By Marc Heiden, since 1997.
January 25, 2012
(ED: In retrospect, I should have just given him the $5. I had lost perspective by then.)
I had a random brief conversation with a Vietnamese guy who said he was from Wisconsin a few days ago. I like how, in America, nobody is necessarily a foreigner - anybody can be from anywhere.
I'm at the nicer hotel now. Check-out from the dump was easy enough. They wanted to pull a trick with the minibar (e.g. charge me for drinks that were supposedly missing), but I saw it coming and told them I'd taken photos of the minibar right after I checked in and right after I checked out, so they let that one lie. (Kind of funny, though - drinks in minibars in Vietnam are cheaper than they are on the street. I think they're unfamiliar with the concept.) I'm paying way more for this hotel than any other on the trip - $17 - but that does include a good buffet breakfast, a palatial room, and open-the-front-door-for-you service. (Also laundry. I was at the end of my shirts.)
I'm back in Hanoi, catching the flight back to Bangkok this afternoon. It was a beautiful old wooden junk, very comfortable - we sailed for a few hours, and then set anchor at sea, surrounded by small islands, like the scales on the back of a dragon ("long" means "dragon"), and slept.
(ED: more news from the Western world: a friend wrote to me about the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, which had just happened.)
I hadn't heard about the college shooting - I was away from television and the internet for a few days. There are a couple of Asian English-language news channels at my current hotel, though, and they're covering it extensively. A lot of the coverage seems to be about whether Asian students in the US are going to suffer some kind of backlash as a result. Personally, I'm more concerned about what this will mean for creative writing students. They have it hard enough already.
I'm off to see the embalmed corpse of Ho Chi Minh this morning, allowing me to check off the #3 spot on the Dead Communist Leaders In Boxes list. (I can't say when I'll be able to get to China for #2, though.)
You raise a great point about Kim Il-Sung. I did some research, and he is apparently on view in Pyongyang; also, there are apparently only four Dead-Leaders-in-Boxes in total. (I read a great book by the son of the guy who came up with the process to embalm Lenin. I think he said that a lot of those Eastern Bloc dictator fuck-heads went for the embalming, too, but as the upkeep was expensive and everyone hates those guys now, they were allowed to rot. Stalin got the leader-in-a-box treatment too - Google around and you can find a supremely creepy spy photo of him lying next to Lenin. But then they buried his ass in concrete.)
Ho's tomb, by the way, was nearly identical to Lenin's. It's grey on the outside and doesn't have the same pyramid shape, but inside, the design is exactly the same, and they're both bathed in this eerie rose-colored light. Russians still handle the corpse-maintenance for them, so maybe they did the design, too. Both men are short, kind of waxy, and appear to be sleeping with a mild discomfort.
December 31, 2011
Filing this away for later:
"The orangutan iPad program, known as Apps for Apes, was started after the gorilla keeper at the zoo mentioned on her Facebook page that she'd like to get some iPads for her gorillas to play with, Rafert explained. It was kind of a joke, but a zoo volunteer took it seriously and donated a used iPad to the zoo. It turned out that the gorillas didn't really enjoy the iPad — "they are more stoic," said Rafert — but the orangutans went wild.
Now the orangutans' keeper, Trish Khan, lets the orangutans play with the iPad about twice a week. The orangutans are not allowed to hold it because they are so strong that they would probably wind up cracking it in half. Khan holds it up to their cages and allows them to interact with it."
I think it is absolutely critical that we learn how every kind of ape feels about the iPad.
Also, in case anybody was concerned, the elderly chimpanzee named Cheeta who starred in the Tarzan movies and died last week was not the elderly chimpanzee named Cheeta who starred in the Tarzan movies and became the world's greatest living painter. That was a different elderly chimpanzee named Cheeta who starred in the Tarzan movies. (In a sense, if we can indulge in some post-modernism here, it seems that every elderly chimpanzee named Cheeta starred in the Tarzan movies.)
Instead of painting, this particular chimpanzee seems to have dedicated his retirement to throwing poop, and far be it from me to suggest that is anything other than a totally worthwhile pursuit. Certainly more useful than anything I've been up to lately.
Happy New Year!
January 26, 2011
Crappy bus ride last night. They subsidize the cost of these (cheap) tickets, as I think I mentioned, by getting kick-backs from restaurant stops along the way and the hotel they drop you off at. (You don't have to stay there, but since it's 5:30am and you want to stumble into a real bed, you tend to be amenable to the first decent room on offer.) Last night, they did a 45 minute restaurant stop at 11:30pm. Everyone had been asleep by then, and falling asleep had taken a lot of work in those chairs. So, having to wake up for a "break" put the mood of a mute riot in the air. Everyone ignored the restaurant, of course. There was a ferocious mutual sulk between the passengers and the restauranteurs.
I'm in Hue now, about four hours north of Hoi An, still around the center of Vietnam. I didn't have internet access last night. The hotel shut everything off at 10:30pm. I was cranky as hell this morning, because the girls at the hotel offered to call the bus company and arrange for a pickup at the hotel, which was nice - but they screwed up the time. It was an 8:00am bus, and they told me the bus would pick me up at the hotel at 7:50am. Fair enough. But they actually meant 7:15am, so I couldn't shower or get dressed or eat or pack properly (because I didn't know about the error until 7:10am). And I was annoyed, because the bus station was five minutes away - why in the hell would I want to be picked up 45 minutes early for a bus station that I could walk to within five minutes? They didn't even manage to properly confirm the seat - me and the other two travelers from the hotel had to take the hotel's van to the bus station anyway, where we were the last people on the bus, and I squeezed in next to a laser-printer box in the only seat that was left. (Seats are supposed to be assigned.)
I need to find a hotel in Hue. It's raining, which is revolutionary. Part of the reason I'm ahead of schedule on this trip is that I haven't lost any time to weather - it rained the very first morning I was in Bangkok, while I was sleeping, and nothing but sun ever since. It's nice to see the rain.
You're my only email tonight; I'm exhausted, and I'll probably fall asleep right after I write this. Today was sort of emblematic of the whole trip through Vietnam: hours of annoyance with a handful of moments that made it all worthwhile (mostly).
Unfortunately, it's one of those places that you can't really go by yourself - you have to go with a tour group - and there were 34 people (not including the driver) in 30 seats, so you can imagine how comfortable that was. The bus was a rattle-trap. (It finally broke down about a mile away from our hotel at the end of the day, so I walked the rest of the way back.) And when you get that many strangers crushed in so closely together, inevitably, tempers flare. My temper was fine - I spaced out with my iPod most of the time - but there were a bunch of Israelis who were really, really loud and kept ignoring requests from the rest of the bus to keep their voices down, so there wound up being a shouting match over it. (One of the Israelis compared the bus to Nazi Germany, which is how you know things have gotten weird.)
(ED: A friend in the U.S. emailed to let me know that Kurt Vonnegut had died.)
I'm glad I heard it from you. I'm at a hotel in Vietnam, near the former DMZ, and there is a maniacal Vietnamese four-year old running around behind me. I don't think he was going to bring it up.
I woke up in a strange place is the work of Marc Heiden, born in 1978, author of two books (Chicago, Hiroshima) and some plays, and an occasional photographer.
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Written by Marc Heiden, 1997-2011.