Feeling My Oats. My HALL and Oates.

July 22, 2014

“Who’s your name?” asked the shuttle driver when he picked me up from the world’s tenth biggest mall, at which I only went to the bookstore.  I hate malls, but they’re quite the ubiquitous monstrosity here in Manila.

“Carrie,” I replied politely.

“How old are you?  Are you married?”

I answered these questions, too, and he paused, seemingly to think seriously about the mysteries inherent.  

“Oh.”  Pause again…

“Are you a man eater?”

“No.”

“What’s your religion?”

“I don’t have one.”

Another somewhat awkward silence.  I pulled out Candy Crush and started battling the owl.  

“Maybe you could go to the beach with me?”

Yes!  I am a date magnet here, and allow me to brag a little: I haven’t done more than grimace disgustedly at my hair in over a week, but the mere fact that it’s blonde and curly is exotic enough that people want to lie in sand with me.  This has happened on a fairly regular basis since I’ve been here, which is flattering because it’s happened in Portland exactly once in probably the last year, and that one shouldn’t even count because he was too drunk to pronounce my name correctly at the time.  A name which I am henceforward changing to “Man Eater”.  

And what am I doing back in Manila, you ask?

I have absolutely no idea.  It feels like a cat’s ninth lifetime ago, making plans for this.  I think I thought the travel agent was going to charge me more if I didn’t fly home from Manila, and I wanted to give myself a night of buffer from Vietnam, not having the foresight to realize that I’d be the most relaxed but unexciting blonde in southeast Asia for a solid week.  

Shuttle guy has reinstated my social confidence, though, and hey, I’m excited to see y’all!  Oh-oh, here I come, Portland.  

Try not to let me chew you up. 

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Thirty Minute Live Blog w/ Drinks

The bartender and I- and we’re the only people in here, maybe because I’m a Very Weird Mood and laughed so hard when I ordered ice cream and she ran into the street and bought me a Drumstick that the other patrons quickly paid their tabs and left- have discovered a mutual affinity for Eminem, One Republic, and Passenger. Thus, she’s sitting behind the bar cleaning glasses and I’m sitting in front of it, dirtying them. We’re both singing just as loud as we please, and it’s so great!

I haven’t really given Vietnam a fair shake because I went immediately into school recovery mode and slept straight for the first week I got the chance. It’s been lovely, though. Reading and napping and eating with no regard to clock. And this night makes up for all of it, because now we’re singing Love the Way You Lie like it’s New Year’s Eve or Tet or whatever and we’re in the living room champagne-ing like Barnes with all the grins.

I have to go live in the moment. Home soon!

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Non-verbals and Hellboy and Dong

July 19, 2014

I was up all day and night watching Hellboy and Sandra Bullock movies while trying to find a typhoon website accurate enough to let me know if I should sleep in the shower.  I got information ranging from “panic! it’s a cat 4 hurricane barreling directly at you!” to “dreary day: 12 inches of rain” to “where are you?  Hanoi?  go back to bed, you hoser.”

Since that was clearly unhelpful, I reassured myself with the thought that somebody would have told me to evacuate, and then I unreassured myself by remembering that there are giant loudspeakers all over the city that jabber Vietnamese things at the populace on a morningly and eveningly basis.  It’s pretty loud, but since I forgot to spend my spare time learning Vietnamese, I’ve tuned it out.

Okay, then: commenced googling “Hanoi announcements.”

The first website was somebody’s blog, and read something along the lines of “the morning ritual is the government saying ‘wake up!  good day!  do your exercises!”  

The next websites are vague and contradicting and make me remember that the Internet was written by people, and people are idiots.  Lord help the weary traveler who finds my blog and concludes that this entire country consists of difficult walking and Maytag-on-Schwinn.  So for my next try, I went for the personal interview.

“What’s… that?” I asked, gesturing outside from my table at Highway 4, where I’d ordered minced pigeon and plum ice cream.  

“That?  Ohhhhhh…” and then a dismissive, fluttery hand motion that signified either disdain for the metal speakers or an inability to retrieve the vocabulary.  

Alright, fine.  Upon awakening this morning to zero flooding and thunder, I had to conclude I was safe, except whatever aftereffects Hellboy will leave on my psyche.

I finished another book and went back to Highway 4, where now I sit.  Eatin’ crab rolls, orderin’ frog legs, and drinkin’ Saigon all day.

What?  It’s raining.

Also, I love this place.  

Highway 4 is the restaurant at which I take my daily bread.  Or more accurately, my daily crickets, ostrich, snail, pigeon, and frog.  Everything except the snail (boring) has been delicious, and they let me sit here idling away, drinking 28,000 dong (yes the currency is dong, as in “more dong, more problems”) beers, even though beer makes me gross and I only drink it internationally.

froglegsHaha!  I’m tagging this post “dong” just to see if I get any more random hits.  

Anyway, I brought my computer and notebook today on the off chance that I could access the i’net, and boom: I found an old blog entry I’d handwritten and never got around to posting.  Here it is, from

July 10, 2014:

Amy and Aaron carefully made their way along the rocky Cape Elizabeth coast, stumbling and laughing as they inched toward the picturesque lighthouse backdrop for their rock-paper-scissors match.  They’d already recorded a barefoot sprinting contest in Payson Park and were planning on chugging cold ones for the camera at Sawyer Street, all of which we’d later edit to the tune of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”.

The Vachon twins wanted desperately to be on Amazing Race, and had thus put me in charge of filming their various contests so they could impress the show’s casting agent with their competitive spirit and fierce but friendly sibling rivalry.  

To this day it’s unclear why the Bud Lights would have been helpful, but it was fun for me to pretend I kept missing the shot so they’d have to do it over.  

My favorite part of the day, however, was filming Aaron as he perched solemnly on a rock, musing about the qualities that would make him the ideal Race contestant.

“I have excellent non-verbal communication skills, and 80% of communication is non-verbal, you know,” he stated, even though he know I knew it was from a Seinfeld episode.  “Like, if you put me in Australia, I’d have absolutely no problem communicating with the natives.”

He said this without irony and posed seriously as I burst out laughing.

“WHAT?!?”

“Aaron!  They speak English in Australia.”

At the time I couldn’t see anything but a funny mistake, but now I’m not so sure it was one.  Now I realize that there’s a lot more to culture than just language, so much so that a common vocabulary doesn’t necessarily indicate a common understanding.  

There are a lot of intricacies to language, as I’ve learned, and cultural and familial background influence a lot of them.  

“Sure, sure!” for example, is probably said jokingly and somewhat sarcastically in my little circle, though with inflection it could also denote rabid enthusiasm.  

In Bacolod, however, it was a crapshoot, and my mistake was taking it literally.  Some experience taught me that it could mean anywhere within the range of “I’m not paying attention to you,” to “I am, but I don’t want to say ‘no’, but… no,” to “I agree with the fact that you’re talking, but I don’t comprehend your words.”  

In any case, it didn’t mean yes.  I was left to interpret non-verbals, and I’ve discovered that I’m not so much good at that.  A friend got sort of upset with me recently because I’d started scientifically tracking our interactions in order to interpret them, and it was like, “well, why can’t you just talk to me?”  
 
And I get that- I do- but it seems like actions and words almost never align.  When you’re oblivious to a situation or you just want it to go away, you say what you say accordingly.  Actions- non-verbals- more accurately speak the truth.  

So even with a common language, like we have with the Philippines or Australia, it takes some relationship work to develop a deeper understanding and a common ground.  It takes a lot more than the couple of weeks that I had.

The trip was certainly a start, though.  Think they wanna talk about Hellboy?

 

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The Slightly Whiny Bathroom Episode

Bat su start- right on hang phen. Straight through cua dong, left on ly nam de.

There- that’s how I got here, and CURSE you, autocorrect. If I missed even one, I’ll be circling the Whole Roasted Sidewalk Mammals corner for an hour, just like yesterday when I was searching for Hanoi’s only English bookstore.

Where am I? I don’t know. I passed the washing machine bike delivery guy on the way here, though, so maybe a quarter mile past that, left at the chicken, straight past an entire extended family of orphans stacked like jenga children on the motorcycle? Sounds about right.

I would actually be perfectly content in my closet- my room was $30 a night and is serviceable but does not include such luxuries as a phone, a window, or a toilet that can flush paper- but I try to leave for a couple of hours each day so they can replace my complimentary water.

Throwing my toilet paper in the trash can takes some getting used to, by the way, and honestly I don’t want it to become a habit because what if I start accidentally doing that at home? I feel like it would be an insurmountable social faux pas at, say, Gritty’s, where they would probably take my mug back and smash it over my head.

Once I got to pretend I was an employee and boot out a couple of illicit lovers for doing carnal things in the stalls, and I don’t want management to take away those privileges for, you know, just willy-nilly leaving dirty Charmin as I please.

So yeah, it’s been an interesting balance between dehydrating myself into restroom independence while still hydrating adequately enough to prevent another heat exhaustion episode. And when I say “interesting” I mean “{insert gagging sound here}”.

At least I’m not in the Philippines, where there often wasn’t a seat or soap, either. Though I realized it’s just a cultural thing and that in the US, I’m spoiled rotten (or more literally, not) I would feel so much cleaner so much of the time if I could just gosh darned be male for awhile.

The good news is that Typhoon Glenda has changed her track to chase Chinese people instead of me, so perhaps I can keep electricity and continue to read on my phone.

And if not, I can always bum a bookstore ride with the jenga youth in Asia.

I’m sure- at least I think- it wouldn’t kill me.

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Oh, and a PS: this nice makeup blogger found a previous post and as a result I’ve started reading her and getting inspired. I’m dirty and hippy as all get-out here, but be warned: I might become a lot prettier and start batting my eyelashes more soon. And if I do, you can disregard that I EVER WROTE THIS POST because I know it’s not classy… I know.

Urban Tiger

Hanoi is not my cup of tea, so I’ve stopped at Kebab Haus 1-2-3 in order to have one and reconsider. “One” being something caffeinated, not a kebab. I’ve never understood the allure of stackable stick food.

Ok. Positive thoughts, Carrie, go:

-managed a thirty minute walk with minimal bleeding

-chickens on the roof!

-no danger of being the kind of obnoxious I thought I’d be, though no promises on all the other kinds…

I’m currently perched on a backless stool eight or so inches from the ground. My bag is in my lap because the safe in my hotel doesn’t work, so I’m protecting my most passporty possessions by folding over them geometrically while eying strangers and mentally menacingly practicing the snarl.

Can you picture this? Can you visualize my splayed and crooked posturing? In the words of some of my fellows, “bugger off, mate.”

Right, I have escaped from the streets of Hanoi, which, you know what? I thought I liked cities, but it turns out that was a really naive thing to say. Cities, like people, have complex personalities. When I meet people, they’re generally either showing me their good sides or the ones they’ve decided are compatible with mine.

Cities, outside of tour guides, do no such thing. It’s just, “here’s my mess! Deal or leave.”

And hey, these streets are a teeming mess. I’m sure there’s a figurative handbook of unwritten rules of the road, but I sure as hell haven’t seen it. Like in Manila, where I walked a mile just to cross the street without getting arrested, every step seems fraught with fear and fissures, messes and motorbikes. Do you see how many directions in which vehicles are pointed in this photo? They’re all at full speed through unlabeled intersections. And I was too scared to take a picture when it was typical- meaning three times more traffic with constantly undulating centers of gravity- because all the sidewalks are full of bikes and plastic hair accessories and you just can’t walk there.

No way would a Bronco barrel through here; it just hasn’t got the maneuverability. OJ would’ve been caught in seconds. Either that, or heeled and helmetless Vietnamese riders would be plastered to his windshield like flies.

It is now noon-oh-one, I haven’t had a drink in a week, and a beer is on its way- a world acclaimed Tiger, since 1932. I only drink beer in Asia, so it is repulsive. I will stay here and nurture this and others, though, and listen to the similarly low-slung Australians charmingly-accentedly swear about their night until I swill together some exploratory zippity-zip.

Or I just go back to my room. I do have HBO and I’m sure Harrison Ford is saving somebody in peril three or four times today.

Oh! That reminds me.

For weeks before I got here, I thought I was going to have deep psychological problems trying not to be a Robin Williams character all the time. I thought I’d have to choke myself back from joyously belting a “goooood morning!” to the country each day upon awakening. That’s the kind of obnoxious I’ve avoided, though. The planned salutation has been replaced with an anxious perusal for plague-like symptoms and a defeated exhalation upon finding them.

No more, though. (Positive thoughts,
Carrie, positive thoughts…) All but the most superficial signs are gone, as of this a.m. I am physically prepared to see some sights now, so let’s do this!

Let’s go see a war memorial! Let’s weave our way to a lake or something, and look at it! Let’s find out more ways the US government did horrific things to people, and then let’s wonder why they even let us in the country!

I was feeling pretty good about the gov’t after that last post, but after more Bataan research I found out that it was military arrogance and shortsightedness that put the soldiers in the Philippines in such a precarious position in the first place. Plus, the Japanese hadn’t been at all imperialistic until the US went in there with guns to their katana, forcing them to open their borders and devastating their fragile national pride. Not condoning either side’s actions, but Christ and Amaterasu, can we just follow Rodney King’s mantra? I’d like to go to a country and just, like, gaze wonderingly on some nature instead of being ravaged by ancestral guilt.

Meh. Curses to urban, I suppose I’ll sub that with a Tiger instead.

You Can’t Make This Up

The sweet Vietnamese woman who just delivered my leftover ostrich curry couldn’t stop oohing and aahing at the pile of makeup she had to sweep aside .

“Not Chinese! European! So good, so gooooooooood!”

She asked if she could touch it and I acquiesced, wide-eyed at how lovingly she stroked the lipstick.

Ew. I just reread that last sentence and it reeks of fetish doggy porn- sorry.

Anyway, I don’t actually believe she was awed over the makeup as much as my really obvious lack of using it. I should not have joked about my flaming cheetah leg spots in that last post, but I didn’t know at the time that they’d gather reinforcements and spread like a swarming red army from my neck to my toes. I didn’t know that they’d align themselves with the chills, headache, and joint pain that left me whimpering through the 16-hour journey to my Halong hotel, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d be googling “Japanese encephalitis” and “dengue fever” less because I wondered which one I had than to find ways to die in relative comfort.

Of course I was overreacting. A good 36 hours of sleep and four liters of water banished everything but the rash. I spent yesterday drinking appropriately named bottled La Vie and flopping across my bed like a trout in the bottom of a rowboat, trying unsuccessfully to pretend I wasn’t scratching.

I watched sub-dubbed Cinemax all day. My greatest accomplishment was learning from a terrible Mark-Paul Gosselaar movie that the Vietnamese phrase for lesbian is “dong ting”.

Today has been much better, which is why I ventured to the restaurant for lunch instead of ordering invalid. I’m still mildly measles-y in appearance, but I can control the scratching and in my humble op, the scratching is the worst for other people.

That’s how I came to order the ostrich. Weird meals are my most doable exotic indoor pleasure, and they’ll have to suffice until I don’t look like a red dwarf actually exploded on me.

Although I suppose I could cover it with my fancy-schmancy makeup.

In Which I Get All History-Nerdy

July 12, 2014

My legs are spotted like a Martian cheetah’s, but I can see them!  Some pleasant headway in the battle against repercussions of living 11 days in the sugar capital of the country, each resident of which wanted to share his favorite way of indulging.  I have lost roughly eight pounds in water weight today.

I’m spotted, though, because of denim. Did you know that it’s injudicious, skin-appearance-wise, to spend an entire day dressed in full length jeans and a waterproof jacket under a sun that’s burning a heat index of 106?  “I’d like to get a picture of Carrie in heat,” said Uriel, making a much more interesting sentence by leaving out that indefinite article.  I sloshed buckets of toxins through my pores this morning (I ran out by this afternoon- too worried about the toilet scene to drink any replenishing water) but they were cool with it because they were finally breathing air instead of exhaust fumes.  

Yes, today, we went to the island of Corregidor.

I have to admit to being skeptical about the trip, because we were supposed to leave by 6:30 this morning and it was allegedly going to be another 12 hour day.  I’d googled the place and mentally checked it “uninteresting”, but boy was I glad to be slapped in the face with all my wrong.

For starters, it’s an 80 minute boat ride.  I got to dive into my book for awhile, emerging only for the hilarious turtle scene with Jackie Chan.  And then, as it turns out, we got to do some interesting history, too!  Such good stuff, and I’m going to share it with you.  

You should know that Corregidor was, according to its website, “a key bastion for the Allies during the war.”  It’s located in Manila Bay, and the struggle for it and for Manila played a big giant role in how Japanese fates unraveled.

I did not know this.  Just like when I learned a couple of weeks ago that the Philippines was subjected to sustained invasion just the day after Pearl Harbor, I felt really ignorant upon finding out.  This feeling continued throughout the day.

One of the first things I learned was that “banzai” means “may you live ten thousand years”, and not, as I’m embarrassed to have thought, something simplistic and cartoony like “hiiiii-YA!”  It was also a really difficult fact to corroborate via Internet until I stopped spelling the damned word like it was a set description for Mr. Miyagi.  There you go, though.  The Filipino word “mabuhay” means the same thing.  Good to know, since I’ve been hearing it for two weeks and it could have just as easily meant “look!  A tall blonde mutant.”  Regardless, I like the Filipino usage much better, as it’s more reassuring to hear it as a welcome rather than as a suicide pilot’s farewell howl.

Oh- suicide pilots.  That’s another piece of lesson I need to revamp when we get back to the States.  When I taught Japanese history and culture this spring and got to the World War II section, kids had tons of questions about the kamikaze pilots, and why on earth anybody would ever do something like that, let alone hundreds of people.  We traced Japanese culture all the way back centuries, back to the samurai code, bushido, the way of the warrior.  To a code that dictated harakiri, a ritual and suicidal disembowelment for anyone who behaved dishonorably.  The samurai were pretty much torn apart by Emperor Meiji in the 1860s, but their code and culture had run the country for hundreds of years, and you can’t just change people’s ways of thinking by declaring them obsolete.  If that were true, a heck of a lot more grandparents would be pink-haired hipsters taking molly.  It just doesn’t work that way.  

That’s probably not even a current trend, but I listened to Karen Carpenter today so I’m sure that further proves that people stick with what they know.  

So imagine a culture in which dishonor, for centuries, was treated with a self-inflicted death wound.  If Japanese soldiers fled from battle or otherwise shamed themselves in their duty to the emperor, it’s easier to see why their superiors could more easily convince them to “volunteer” for kamikaze missions.  

It’s even easier to see when you know that they were also pumped full of drugs, as I learned today.  And that some of them were actually Koreans or Taiwanese whose countries had been forcibly occupied by the Japanese empire for decades.  

Those are new details that will change my answers when students ask in the future.

The guide also mentioned that Japanese tourists got an entirely different tour on Corregidor, one in which they end up mostly discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It got me to thinking about how awkward and apologetic I’d be if I were sitting with domestic tourists at the nuclear bomb sites.  I found a book- by a Japanese author but written or translated in English- about Hiroshima in the library of Shinagawa Gakuen last year, and I felt so terrible reading it that I had to hide in the aisles and cry on the floor.  It reinforced a fierce belief to never judge a people by its government.

And the government of World War-era Japan was just filled with despicable assholes who perpetrated and encouraged what should be inhuman behavior.  The guide was just telling us about some of the “comfort women” forced into servility and prostitution when a bunch of macaques crossed the road, which I frankly kind of needed as distraction.

There’s more stuff about hell ships and the American troops who had to temporarily surrender but didn’t want Japanese soldier to have the benefit of their provisions.  They were thus raging drunk when they exited the tunnel, but I’m not going to tell any more because it’s time to meet the cohort for a dinner on our last night here.

You should note, though, that the original Japanese plan had the Philippines conquered in 50 days, after which the Nippon military would move on to Hawaii and Australia.  The American and Filipino troops held them off for almost five months, though, destroying the plan and potentially saving our sorry buns from a world of suffering and hurt.

I’m not always proud of our military’s history, and I often bank on an internationally shared belief not to judge people by whomever holds power over them.  

A belated bear hug and thank you to the combined forces of the ‘40s, though.  

We might not have Karen Carpenter songs without you. 

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