tourists are part of the experience. The tourist traps are a legitimate part of the city. No, not the whole thing, but part of it. A thoroughly enjoyable, explorable, empowering part.

I loved my meal.
 
(30 Jan 08 | Bangkok) 


February 26, 2008
Rating: UmRating: WellRating: OKRating: NiceRating: Kickin
(0 votes)
Loading...
Filed Under (Ponderings, Travelog) by justin

Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.

Glass elevator(Apologies to RD)


I had a few hours to kill at Suvarnabhumi Airport, so I did what I always do at airports—I got something to drink and started walking. Suvarnabhumi is really a rather nice little airport. Lots of glass and steel. I gathered stares as I wandered the concourse, striding confidently toward the unused gates at the end of the airport, but I must not be the only person who kills airport time that way because the security guards at the end just flashed the famous Thai smile as I walked all the way to the obviously empty gate, turned around and headed off the way I came. Or maybe they were laughing, assuming I was lost and too shy to get help.

It was on the way back down the concourse that I noticed the offices outside the glass windows. For reasons perhaps only known to a now-forgotten group of Thai architects, they presented not only the operations of the airport to its directors, but also the all-too-personal actions of those directors and their subordinates to the general public. I couldn’t help watching for at least a few minutes. Most people seemed aware of their ocular defenselessness. Until they stepped into the glass elevator.

The first man to catch my attention was the man with the balding comb-over. He had walked down the hall like everyone else, I assume. I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about it, anyway. But as soon as the mirror doors closed, he started smoothing his few remaining hairs. He continued to do so until the elevator reached its destination two floors away and he anticipated exposure. He was blissfully forgetful of the glass walls of the elevator. The shoe tier and spit-polisher was apparently equally oblivious.

I think we all do that when we feel protected. Once the doors close on the world, we are free to honestly examine ourselves to make sure we give the right impression when they reopen.

Except sometimes the doors don’t close.

Before I explain that, I have to ask your impression of the men I described. Did you judge them or lose respect for them? I can’t speak for you, but I will freely share that I had no bad feelings for the men. I walked down my glass-walled concourse smiling at the view through the window they’d accidentally opened into their lives. I sat down at my own gate and gazed out on the world through 180° glass that was both my window to the world and its window to me. All at once I saw what was staring me in the face—I, too, was in my own glass elevator.

The world is a glass elevator, really. Everything we do is displayed for everyone around us.

My necessary extension of that thought demanded the identification of our doors. And isn’t it simple enough? We all erect walls. Walls of apathy or action. Feints to disguise our true desires and fears. If people care to, they can see past them. Most of us don’t bother. We are content living and viewing willful exposition, ignoring the hidden truth.

I want glass doors.

And a life worthy of them.
 
(21 Jan 08 | Bangkok) 


February 25, 2008
Rating: UmRating: WellRating: OKRating: NiceRating: Kickin
(0 votes)
Loading...
Filed Under (Travelog) by justin

Thus continues a series of notes about my recent travels. I didn’t post them earlier because they were mostly written as notes or based on notes scribbled in free moments in cafés, restaurants, train stations and buses. I have tried to modify them only enough to make sense of them, not to make them read-worthy.


America needs to cool its melting pot.

Green Singapore

After two days in Singapore, I like culture. I did before, but I wasn’t as aware of it as I am now. There’s really too much to say about Singapore to do it any kind of justice in a single entry, and I’m too lazy to do more, so you’re not going to get nearly as much as you should. But it will be worth your money.

Now apply the last part of the preceding paragraph to my time in Singapore.

After getting started on my way by my impeccable hostess Vivien, I spent most of my one free day in Singapore wandering. It was unlike any wandering I’ve ever done before. Actually, I suppose my experience truly began on the way from the airport, when Vic and May took me for an Indian breakfast. Pulled tea will probably not satisfy the tea sipper, but it immediately addicted the tea gulper in me and single-handedly replaced my urge to sleep—despite a basically sleepless night—with a moderate sense of wanderlust.

So I spent the day going from the Malay Village to Little India, with the interim spent in that unique conglomeration of culture that defines Singapore. Collect in a bag three Asian/Pacific cultures, add a hearty dash of Western consumerism, and shake well. Place the mixture in a tropical island paradise and allow to settle. The result is happy, hearty little loaf of Singapore.

Unlike the West, where multiple cultures add their distinct flavor to an indiscriminate, yet dominant seed culture, those cultures mingle in Singapore with remarkable resilience. Yes, they do at times influence each other, but the general distinction is clear. The chemical equivalent distinguishes Singapore’s colloid from the West’s solution. The historical discerns the West’s Greek empire and Singapore’s Roman.

I was not only the only non-Indian in the restaurant, but the only non-Indian who passed it during the time of my meal.

Perhaps no better example of this multiculturalism exists than Gospel Light Christian Churcn. I went to the second English service and the second Filipino service. That means I skipped the earlier counterparts of the services I attended, both Chinese services, the Indian service, and the Indonesian service. This wasn’t nationalistic disintegration, though. No, I was invited to and welcomed at all of them.

I chose some more pulled tea with friends, a Malay dinner, and repacking for my Thai excursion, with carefully laid plans to fill my three-day return to this cultural paradise.
 
(21 Jan 08 | Singapore) 
—————–

UPDATE: Aforementioned carefully laid plans achieved the fate common to mice and men, as I was sick for my entire return visit and spent my time sitting in Vivien’s apartment reading and working on things online.