Thursday, February 3, 2011

Love Me Some Scary Creature Liqueur

People on the river make what they call "Whiskey" and marinate a creature in it. In fact, from what I gather they begin the marination when the river snake snake, scorpion, cobra, or insanely huge poisonous centipede still moves with life. After it dies of alcohol poisoning it is positioned in good display. This is not the first time I've come across this sort of thing, but definitely the most shocking display. The woman selling these in a small village called Whiskey Village informed me this will cure pretty much any problem I have and some of the bottles even have instructions printed on the label sort of like what you find on a bottle of cough syrup. In the end I bought the one with the Giant Centipede and drank nearly half of it on the spot as I thought about all of my problems. No, really though, I did buy it to serve as a nice addition to my liqueur cabinet.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Morning Alms in Luang Prabang

Around the corner from where we are staying the monks make their morning rounds and the local residents provide alms, a Buddhist ritual. This takes place at around dawn when they quietly linger down from the monastery in small groups. They're given sticky rice, and perhaps some other food, but I'm not quite sure what. All around Luang Prabang there are signs asking people to please respect this process by being discreet with photographs and making sure to remain lower than the monks as they walk by.

Admittedly, here I am, a tourist taking photographs of this process and already feeling a bit guilty, though discreet, low and still I was. At the same time, I couldn't believe what a group of middle aged French tourists were doing. Coming out of nowhere they practically ran at the monks snapping pictures with a flash directly in their faces. One group actually took turns so that each of them could have a shot standing in front of them as they walked by. It was a chaos of flashing, shouting, laughing and posing, which to me, seemed like a throwback to the colonialism past. Why the hell you would want a picture of yourself in front of them with a big shitty grin on your face is beside me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Welcome To The Jungle

Beijing at this time of the year is the equivalent of a winter desert, a cold and windy desert. I don't say this with exaggeration as there hasn't been a hint of precipitation in more than two months. For this reason, Luhan and I decided to escape to somewhere with sun, moisture, and a little edge. We are in the jungle in Laos. At the moment, we're in Luang Prabang and I'll get to that in another post, but in the meantime I wanted to write a bit about our last 4 days deep in the jungle.

Deep in the jungle we were, but not entirely without comfort and I would even go as far as to say bliss. Both of us like to work hard and play hard we do as well. We stayed in one of five bungalows built by a German couple about ten years ago. Comprised mainly of local teak wood, stone and bamboo, the bungalow was a sanctuary. Beautiful furniture imported from Thailand, a stone enclosed outdoor shower and a deep bathtub below french windows that peered out onto an enormous veranda overlooking the Nham Khan river. It would be difficult to think of anywhere else in the world I could more thoroughly enjoy my novel, "The Quiet American" and ponder the 1950's U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the French colonialism that preceded it.

Having our base in place we set out on a seven hour hike through the surrounding jungle with our local guide. It was a grueling, but fascinating trek and I can't say I didn't relish in the fact that the exercise alone meant something to me after all the beerlaos I had been drinking. Throughout this journey we would come across two tribes, the Khmer, who fled from Cambodia during the Khemer Rouge and the Mong who migrated from Mongolia about 50 years ago. Besides the jungle itself this is what we were mainly going to see. Although encouraged, we took very few pictures of the villagers after we were simultaneously overcome with this awkward notion of photographing at will. It really just seemed unfair and invasive.

In terms of both of these tribes, I must say, these were in fact the most remote people I have seen. They seemed a bit more distant than even the autonomous groups in the mountains of Nepal we visited last year. Upon entering the Khmer village the first thing that struck me was the obvious abundance of children and even more obvious lack of birth control. Whats more is that these children were mainly naked and caked in dirt and what appeared to be ash. At the same time they all seemed to have the sniffles which seemed a strange phenomenon to be considering the heat. Needless to say, they were happy as most children are. We walked around for a bit then sat silently and observed a man melting metal so that he could craft new knives to prepare for the slash and burn agricultural warfare they would soon unleash in various parts of the mountain. I had our guide ask him about the origin of the metal to be melted. After translating, the man showed us small pieces of cars from which I have no clue how he obtained and then with a grin pulled out a piece of what he said was an American bomb.

Further into the day we reached the Mong tribe buried way up in the hills. The families and villages were scattered and we made short visits. Like the Khmer, the Mongs had many children as well. In fact, our guide introduced us to a man who had two wives and an accumulation of 21 children. When we met him inside his smoke filled home, he was preparing soup and one of his daughters lay on a bamboo bed beside him while his wives and remaining children were split up between his pig farm and chicken farm far outside of the village. Inside his home I saw various hanging calendars with what I believe were Laos superstars, all fading and browning from the moisture. I also saw what I think was a framed wedding picture also hanging, but unlike the calendars it was preserved in a cloudy plastic bag. This one daughter of his was chosen to be the one that could go to school and therefore, I joked that she was sort of the princess - they agreed.

The remaining trails, sharp switchbacks and creek walking led us to see very little wildlife. Our guide explained that there is in fact very little wildlife because anything and everything will be eaten. Every once in a while we would hear a gunshot and we talked about the possibility of which animal it might have been, a bird, a monkey, a rat, the occasional leopard, all fair game and present in this jungle. Near the end of our little adventure we came across the remains on a tiny fire and some feathers. Someone out gathering wood must have had a quick lunch.

As cliche as it may be, yes, we also rode elephants, or an elephant I should say. What a spiky beast this was, but strong indeed trudging us along through the river and patiently stopping and starting at each command from our guide as he took nearly 30 pictures. Why do we want 30 pictures of us on the elephant? Really, why do we want pictures at all? I can't be sure that pictures have much capturing power in this environment that occupies many more senses than are accessible by photograph alone. On the other hand, I love me some nice pictures.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How far will Chinese companies go to avoid creativity?

Here we have a brown paper baguette bag that I got from the supermarket yesterday. Look closely and you'll see the brand is "Wekipedia." I don't even know where to start with this one, it's just so absurd. I just really wish I could ask the person who made this decision to explain their thought process and perhaps a few other names they were throwing around. But then I'd have to ask the people who named the various apartment complexes such as Beijing Hills, Moma, Upper East Side, Central Park, and wait, the fast food place KXC. The list goes on and on, but my favorite to date is this one. I don't think anything more can be said about it, just bizarre. I love it here.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oh, the things you see in China

Two photos I've recently snapped on my phone:

Even in the metropolis of Beijing, you'll still find a few folks using what appears to be a home phone on the street. I'm not quite sure how it works, but I'd like to get one. It's much more durable than my iphone.

Last weekend in my hotel I spotted this ashtray (at least I think so) with a no spitting reminder.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Begnas Lake and the Royal Trek

Pokhara is the Nepal town that everyone raves about. Both Luhan and I have always felt that if everyone is talking about something it probably isn't really that good, so we opted to stay a little outside the city and away from the thousands of people trying to end up there. We eventually planned to get into Pokhara, but got stranded in Jomsom for two days...more on that later.

So, we ended up at the lake Begnas Resort for two days. To get into this place someone comes to pick you up in a canoe and you travel for about a half hour to the other side of the lake where they've carved out a nice spot with cottages, gardens, and an all natural swimming pool. Again, a very relaxing place indeed. It's a bit hot during the day, but in the morning and evening it's quite pleasant. They also serve deboned fish from the lake.

My favorite hike came from this part of the trip. From Lake Begnas we climbed up to get on a trail called the Royal Trek after Prince Charles hiked it in 1993. It was about 2 hours before we reached the highest point of the mountain. You can see a video here. As was still pretty early we caught the tail end of the sun rise and were able to look out into the highest mountains in the world. I wish we were smarter because if we had had sleeping bags we could have camped up there.

Nargarkot to Bhaktapur

With every intention of escaping Kathmandu ASAP we decided to head up to Nargarkot, a mountain about a two hour drive outside the city with supposed views of distant snow capped mountains. A woman I worked with at the British Council suggested a place to stay called the Fort Resort and it really was a superb stay. Both Luhan and I are incredibly picky about our hotel choices as those that have traveled with us before probably know. Both of us have had our days of roughin' it, but it's comfort we seek now. The Fort has a one main building and stone cottages spread out over the mountain side. Anyway, the Fort turned out to be the best place we stayed during the whole trip. Set up about 7,000 ft both the sunrise and sunset are something to be seen as you actually look down on the clouds and mountains. We stayed there for two days and basically just read books and relaxed in the sun.

Heading out of Nargarkot we wanted to check out the ancient city of Bhaktapur. I thought it was within striking distance by foot, after a grueling 6 hour hot, sun baked walk we gave up and hitched a ride. The people of Bhaktapur still lead an almost pure indigenous lifestyle, in this city built in the 15th century. It really is a pleasant place, but the motorcycles just kill it. Back to Kathmandu, then off to Pokhara.