Tuesday, June 3, 2008

We Should Have Launched the Rocket Launcher

Sunday, November 18, 2007

(16): Last Day in the Greatest City in the World

(*) this was to be our last day in hanoi. this was going to be monumentally depressing. upon your first wide eyed arrival in hanoi, you have no idea what to believe. your brain cannot take it. your brain is overcome with stimuli from all your senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, and whatever else you can muster. it truly is amazing. from the minute you step within the bounds of hanoi the city, you never get a silent moment. it is strange because in chicago, there are certain places you can accidentally find yourself in, where for the most part, silence reigns supreme. or at least you can get those few moments where you can sit with yourself and enjoy a zen like moment.

well, the amazing thing about hanoi, is that none of those fucking places exist in hanoi. at first, its annoying. irritating. and eventually infuriating. you just want one damn minute of peace & quiet to yourself. but then, for whatever reason that escapes my analysis, it becomes a part of the city's overall charm. if i ever had to live in hanoi, i think i would hang myself after not too long in my apartment just to allow silence in my head. but in terms of a city through which one is traveling, it gives you everything you need, crave, and desire. there is never a boring or dull moment. there is always somewhere else to go and visit and view. there is constantly something to be discovered or to be seen that you had not found in your days before. its a beautiful city upon which a traveler may write their words on the face of today.

with that said, we had one last day to make our mark in hanoi - not that we had failed to do so up until this point. sarge & myself traveled to the army museum with its outdoor showcase. here is a picture of the flag tower, nestled within the army museum's grounds, followed by a picture of the army museum's grounds taken from the first or 2nd floor of the flag tower.

this represents one of the initially difficult, and still somewhat perturbing thing, to get your mind over when viewing these museums in vietnam. its not necessarily the pieces of warfare displayed by the vietnamese officials. although, the small inscriptions which are next to these american military aircrafts and weapons are somewhat entertaining and are the equivalent of: "the courageous Bob from Infantry Division 3 captured this tank with the use of a towel all for the glory of the people of Vietnam".

instead, if you look at the bottom picture above, you'll see the museum officials attempted to recreate a crash scene of some type of american fighter plane. in actuality, if you read the inscriptions around the "crash site", there are supposedly 2 airplanes the north vietnamese shot down. traveling with sarge, whose father actually fought in the "vietnam war" or the "american war" as they refer to it in vietnam, these types of sites & displays seem almost brutal and disrespectful. a museum is often thought of as sterile because the history it refers to is often so far in the past, it is incapable of being stirred alive in the minds of most visitors. who really gets that teary eyed anymore over the battle of waterloo & its paintings & its statistics? however, when i went to these museums, i saw the flash frame pictures of my teachers & professors who were in the vietnam war & spoke of its complexities & evils & horrors.

i suppose the museum did its job in that i certainly had to reflect on the human cost of war. i was, and still am, confused on whether or not these museums have it right in taking it to the extremes of recreating death scenes to display how they had victoriously defeated such infiltrators. but if i am to think of that, the obvious effective counter argument is that the invading american forces at times forgot or never even chose to think of morals / respect / human cost of life.

i appreciated how the museums in north vietnam discussed the american war / vietnam war because it made me realize, once again, how all 3 governments were wrong: the north vietnamese government, the south vietnamese government, and the united states government. all 3 ideologies underpinning these 3 governments still are wrong. the problem is not the enemy. quite the opposite. all 3 of these governments tend to find themselves labeling the negatives of the other side & demonizing their opponents, instead of merely justifying why they themselves are able to make lives better. once again, it was the idea of "governments" that got in the way of people simply getting along. governments creating conflicts and molding barriers instead of alleviating conflicts and eradicating barriers.

but at least the museum got me thinking, which i think is all we should ever ask out of museums - whether that thought is right or wrong is not the ultimate step of the process. the mere creation of dialogue is critical.

on a side note - as if there were a main point in this from which a "side" may diverge - we had run into rufus at the army museum. we wished each other pleasantries & safe travels as we knew we would probably never see him again. rufus, if you're out there, you're an intense dude. keep on keepin' on.

(*) it is important to recognize that, despite this being our last day in wonderful hanoi, we were dragging ass. we were h-u-n-g-o-v-e-r. every one of our steps was deliberate and measured. no extra energy was espoused for any reason. even our trip up the flag tower turned out to be ridiculous. we got up there - maybe about 7 stories. an interesting note - visitors had not been able to ascend those steps of the flag tower until the past 5 years or so. we stood up there and took in all of hanoi for a good 15 minutes. mainly we did so b/c we were really tired and did not want to walk back down those stairs.

eventually, our eyes had taken in as most beauty of a miniature skyline as we could stand, so we took the stairs back down. except this time, we took the other set of stairs down. well, the person who was working "security" at the top of the tower (ie text messaging with her friends & reading the paper) failed to flag us down & tell us that those steps certainly lead down. they lead us down about 5 flights, or 5/7 of the way down the tower, to a small cove where incense burned. i still have no idea what we stumbled upon or what this stairway's use was. perhaps a small prayer chamber for the guards that were working at the tower - but it was a dead end. dehydrated, hungover, nautious, and unable to feel my legs, when i reached this dead end, sarge thought something went horribly wrong as i let out a "you gotta be fuckin kiddin me".

we laughed at ourselves in a small delirium in this small alcove within the flag tower. then we cried & wept in each others' arms as we realized the dumb tourists would have to walk back up a dizzying 5 floor staircase, and then walk back down the 7 stories or so.

after we finally exited the flag tower, we walked over to the park, and just sat there for a good 30 minutes, wanting to do nothing but sit. here's a picture of how happy we are with our new found seats.

ok, i guess i'm happier than sarge.

in any case, we headed off to the ho chi minh mausoleum. closed. so despite me being to the ho chi minh mausoleum approximately 5 times, i never got to go in & visit uncle ho. but here is a picture or 2 of the outside of his mausoleum - it reminds me of a college quad. minus the students who the night before had absolutely made their parents proud by socializing in the piss & hormonal excess that is the local watering holes.

(*) as the mausoleum was closed, again , this time b/c they were preparing the site for their new year's celebration - the equivalent of america's fourth of july & uncle ho being roughly the equivalent of george washington - sarge & myself decided to give the ho chi minh museum a shot. this ended up being a good call because, as the museum was closing in 30 minutes, they let us in for free. so let this be a lesson to you future travelers - if you show up late enough at certain places, you can be allowed free entry.

at first we went up the exit. we determined this was the wrong way after we had to fight against the flow of human traffic 6 people wide up 4 flights of stairs & saw the "exit" sign. it turns out the museum was a flowing one way only way to walk it. the museum began in this atrium with this impressive statue:

the museum continued through 4 or 5 floors - all very modern and rather impressive for a nation's hero. i say rather because, unfortunately, there were significant portions of the museum that were not in english. i'm not a traveler who expects everything to be in english, but then again, that is why i cannot say this museum was absolutely impressive. all in all, i had absolutely zero complaints for being let into this tribute to a national hero for free.

---------> we are continuously stared at by children in school uniforms. we ourselves seem to be walking museums at times. plus, it doesn't help we have been traveling for a bit and look even extra ridiculous then our normal every day level of ridiculousness.

(*) on our exit out of the museum, once again we ran into rufus. the guy is everywhere. i also ran into my driver friend who i had met a few days earlier when i had waited for sarge to arrive. rufus did not know that i knew my driver friend. rufus, being his intense self, got into a yelling match with my driver friend. i (tried to) apologize to my driver friend, shook his hand, and told him good luck with things. we bid rufus a goodbye as his intensity was a bit much. and then to take things full circle in this area of hanoi, sarge & myself ran into the local who had helped sarge find me the first day sarge ended up in hanoi.

these small social interactions prove the contradictions of the universe: how despite the vastness of the world & the billions of people in it, its still such a small, small world at times. cue the "its a small world after all" disney music.

(*) we went to go pick up our train tickets from the travel agency downtown by the lake for the rest of our trip.

(*) at some point sarge & myself returned to happy guy's restaurant to eat again. happy guy was happy. again.

(*) this time got to the hanoi hilton in time. talk about depressing. this was where the north vietnamese would hold prisoners - locals prior to the american / vietnam war and then including americans during the american / vietnam war. the former prison was set up in a very respectful and thought provoking manner. the original cells still stood where they had been erected since some time in the early 1900's. here is a picture of how they held the prisoners in one large room:

here is a picture of an actual small cell:

i continuously opened and then closed the small little steel flap. it made the most eerie sound in the world. i couldn't get over it. it spent chills down my spine. until sarge told me to shut the hell up and that, it was not perspective changing, but was rather annoying. one man's profanity is another man's lyric.

this is what you would see when you looked into the cell. look carefully.

i knew this was coming each time, and each time i would look into one of these cells, i still jumped a little. the curators' use of these silhouettes in these dark cells formed a significant impact on my psyche.

the hanoi hilton prison is ridiculously situated a stone's throw away from the current modern day hanoi hilton hotel. you are torn in half, as you see over the wall of the prison the amazing degrees of growth, economically, that the city is able to make in only the past 25-30 or so years. then you stare back at where you are standing, and you see a guillotine that was only used 25-30 years ago. that is one of the best things about vietnam - its contradictions and its extremes. the horrors of what humans will do to another in the name of a loose ideology, and the wonders what humans will do with another in the name of development. then you think "hilton" and then, inexplicably without warning, paris hilton pops into your head. your head then explodes, and you die in hanoi, vietnam from a severe brain aneurysm. finally. peace & quiet.

as we sat to enjoy the monument to those who died & were tortured at the hanoi hilton in its courtyard where the prisoners were allowed to interact, it started to rain. refusing to take a motorbike, we got to stepping back to our hostel with a bit of hustle in our step.

once the rain began to downpour, we found ourselves luckily enough in front of the restaurant where i had first ate in hanoi. through sarge, i would learn this was actually a korean restaurant. so i learned in hanoi that not only do i enjoy vietnamese dining, but i also enjoy the korean dining experience. during the thunderstorm, one of the "waitresses" removed a tile of some sort from the sidewalk & began digging feverishly. this lasted for the entirety of our meal. till this day, we still have no idea what the hell she was doing. but the meal was delicious.

(*) we traveled during the middle of the rainy season. there were those doomsdayers who said we would never make it an hour without being rained upon. wrong. it actually rained very few times while we were there, and we had exactly 0 days which were ruined on account of rain. the times where it did rain, we would simply stop under a sidewalk cafe's awning, order a bowl of noodles, a beer, relax for a bit - and by the time both of those liquid enhancements were finished, the rain would be done as well. it was almost like joe pesci's way of telling us as travelers to relax for a bit & take in the day. so thank you joe pesci.

we paid the hostel for our stays there, and took off. the only requirement we had for the evening was to catch our train leaving hanoi, and headed to danang, at 11pm. this gave us ample opportunity to head to Fam's Restaurant for our last night ever of .15 beer night. this also meant that things were about to get dicey - we were creating a combustible cocktail of three dangerous ingredients: (1) cheap alcohol (2) navigation requirements between 2 idiots & (3) time constraints.

well, at least we know how to turn the ordinary, mundane, everyday activities of an individual's life more exciting.

the details left in the journal are somewhat sketchy & not necessarily written legibly. here is what our specialists can decode from the journal entries describing sarge's & sniffles' .15 cent beer night.

(*) we were basically adopted by the vietnamese family. at the end of the night, as they were closing down shop, we were asked if we wanted to eat with the family. now, imagine that.

eat. with. the family. that owns. the restaurant. for free.

they will take the time to cook for you, and allow you to enter their domestic circle.

just try & eat with the family who owns the restaurant down your street. that is basically impossible. that is also a rather sacred time, at least from my familial experiences, when families sit down together to eat. and to invite a set of complete strangers - who are from half way across the world and who cannot communicate in your language - to eat at your dinner table. sarge & myself were completely blown away. not to mention we were drunk @ this point and starving. however, we politely declined, by attempting to explain we did not want to eat and then run to catch our train. but being invited to eat at their table with the entirety of the working family was not necessarily the oddest thing that happened.

let me explain.

myself & sarge were offered to sleep with the 2 waitresses.

let me explain.

we were offered to sleep with the 2 waitresses - by we're guessing either their mother or their aunt - she is referred to as Sister in previous topic discussions. now when i say "sleep", that is kind of exactly what i mean. it was so odd. so so so so odd. Sister comes up to sarge & myself. Sister points at me. she then lays her hands horizontally above her shoulder and moves her neck to the side - making the same gesture a small child would if they want to go to sleep, with the hands held together representing a pillow. so Sister makes this symbol, and then points to me. then, she points to the one waitress. we would later find out she is 20 years old. yes, certain investigatory steps were made - but only out of sheer curiosity. not to be outdone, Sister then points to Sarge, makes the same symbol, and then points to the 19 year old waitress with whom we were more familiar with as she had continuously served us.

sarge & myself immediately looked at each other, said "holy shit", laughed, and then finished our beers out of a sheer inability to do much of anything else. after 20 seconds, we both asked each other, "were we just offered her daughters?" followed by sarge's brilliant, "no way!", accompanied with a fist pound to the knee.

so just to recap here. Sister is in the top left. the girl beneath her is the 19 year old that Sister offered Sarge to "sleep with". i forgot which woman is 20 years old - i think the one that is right in front of me, on the viewer's right.

add more beers, and suddenly myself & sarge are attempting to exchange addresses with the family so we can send them a picture back with a thank you note of some card. this night was probably one of the top 3 nights we had in all of our trip. it was so much fun to realize you do not even need to speak the same language or come from remotely the same area in the world, in order to make new friends and enjoy each other's company.

we asked where the "toilet" was for the restaurant. the 19 year old told us it was just around the corner. well, the only thing right around the corner were the elevated train tracks with a truck parallel parked next to them. so, that became the public urinal for the next however many hours we were there. it was amazing we never got jumped heading back there. not to mention the fact we did not pass out ourselves from the fumes being aired out over three.

although desperately not wanting to leave, we knew we had to do the responsible thing and give ourselves a good 2 hours to make the 30 minute walk to the train station. by this time, we had consumed a good amount of beer. and by good, we mean there were bouts of stumbling with our 50 pound backpacks towards the train station. at the end of our evening, we asked for our check. the 19 year old woman looked at Sister and after some discussion, the end result was 35,000 dong. we were floored. we gave them 50,000 dong and some other pocket shrapnel, and told them thank you. we then giggled our way on to our next adventure.

on our walk to the train station, we attempted to wrap our minds around what had just happened - not only in regards to culturally what happened - but how our .15 beer night special just got even cheaper. granted the beers we were drinking were out of a keg and were very light. sarge & myself are not here to frat boy this one out and say, "dude, we drank x beers and y shots and z pints of snake blood last night". although we could. no, rather, this is only in the honor of proving a fiscal point.

the beers were light and smaller than your average beer served in the states. vietnamese people are a bit tinier, and so use a bit tinier glasses.

we're guessing we each had about 8 beers. so we'll go with 16 beers. 16 beers for 35,000 dong. that's about $2.25 for 16 beers = $.14 beers. i love that country.

(*) we got to the train station in time. sat outside on the sidewalk on my bag, all guangzhou train station style. some old man in a characteristic north vietnamese army hat came up to myself & sarge & started yelling. we laughed. he yelled. we chuckled. he yelled. he then stumbled off. o-k-then.

we went inside. used the pisser for 3,000 dong, bought 2 beers, and ran into the popped collar kid from dragonfly. the one who myself & sarge destroyed at foosball. we had the opportunity to watch some football (soccer) on television inside the train station. then our train came, on time. we boarded. found our overnight sleepers. i finished 1/2 my beer, and decided there was no better time than the current to call it a night.

we declared a good run, and passed out at about midnight. soon we would wake up in danang, where our adventures would continue.

so, in honor of hanoi, here are some random pictures i took that for one reason or another, provide the essence of hanoi.

thank you hanoi.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(15) Hanoi Day 4: And I Bring You, the Vietnamese State Department Run Whore House

(*) i woke up and myself & sarge, went to hanoi train station to buy tickets from hanoi to danang, danang to nha tran, and nha tran to ho chi minh city. upon arriving at the train station, after our approximately 1 hour walk, we realized one thing. the humidity is insane. after coming to this conclusion physically manifested by our sweat soaked t-shirts, we found the ticket office. after building this train station up to represent the urbanity that was the guangzhou train station, i was disappointed but elated to find this train station relatively calm. we found the ticket office and stood in line, where we were then cut by 4 people and some guy swinging himself
from the line over into our window. this guy was smooth. i had no idea he had any intention of cutting us, until he had his head fitting UNDERNEATH the small glass enclosed window separating the ticket woman from the waiting ticket purchasing public.

the thing about all asian countries, with a particular focus on china and vietnam, is that the locals have no idea what a "queue" is. in fact, the chinese government has had to spend money on some type of program and announcements where they explain to the chinese public, with the olympic beijing games coming up in the very near future, what exactly a "queue" is, and they have to respect the position of the person in front of them.

i couldn't help but comment on how much cleaner and saner this train station was

----------> this is going to be awesome - i always screw things up when i say this

in post-journal analysis, i have no idea what that above arrow means.

----------> when we told a married woman, "you're beautiful"

----------> dudes ate gravel - 2 of them - while making a turn on the scooter. the guy in front had absolute roadrash all over his face. just another reason why there is no chance in hell i will be renting a motobike in vietnam

---------> a guy attempting to travel down a road which had a decline of 45 degrees, was not fortunate in his attempted descent. he crashed his bike, and the goods that had been piled and neatly chaotically efficiently packed on his bike, were all over the street.

(*) i found my pencil in my shoe. literally. i had lost my pencil, but then i checked my shoe, and there it was. only more physical evidence as to why asia is much better than any weekend at vegas.

(*) we bought train tickets to danang, but we could not buy any future tickets. the tickets cost 1,000,000 dong. myself & kristan got our money together, and could immediately be seen grinning from ear to ear as we held out 1,000,000 dong; much of this currency made of 10,000. we purchased something for 1,000,000 something. regardless of the currency used, it blew us both away that we were able to afford anything which had the label of 1,000,000. this doesn't seem impressive to you? fine. fair enough. guess you had to be there. but let me ask you this - have you ever held 1,000,000 of anything in your hands, minus balls of clay or granules of dirt? yeah. figured as much. game. set. match. and i'm moving on.

(*) on the walk back towards the hostel, we bought egg rolls (which were amazing) and bread, and then walked over wet cement on accident. so forever will our footsteps on some random sidewalk of hanoi be forged within the concrete heart of that city.

here is a picture of the egg rolls that are served to you on tree leaves as plates:

(*) back to the hostel. checked the internet. no word from the germans. went to a travel agency to see if we could buy tickets for the train. this travel agency was the main one at the downtown central intersection which was right aside to the lake. it was an extra $5 U.S. dollars for commission to purchase the train tickets in advance, unlike what we were able to do at the train station. this convenience charge was worth the convenience & peace of mind as the weekend over which we were traveling was the vietnamese new year. we then went and talked to a self-proclaimed "traditional girl" - she did not go to clubs. ironically enough, later on in the evening myself & kristan would run into miss "traditional girl" at dragonfly. even better, the only reason she was there, was because of her acceptance of an invitation extended by zee germans later in the day. haha. we totally got stonewalled by a local vietnamese woman. the score at this point was americans = 0, vietnamese female population = 1. after our invitation was rejected, zee germans ran into the tourist agency. we chatted quickly & told them we would meet up with them at the bridge running from the coast of the lake to the small little island in the middle of the lake, at 2.

(*) kristan & myself went to the bridge at 2. we took pictures of the ridiculous looking latinos on the bridge. this picture is so good, and so ridiculous, i need to show it again.

we also took a picture of a random local vietnamese individual holding a turtle the size of a quarter. we weren't sure what he was doing with the turtle. he would just wander back and forth this 25 foot long, 4 foot wide bridge, asking anyone he came into contact - the majority of which were foreign travelers - if they wanted to look at or touch the turtle. and he didn't even ask us for the usual pocket shrapnel as admission to viewing his small world inside his hand. it was odd.

$.50 got us on to this island. it was, quite simply, a small temple with a huge dead turtle. legend has it, as does the hanoi scientific community (which may be one of the same), that there are the world's largest freshwater turtles living in the lake we were standing within in the middle of hanoi. that's difficult to believe not only because it never ceases to amaze me the oddest things local vietnamese would take pride in, but because of the inability to view a few centimeters into the depth of the lake. with the garbage and other forms of sewage resting upon top of the water, it was amazing anything lived in there at all - let alone turtles that were supposed to be something like 10 feet long. i wanted to push sarge in there, just to see how violently sick he would get, and prove once and for all the freshwater of the lake ain't (yes - ain't - not "is not" or "cannot possibly be as") that fresh.

while taking the 15 minutes to walk around the "island" in the middle of the lake - if you ever get the chance by the way just skip paying the $.50 admission and spend it elsewhere - ok that's a bit cycnical - it wasn't that bad - enough with the hyphen use - we ran into Rufus. seems as if zee germans ditched us. so kristan, rufus, and myself headed out to the prison museum, aka the Hanoi Hilton. on the way, we stopped at "Happy Guy's" restaurant. that was not the name of the restaurant. well, it could have been. we don't know what his restaurant's name, as we never could understand vietnamese. the point is, that was the nickname sarge gave to him after realizing how truly, truly, truly, truly happy this guy was that we, for i can only tell, had the courage to try and eat at his "restaurant".

look at this place:

that's the "restaurant" and that's Happy Guy in the background. we never did manage to get a picture of Happy Guy's wife - but that may have been b/c when we arrived at the restaurant, she had just gotten out of the shower in the back, and had come to serve us water or something - whatever it was being relatively insignificant - running out of the shower wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a towel wrapped around her head. nothing necessitating such customer service, i assure you.

and if you think we were shitty with the doling of nicknames, then take a look at this picture. happy guy and rufus. game over.

here is one of the first pictures that will give you a relative feeling for the traditional, usual, hey-family-lets-go-out-to-eat-tonight vietnamese dining out experience. when i first wrote of KFC being high class, ironically, that was exactly what i meant.

at Happy Guy restaurant, i have never seen a man so happy, so hyper, and so content to serve 3 dudes chicken soup. which is what we ate. and let me tell you - it was the most delicious chicken soup i had in vietnam. not for its secret ingredients, although who knows what the guy added to the soup or forgot to take off from the chicken / rooster / hopefully it was some type of foul. it wasn't the extra beer he brought out to our table despite us asking for 3 - rufus laid off the sauce for the entirety of the trip. and i congratulate him for physically acting out that which my liver had begun to yell at that point. but what made it so absolutely delicious was the extra dose of TLC that man & his wife put not only into our soup, but the doling out of our beer and hot delightful tea for desert at the end of the meal.

after all of that, for which we paid maybe $4 - total - for all 3 of us - we left the "restaurant" giving the husband & wife team a firm handshake, silent bow, plenty of english and vietnamese gutted thank yous, and any other form of conveyance of thanks. then we had the delight in finding the museum closed at 4:30 and with the current time being 4:40, once again our ways had caught up with us eventually in vietnam. we hadn't planned a god damn thing, and once again we were late.

(*) the beautiful thing of traveling is, well, screw it. we never had a plan really to begin with, so there is no need to "change plans". instead, you just make a new plan. again. so we did. with the firebreathing motherfucking puppets playing at 5, i figured this would be a perfect opportunity to expose kristan to some culture, some fire, and some way to digest our food before drinking was to begin shortly. rufus said we couldn't make the trek back around the other side of the lake by the fire puppets in the 20 minutes allotted to us by the scheduling gods. we made it there at 4:58.

slowed down by the (a) non-queing sharky little bastard i failed to box out from the ticket office and (b) the currently slowly paying customer who couldn't figure out the correct amount of vietnamese paper currency, we got 2 aisle seats. this performance was much noisier than the first showing i was originally at. for either this reason, or b/c all the mystique of the firebreathing motherfucking puppets had gone up in blackmarketed vietnamese fireworks, i wasn't as intrigued by the performance.

here's a picture of the firebreathing motherfucking puppets, minus the fire. you'll see all the musical players up and to the left of the stage. those individuals also provide the voices. the puppets act on the main stage - the water.

(*) after the show, we traveled back to the hsotel to meet up with zee germans. they were to go again to the night market, and then martin was going to meet up with a german female friend of his who was traveling through Hanoi at the one and only - dragonfly. so while zee germans were at the night market, myself & rk needed something to do before we went to the bar. well, considering we knew of the best beer special in all of hanoi, and perhaps the entire civilized world - .15 cent beer night - we decided going to drink at the "Fam's Restaurant", before we would go meet up with people to officially drink at Dragonfly later in the evening, was only sensible. we stopped at the bakery bearing the infamous yellow sign before we went to Fam's Restaurant so we could have some food, i.e. delicate french-vietnamese pastries, in our stomach as a base before we would start drinking for multiple hours.

the "restaurant" we went to was Fam's restaurant. it is not actually a restaurant. well, it is. but it was way too expensive for our taste. it was like $4 a person to eat all the meat you could handle. yeah. so when you're paying .50 for noodles, and .15 for beer, you're talking dinner of 21 beers, including gratuity. so when we went there, we would always go to a table, sit down, and just drink beer, while some other customers ate, and most snacked on what was left from the meat buffet on their table. drinking however was the common denominator for all guests.

here we are at our usual table.

Fam's Restaurant is short for Family's Restaurant because sarge & myself eventually discovered it was all run by the same family. our guess is that Sarge ran the place. please note this woman, Sarge, took Sarge's name before Sarge knew his name was Sarge. so to prevent any future confusion, Sarge will stand for Sarge whereas female Sarge will refer to the woman who owned Fam's Restaurant. Female Sarge never smiled. that's why her nickname was brilliant. i'm guessing, and this could be completely stereotypical but sarge & myself think we have a basis to make such what seems to be a politically unpopular statement - we think female sarge was part of the north vietnamese who, only 25-30 years ago, had just finished shooting at people who looked exactly like myself & sarge. she never served us - her sister, who we are guessing is the american equivalent of matre'd or however the hell you spell it or a restaurant manager, always seated us & would always talk to us. i would catch female sarge at times simply staring at us.

and the final reason is that here is a picture of the fam from fam's restaurant.

you'll meet the remainder of these characters from the fam later, but notice for now, the woman on the far left. that is Sister - no creativity points for the nicknamers on her, we know. but who is painfully missing from this photograph is Female Sarge. that's cause at first, she refused to get into the group picture. even with the entirety of her family attempting to waive her into the picture - both Sister and the younger females of the family doing so - she refused to do so by simply frowning at the rest of the family and kristan & myself. 4 days of drinking at her restaurant, and after a good old fashioned communal fascist cultural stereotyping enhancing drink from the communist keg of the restaurant - which will be explained more fully in the next day's journal entry as i can foresee the future - i eventually got this van gogh of a picture portrait with Female Sarge. check it out america. i could make a crack about how if you are anywhere between the ages of 40-60 and fought in vietnam, you may way want to skip the next picture, but i won't. because this experience changed my perspective on social interactions and relationships overall.

here's Female Sarge:

notice Sister on the left hand side of the picture laughing her ass off. she loves the fact that i managed to get a picture with Female Sarge and that, what's more, Female Sarge is almost ALMOST cracking a smile. my perception of human interactions and relationships became fissured, fractured, and reformed after that picture because i realized no matter how truly, for lack of a better precise phrase based in the english language, how truly fucked up something can be between two individuals of completely differing geographical locations, genders, skin colors, governments, and religions - people can still share the same space and truly enjoy one another.

despite my being from half way across the world, male, white, capitalist, young, and a symbol of a regime that to her, within her recent history, was (in her view) responsible for the murdering and torturing of her family & friends - we were not only able to get along in a completely civil fashion for 4 days, but in the end we were able to share a smile in each other's presence.

i always idealistically believed such crap as i wrote in the above paragraph, but until i got into that situation, i never actually realized how so many of the barriers which supposedly exist that prevent people from interacting with each other in a harmonious fashion are placed there by certain hierarchies in society - whether they be government based, economically based, or politically based. when it comes down to it, despite being unable to speak the other person's language minus a word or 2, i came out of that interaction with a positively life changing experience. huh.

getting back to the non-existent completely made-up point, we arrive at Fam's Restaurant. the, we would later learn, 19 year old daughter drops off 2 beers as we sit @ our table. its the 2nd night there, and she already knows what we want. sarge cracks a joke about going to the same bar in his neighborhood in LA for a year straight, and only recently have they figured out he enjoys a newcastle. we toast the local veitnamese guys, who seem to be our age, across from us several times. they looked much like a group of us would at a bar directly after work on a friday in the states. 4 to 5 beers later, we leave to use the pisser at the hotel, then we head to Dragonfly.

we walk through the night market, again. this time our steps are slightly more in tune with the speed and fluidity of the market. plus, there was no jackhammering going on - as such, our concentration could be placed more squarely on the job ahead of us - which was getting through the pedestrian traffic - instead of the questions of, "what the fuck are they doing jackhammering at 11pm at night?". we arrive @ dragonfly. the night has just begun.

(*) martin & sabine meet us there a bit later. sarge & myself get there for happy hour. we buy 4 rounds each of halida for a total of 8 beers. remember, at dragonfly happy hour its buy 2 halida for 15,000 dong - i.e. buy one get one free. so we walk to the back of the bar & to take care of business, and order 4 a piece.

its odd. in vietnam, there is no limit to the specials. normally if you go to a bar in the states, and a bar has a special - say $2 jack & cokes - when the normal is $4, there is a limit. usually, you can order 1, maybe 2, jack & cokes at a time. not in vietnam baby. they give more power to the paying customer - its a beautiful exercise of capitalism in honor of communal ideas. we had the waitress bring over $8 for 8 beers in a relatively classy vietnamese club in a relatively classy portion of hanoi. that type of heaven doesn't occur in chicago. and the only time it does, not that i don't love these places, but they are usually called "dives". trust me, i love dives. but it is just so odd to have that same type of price mixed with the atmosphere and customer service theology of a nice chicago club. as per the rest of our trip - simply mindblowing.

after the beers were all laid out on our table, myself & sarge got involved in a foosball game of vietnam versus the usa. we won the game. don't worry america - we fought for you. the most entertaining portion of the evening occurred when a song by the illadelphia hip-hop group "the roots" came on called "the seed". being as myself & sarge were already somewhat charged with our drinking at the Fam Restaurant, i was happily transported in some way to a even further soul removing trip of nostalgia to my undergrad days where hours were spent listening to music from a crap boomboox while playing foosball and talking shit to some of my best friends.

becoming lost in the moment, i took the time to take my hands off the game (i was playing defense, sarge was providing the offense) and lit a cigarette. hey, i admit, we were playing with confidence. at the end of the cigarette, i admit i was a bit too focused on the song's bass line, wailing guitar, crashing symbols, and effortless lyrics - i shot from the back row & in the process flipped my cigarette to sarge's 3 man - for you non-foosball players out there i flipped my cigarette almost into the other team's goal.

with "you idiot" being shouted by my alter-ego at my own brain repeatedly, sarge calmly picked up the cigarette, gave it back to me, and i continued to smoke it, in between laughing and kicking ass.

here are a few pics revolving around the infamous dragonfly's foosball table:

team usa versus team vietnam action shot. notice the size of the crowd.

we were both surprised to find such a nice table in vietnam. later, sarge would ruin one. that will be discussed later.

this is what opponents saw of team usa. this is also, most of the time, what team usa saw of team usa.

more team usa versus team vietnam. team vietnam, and its fan, definitely gets the edge however on fashion.

(*) vietnam's team B played next. they did not want to pay for drinks, but just for fun. respek'. so we played. and we won. after the 2 glorious wins, we at this point just wanted to find techno / electronic music. sabine made the call, which would later go down as the call of all calls, to go to "Q Club". since it was to far to walk, i made the next call of all calls, and decided the group should take a motorbike. sarge & myself got onto the old man's bike which kept sounding like it was bottoming out. sarge was sitting in between myself & the old man - i laughed then, but eventually i got the same seat in sweet karmic fashion on the ride home. we fell behind the motorbike of sabine & martin because the guy's bike's battery died. we think it died. we're actually not sure what the hell happened. the only thing we know for sure is that as the scooter raced its way through the hanoi streets, the dashboard's light all began to blink in unity, and the motor went to a top speed of maybe 3 mph. after a few moments, a few vietnamese swear words, and a few kicks to the side of his own hog, we were back, and throttling through the streets of vietnam to meet back up with zee germans at "Club Q".

here is a dangerous picture taken - dangerous b/c sarge may not be using any hands to stay on the bike, and we have both taken our eyes off the road & left our lives with the motobike driver. never a smart thing to do. this is a picture of 2 men on the brink of death.

we were dropped off far from where we usually traveled within hanoi at a 5 star hotel. we walked to ornately decorated hotel's bar - i felt like i should have taken my shoes off before i walked into this mega hotel - only to find a violinist & a pianist. not necessarily the "house music" sabine's german travel guide to hanoi referred to. after giggling amongst the 4 of us like little school girls, we were punched in the face with the reality that (a) this place was far too classy for our kind and (b) club q had to be around here somewhere. we asked reception, who pointed us out the doors (obviously), to the right, and past the pool. like idiot meandering backpackers, we followed the directions as literally as possible.

we passed an extremely long swimming pool - which we would later learn is the longest swimming pool in all of vietnam - and arrived at the front door of "club q". it looked gorgeous from the outside - it was softly lit and extremely inviting.

we walked through the front door and were immediately hit smack in the face by the vacancy of the entire place. already sabine is getting a shit eating grin from myself b/c we told her she could make this decision - but that all its consequences would fall on her shoulders. like the brave person she is, she was willing to subject herself to the sarcastic and often times irrational torture of the linquistically cunning americans.

we sat down @ the bar and ordered 55,000 baht "333" beer. yes. 55,000 "333" beer. yes, those are the same beers we purchased on the street for 8000 baht. we were officially in a tourist trap. sabine gets shit eating grin #2. there's a straight faced bartender & one cashier. and for all of the club's elegance, its most important and expensive drinks, some Louis the Sometingth, rests on a rolling room service cart. nice. you stay classy hanoi.

after all this hits and infiltrates my brain, i get to next concentrate on the music. at least god let there be descent house music. what's that? wait? what? nice. shit eating grin #3 shot @ Sabine. a celine dion love song. this was entertaining for multiple reasons - but for the icing on the irony cake - fast foreward to the chapter entitled "Indian Sings Mekong Delta Karaoke" if i have already written that.

with 3 shit eating grins shot @ sabine by sarge & myself, the shit talking began. then the dance floor came to life with some sort of neon light system underneath the glass dance floor. i looked around one final time, and there was not another soul in there. i would be willing to bet if reviewed upon a mathematically correct farmer's almanac, this was a thursday or friday night. maybe even saturday night. so we were not completely out of our minds for expecting some company this evening. however, it seems "club q" may not be the hanoi hotspot we imagined.

i needed to take a piss, so i explored. i walked up to the 2nd floor where i saw 4 rooms total. behind door #1, i found a man & a woman with a blue cocktail dress cuddling on thee couch. door #2 was marked "dj room". at least they spelled room correctly. go them. behind door #3 was nothing. you would not wanted to have chosen that one if you were on "lets make a deal" - a game show not given the full respect of which it was ever due. door #4's window provided the vision of a woman in a cocktail dress singing karaoke while within a man's embrace. "Odd" is all i remember thinking at that point. just that word. actually, it was more of a, "well, that's fucking odd." no pisser on this floor. down to floor numero uno. found a bathroom with suddenly an old white guy in there.

upon walking into the bathroom, seeing this old white guy, and seeing this old guy seeing me seeing him, i laughed out loud. for any male, you understand why this is unsettling. for those of you of the female persuasion, i'll let you in on a little man law. i shouldn't be doing this, but i am. men don't talk to each other in the bathroom. anything beyond a simple grunt or inaudible "hello" - even hello is too formal - it needs to be a "hey" - is too much. its not right. unlike what some whom are uneducated would have you to believe, it has nothing to do with sexual orientation. its simply unsettling. i'll talk to you when you're outside. there is nothing you need to tell me, at that moment in space and time, which is so important, that i need to know at that point. unless you had information that i would piss fire. in that case, i wouldn't mind knowing. then conversation is allowed.

so the fact that me & this guy locked eyes & i let out a short laugh - not just any short laugh - but a judgmental type "muahahaha" laugh - that was odd. but i was drunk, so it was completely legitimate. the truth is, i didn't now why i did it at the time. i was somewhat drunk, yes, but the truth of the matter was i saw into the future. here we were at this classy hotel's baller club, and i run into a 55 year old combover white computer i.t. guy from wyoming whose mother dressed him for the night out on the hanoi town. i'm positive that somewhere underneath his shirt, he had one of those "passport wallets" with his real passport and emergency money just in case they took the 20,000 dong out of his front collared shirt. so that was a bit harsh, but that's how i felt at the time. i didn't know i would be doing humanity a huge favor.

you've been reading for a while. here is a picture from the trip.

here's another one. you deserve this one.

(*) so i return from my trip and sit back down at the bar. i relayed my findings. after a short discussion, we were interrupted by the sound of heels. yes, the sound of heels. many heels. not just 2 heels, as if stemming from the same female, or in the case of many asian countries, same male. no, these were 15-20 pairs of heels clickity clacking their way down from the 2nd floor - where i had just been - down to the first floor - dressed in tight traditional dresses with numbers pinned to their dresses. their own indvidualized 3 digit number.

i could neither stop laughing out of disbelief, nor staring out of wonder.

these were real life high society hookers. for those of you who saw rush hour 2 - remember where chris tucker goes to hong kong & jackie chan takes him to the spa & the doors open up on the front floor, and the head mistress asks chris tucker to pick whichever woman he wants from the 30 provided? same idea here. except no doors.

there was a moving parade past myself & my 3 beloved friends of high priced hookers.

they paraded down the stairs from our right, and to our left, where they congregated in an awkwardly formed circle on the outskirts of the 1980's end of the disco era a go go dance floor. they then put their hands in the air, giggled with each other, and started taking each others' clothes off. i'm kidding. they didn't take each others' clothes off. but the encounter was just as stereotypical. they did this for what seemed an excruciatingly long time - perhaps b/c it was just all so surreal. one would assume, a male in the primitive jungle of a slightly hazy friday night - could stare at prostitutes from a safe distance for any amount of extended time. however, this time, i felt i was watching one of those channels on your tv numbered anywhere from 80-120 when you have the inability to pay for comcast & can afford only bunny ears. and this channel was the crazy asian channel that i could not understand, for the life of me, what the hell was going on, nor could i determine the principals and theories which were driving the forces being played before my eyes. as with that asian television channel, i could determine only 2 universal themes before me existed: (1) young asian females laughing & giggling, and (2)horrible dancing.

i swear to you my journal and inexplicitly you my reader, god, and joe pseci, i stopped staring at them, after an extended period of time, to determine whether or not they were good looking enough to be considered true prostitutes for a 5 star hotel. i mean, what do 5 star hotel prostitutes look like? do they truly resemble the lovable julia roberts in her heart mending performance of pretty woman? do they appear to be manufactured only with the good financial auspices of plastic surgeons? are they born naturally? would i be able to tell?

after labeling each of the 15 as "hot" or "not" in the span of maybe 10 seconds - proof that men can work extremely quickly and efficiently under demanding, pressurized situations - i felt awkward. ok, the novelty had warn off. some were hot. some were not. as you learn quickly, especially in vietnam, most women - even those you do not believe to be street prostitutes - and they very well may not be - are looking to you for mostly one thing. money. so long as local individuals can determine whether or not you are a tourist (which quickly & visually is based upon skin color), you are treated in near rock-star fashion.

these people are so poor, and have so little, that what seems like nothing to yourself, and truly is nothing, is a half day's pay to them / a meal for their entire family / an entire week's pay / school fees for their children. although it works out extremely well for those individuals who come to the country to visit, it is a power which must be wielded with proper force because as a sharply-sided double blade, 2 alternatives persist. wielding the blade with too much aggressive force, and running local producers' profits into the ground for the gain of your uncle in the form of a trinket, ultimately destroys the local producer.

the other side of the blade has the hunger existent on the producers' side. locals have all those concerns to pay for, and we as tourists have the means to provide them to the locals with such ease. as such, locals seem to be willing to both go to greater lengths and stretch the line of what is moral / correct / respectful further from most individuals' medians. point being - throughout my travels - and this was the beginning of my lesson from naivity - any woman who is attractive in vietnam and is spending her nights in places filled with tourists who are known to throw money around, get drunk, and make irresponsible decisions - must be dealt with caution.

but still. their dancing. my god was it horrible. eventually, the heels parade once again past martin, then sarge, then sabine, and then myself. i was still unable to get over the numbers attached to each of their dresses. literally. instead of a pin on some customer service agent's collared shirt which reads their name, they had a number.

here is a picture, snaked by sarge (who was always good in special ops) of the prostitutes. its not much, but you can see their true image. zombies. prostitutes must know the reality of their situation - that they are an extremely odd entity - because of the spectrum of adjectives they may conjure: everything from sad and depressing to entertaining and erotic.

the 5 to 7 prostitutes which stayed there played a masterful game of pool. i don't know if all prostitutes are like this. but i've never seen such luck in a prostitute's playing of pool. they could have filmed a very instructional, and probably a fairly profitable, film that day with the shots they pulled off. martin & i were shooting pool with the prostitutes. during our "game", sabine took a picture & got yelled at by the prostitutes. as sabine was being yelled at by a prostitute - an individual not necessarily existing within the realm of legal scripture either - sabine stated as truthfully as she could that she was only taking a picture of martin. what is hilarious about this is the underlying assumption: that one would seemingly come to "club q" just to play pool. in any case, well played sabine.

after giggling in the corner & watching these prostitutes make continuously lucky shot after ridiculously lucky shot, i decided, "self, you'll never get the chance to play pool again with 5-7 hookers". so, i jumped in. still, their luck continued. i made a few shots, as my inebriation had fallen off from the price tag of $7 for the equivalent of a PBR (even i have my borders and beliefs). eventually we all took off & left Club Q.

later upon meeting two individuals who will be introduced as "the trees" b/c they both graduated from stanford university whose mascot is the tree - zee germans and us americans learned Club Q is run by the vietnamese ministry of interior, which can be considered similar to the state department for the u.s. regardless of that statements' veracity, sarge & myself shot sabine a shit eating grin upon our exit.

------------> hotel receptionist walking up to the 2nd floor. i.e., the hotel is a knowing pusher of these prostitutes. if its not the vietnamese state run whore house, its certainly allowed to exist by the local police force.

-----------> old white guy & asian guy paying at the bar's cash register - you can see it in the picture of the prostitutes - but they never bought a drink or played a game of pool. i wonder what they paid for.....

-----------> if that's true, prostitution is quite literally on the books of this hotel. this 5 star international chain created by outside influences hotel.

-----------> one of those guys paid with a visa credit card. and it was accepted. i wonder what the payment description read.....

(*) last step. we had to get home. we had no idea where the hell we were in hanoi, and this time we knew we were way over our heads & about to get taken for a fiscal ride by a street motobike hustler. after a bit of bartering, and a pretty laid back "go ahead, take us for our money, just bring us home" negotiation process, all parties involved agreed to 40,000 baht. the ride home was fun and fast. as midnight had already struck, the streets were dead, empty, and quiet. after several huddles, are drivers eventually figured out how to get us home.

we got off the bikes, shook hands, and then gave 40,000 baht a piece. then they start yelling at us that we said 80,000.

here's a picture from the trip, right before our home stretch:

after continuously haggling over every item in your day, from necessities to bonus life items such as liquor and motobikes, you WILL eventually snap. and it feels great. wow, what a rush. you go off, and you really control the situation. you'll walk away with 3 thoughts (1) wow - was that me, personally who just kicked all that negotiable ass back there (2) i feel sorry for that guy/girl - i just spiritually violated him/her and (3) wow was i a complete jackass now i feel pretty bad.

that's what happened to this poor motorbike driver who was just pulling his little hustle once more. here is a summary of the conversation. this is all said with motobike guy yelling with a mighty force at me in the middle of the dead 2 street intersection in the middle of hanoi at 3 am right outside my hotel, and me speaking loudly, sternly, but with a smile and a shit-eating grin about to burst into a laugh.

him: 80,000 baht a piece! you lie!
me: fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you (dead pan)
him: you lie! you say 80,000. i no do it if 40! you lie!
me: (half laughing half extremely pissed) buddy, i've been fucked enough times around here tonight financially. i've been nickeled here, dimed there, and haven't said a fuckin word. it stops here my friend. i'm sorry. fuck you. take the money.
him: you lie!
me: i just got done playing pool with prostitutes. i want to go to sleep. you don't understand any of this.
him: give me 40 more! per person! you said!
me (while extending the 160 total from all of us)(with sincere smile & staring into motobike man's eyes) fuck you. here's 160. fuck you very much. good night.

he takes the money, and then starts laughing. all of a sudden we're friends again. once the exchanging of money took place, everyone was buddy buddy again. we give each other hi-5's and do the hip hop "show respect and give each other a pat on the back" type thing. we then shook hands. wow. that ended 180 degrees from where that could have.

i want to take this moment on the internet to thank motobike man out there, wherever you are, for teaching me a very important lesson in vietnamese bartering. yelling & the sternness in your dialect is not to be taken personally. it does not have a negative connotation in terms of a "i'm gonna cut you after this conversation" as it would in the english language on an american city's street. instead, its merely a passion which is all part of the great play & stage tactics that is bartering in asia.

yeah, i told the guy off. a few times. but: (1) it probably helped he had no idea what i was saying and (2) i said it with a smile and with the body language of a friendly guy.

after holding our ground, fending off the motobike hustlas, and befriending the motobike hustlas, our crew woke up the sleeping security guards to the hotel and went to sleep in the Blue Star Hostel.

good run.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

(14): Hanoi Day 3: Friday - You ain't got no job, you ain't got shit to do

(*) i woke up early b/c of a combination of zee germans leaving for halong bay / the heat / early morning announcements. the early morning announcements were loud talking done through speakers set up throughout the street on the equivalent of a utility pole. supposedly it is only the news blared over the city streets, however i have a sneaking suspicion the announcements include "work is happiness", "efficiency is godliness", and "through work all things are possible". this is the day kristan is to arrive.

(*) i read about 100 pages, and i got fully going to head out to meet kristan at about 11am. i left to go to ho chi minh's mausoleum, where both myself & kristan agreed to meet at half way around the world. an interesting note: we had planned this entire trip with me in chicago & him in los angeles. and being that both of us are basically, "eh, fuck it" when it comes to planning outside of our day jobs, we figured this would be interesting. it was. i got to the mausoleum at around 1. the mausoleum was closed. of course. note to others: the mausoleum is closed on fridays.

---------> this is how vietnamese individuals sleep on benches.

---------> get a haircut at your local sidewalk barber shop. and by shop, i mean, the guy has a chair and some scissors.

i took a rest stop atop the stairs to the museum and started writing / catching up on my journal. it ended up with me making friends with a driver who grew up outside hanoi. he is 31 years old. his teeth consisted of two layers - a good white top row of teeth, and a brown nasty bottom row of jacked teeth. there was also a group of 7-8 asian tourists who stopped to admire my writing in my journal. it was odd to be the focus of someone's amazement. what's even more, it was not the way i looked or the color of my skin, but the simple way in which i wrote words. they stared at a page of just plain written english with complete amazement. i shook hands with a few of the individuals. i had to find a place to piss, so i walked to a convention center where i found a visually pristine, but odor-filled pisser. too much information, perhaps, but it was written in my journal.

(*) i walked around post-urination, and saw a few embassies and clothing stores. i got back to the mausoleum at around 2:30. expecting to wait another hour, i was shocked to see a tall white guy with some local individual pointing at me at the end of the block. it was THE KRISTAN. not how i expected to meet him - not as hollywood as i had envisioned, but amazing still to meet your friend 1/2 way around the world. makes me laugh at the childhood saying of "you digging a hole to china?"

the craziest portion of this story is that the local individual who was pointing at me next to kristan, actually helped kristan find me. this is how absolutely in tune vietnamese hustlers are with their surroundings. apparently, kristan was meandering around the mausoleum with no real focus of his energies. the local had seen me sitting on the museum's stairs an hour or so earlier, a half block from the mausoleum. kristan's newest tour guide, the pointing local, had seen Kristan wandering and came up to him and stated that the person he was looking for (me) had just been sitting down in front of the museum. insane. the eyes of vietnamese big brother are everywhere. just a lesson.

(*) kristan and myself walked back to the hostel, hand in hand, merrily skipping along our way. ok ok. so we weren't skipping. we discussed our different recent adventures. as i directed us back to the hostel using my ridiculously on point navigational skills, i happily watched myself enjoying kristan go through the shell shock that is walking through asia for the first time, on top of walking through vietnam for the first time, all sprinkled with the experience that is walking through hanoi for the first time. he had to wipe drool off his face at several times.

we stopped at the "jasper hotel", just for the hell of it to check the price for kristan. we then returned back to the hotel, where they had a double for kristan, alone, for $8. although extremely expensive for hanoi vietnam (seriously), we figured if at any point we lost contact with zee germans, we could split the room for $4.

he showered, and his jet lag continued as we walked out into hanoi. i walked him through the old quarter with its shops stacked on top of each other. we also stumbled upon an outdoor market where fish and snakes were being sold. i punked out and did not buy snake. to my adoring fans, i apologize. i did not buy a snake and then drink its blood. our travels also took us around the lake.

(*) i brought kristan to mama's. we ate at the same child table as another vietnamese family. our travels brought us back to the hostel where we met up with zee germans & rufus. rufus lead us in a charge to eat, again. this time we dined on "bun ga". kristan & i drank the beer i had accidentally bought a few days ago while i spent my last day in china. the bun was good, minus the peanuts. peanuts always ruin meals. plus, i was too full. but what was my loss, was rufus' gain. he cleaned up everything i did not. and, i kid you not, after this eating, rufus left for more food. kristan, zee germans & myself made the more appropriate and intelligent choice by choosing to consume more, not food, but liquid. we went to dragonfly.

(*) while looking to get to dragonfly, we had to stop at "minh's jazz lounge" for kristan to piss. while there, i was feeling generous and bought 4 shots of jack for 210,000 dong. that is what they call in vietnam "ripping off a tourist". although this is nearly 2 full days to a traveler, i retreated back to my chicago days in which 4 shots for about $13 and no need for a tip really is not that bad. after the shot, our group left, and we walked through the night market - basically clothes and fashion with amusement type food.

---------> while walking through the night market, which was basically shops set up on addison outside of wrigley field and addison being closed off to all vehicular traffic, i noticed an odd occurrence - construction. at midnight. construction at midnight utilizing jackhammers. these vietnamese construction workers were ripping up sidewalks right outside of people's homes, with jackhammers, at about midnight. if that happened at my apartment in chicago, i would throw a shitfit.

in vietnam, nothing. just the usual.

(*) after weaving in and out of traffic of human feet - we took off to dragonfly. we got there just in time for 2 for 1 happy hour of Halidas for 15,000 dong. we played foos. i ran out of money and went with sabine to find an atm in the darkened streets of hanoi. the first atm did not work. the 2nd atm machine worked. although the 2nd atm machine was odd in that i had to walk up 4 stairs to get to the machine. one of the odder atm machine placements i've seen in my life.

i attempted to learn german on the walk back with sabine. at the end of the night, nobody was working at the bar - all were dancing in a circle trying to get thhe tourists involved. crap music. it was at this point, i felt like i was at kam's. however, one of the kids / tourists who loved it was the 16 year old kid with the white popped collar. oh tourists are so entertaining. we destroyed at foosball that night. as we would for the next few nights.

(*) the bar closed at midnight. oddly, i was able to leave the bar with a drink in my hand. the bar emptied out into the street. despite it being a friday night, eerily enough, no one was out on the streets. the streets were empty and the shops were closed, minus the frickin motobikes. it seems communists and socialists tend to shut things down a bit early before the rock n roll music too fully corrupts their youth and chaos manifests itself through mischief. we would later learn, this is absolutely true.

sabine got a free ride down the street on the motorbike of a vietnamese girl we had met, named "ni". we're pretty sure she only talked to us to try to get us to go somewhere at the end of the night where her & her friends could jump us, take our money, and beat the hell out of us. i think we made a smart decision with this one. we went down town to the main intersection, and after being engaged in drunk conversation to see what the best club is, we chose to head back to the hotel for the night.

(*) the walk home was uneventful, minus us being completely lost. thankfully the yellow bakery sign saved the day yet again. whenever i was lost in hanoi, i would continue to wander in circles until i found this particular yellow bakery sign. this sign would eventually become a physical manifestation of eternal salvation. once i saw that lovely yellow awning, i knew how to get home, and at the same time, became instantaneously excited to lay down and rest my weary bones. i'll always have a special place in my heart for that sign.

we entered the hostel with bodies, once again in a hotel i was staying at, strewn across the lobby in cots & a fan going and doors unlocked. we went upstairs. i entered kristan's room for something. sabine followed,. i got whatever that something was. jokingly, kristan spits the following line that will live in infamy:

i'm not saying anything, i'm just saying - there's an extra spot in my bed.

and with that, we all passed out.

---------> the world is too large to settle. period.

(13) Hanoi: Thursday, I Think

(*) woke up at 7 am or so b/c i fell asleep in the sauna and woke up in a pile of sweat. the first night staying in the hotel, we opted to go without air conditioning. this was a ridiculous mistake on our part. i thought i couldn't breathe when i woke up. quite literally, i was gasping for air. and may i mention the only reason we went without air conditioning was because it cost an extra $1. haha.

unable to return to the hopeless euphoric rejuvenation that sleep never is, i went downstairs to e-mail. after a while, martin awoke to join. we decided breakfast @ the hostel: bread, butter, jam, tomato, and cucumber slices for 10,000 dong was our best play. at an extra 10,000, a large water was given to us. although the water was cheaper on the outside, it was worthwhile as induced by our laziness. roy, our israeli friend, threw down 15,000 to get eggs, plus what we had ordered. talk about balling.

we talked about loans, the army, tuition expenses.

(*) i checked my e-mail to make sure kristan's story about leaving 1 day after they said b/c of visa and possible standby issues in korea was still true. it was.

(*) i'm not sick yet. yay.

(*) sabine planned our walking day trip. on our way to the first place - a temple - martin and i went postal with my camera - running through a pair of batteries in little less than 1 day. i suppose that's also the result you get when you buy things off the blackmarket. even though they are technically in a proper store. here is a smattering of the pics i took. i call this collection "everyday life in an absolutely unusual world".

man welding. outside. on the sidewalk.

multiple forms of balance.



public gambling.

-----------> everyone in the world should be forced to drive scooters, except for industrial uses. this would infinitely increase fun, while linearly decreasing pollution.

(*) the first stop is the temple of literature. built about 1000 a.d. maybe 600 a.d. 3 things were instrumental in its creation. small ponds, red lanterns, turtles. few group photos. heard local traditional vietnamese musical performance. we then left.

here are 3

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so that's what you call turtles in vietnamese. or english. or, wait. what?


the vietnamese version of mr. grinch. my sister's retarded dog.

me. with stereotypical asian tourist greeting sign.

(*) we ate @ KFC - the trendy restaurant which serves fountain drinks in a glass, uses pseudo plates and offers modern seating. sabine & martin were really enthusiastic about the whole kfc experience. their jollility amused me. surprisingly enough, the kfc itself wasn't that bad. the bathrooms were miraculously clean. its amazing how clean bathrooms can get when a country really utilizes its cheap and massive labor force.

(*) next, we hit the quad of ho chi minh's mausoleum & museum. the mausoleum was closed. we passed out under a tree for a while. as there are not too many parks or places to rest in hanoi without a constant stream of noise being funneled into the park, this was a welcomed difference from the urbanity that was hanoi. here are hipster pictures.

martin & sabine taking an interesting perspective picture

tree. an awesome tree. but a simple tree nonetheless.

(*) we then walked into 2 lakes / parks - we had to pay .25 cents to the woman at the gate, who we are pretty sure did not work for any city park governmental office and instead merely took & pocketed the money. the closest we've come to peace & quiet, were these 2 lakes / parks. i've never heard silence so deafening before. we got to see depressed peacocks & monkeys that were in utterly despicable cages in the park: both lacking clean water and clean sanitation. i thin the vietnamese attempted to create a very mini zoo in the middle of these parks, by erecting several cages for several animals. but it was the most depressing thing i had ever seen in regards to animals. these animals were not happy looking animals.

we saw 2 rifles & 2 levers behind the remnants of what appeared to be a firing range. 8 year olds trying to hustle and get money off one of us through either pity or pickpocketing. the park was not gorgeous, but was pretty because of the veiled attempt given to ensure quiet peace.

(*) afterwards, the group made our way back towards the hostel. after a bit of confusion, near the tail end, we scored the location of our hostel at about 3:30 pm. martin & i returned to the place of lunch yesterday for a 2nd attack. we unfortunately did not receive the hot sauce, we only got hot sauce served with our meal, but it was still delicious. then we went DVD shopping. i bought 2 dvd's - Coachella music festival & Miles Davis live. we walked back to the hostel to get out of my drenched shirt. i checked my email.

(*) after my shower, we had 20 minutes to get to the firebreathing motherfucking water puppets. we were lead by the irritated comptroller sabine. with sabine in the lead, we got there jackie joyner kersee style. except no one died in the end b/c of heart failure. 20,000 dong got us the 2nd to last row. if you ever have a chance - go see firebreathing motherfucking water puppets show. the voices were hilarious, the musicians were talented, and the actual play itself was light hearted and, for no english spoken in the play - it was entertaining and cultural.

(*) the show ended with me, rufus & the germans having our chairs forced knees into our stomachs - they were not constructed for lanky westerners. we stepped out into the night. rufus was hungry - so we stopped at what i deem "mama's place". it was the best ambience ever. it was a literal road side cafe. we ate on the american equivalent of the sidewalk, inches from the bustling street, all while on plastic small child like tables & chairs. we ate pho ga which is basically a bowl of noodles with chicken. i also ate hot peppers that were small, and bright hues of red and orange. they were not only incredibly tasteful, but they were incredibly hot.

(*) the plan was not to go out as zee germans and rufus were taking a side trip to halong bay early in the morning. so we went back to the hostel, checked my email, read 'atlas shrugged' and drew. got to sleep by around 11 / 11:30.