It’s Just Me and My Russians on a Rainy Afternoon

I ducked into this place because it started pouring all of a sudden- pro tip: tropical rainy season is not a great time to dress virginally and then take a walk- and it looked nice enough to take my only form of payment, which thanks to being debit burgled in Indonesia (still worth it) is a credit card.

It was an appropriate time for lunch, so I did that. When it was still raining after noodle completion, however, I deigned primly to order a drink.

“Just one?” asked the inexplicably puzzled waiter.

“Yes, that will be all,” I replied politely, while wondering what about my damp white clothes scream “double-fisting at noon”.

Turns out, though, these Black Russians are a dollar-ish apiece, which in the current administration seems like some kind of political arrangement. It’s been steadily raining and I’ve been sitting here for hours- so at some point I decided my own kind of collusion would be in order. I have nine novels downloaded to my phone and a full and friendly charge; book it and bring me another.

“You are very strong. Very strong,” says the waiter after four. I don’t have the heart to tell him that four of these over as many hours is the Grittys equivalent of one trivia question.

“You are so strong. Look at your face! It is normal.”

“False,” I think as I outwardly agree. A remix of the Macarena is playing so I am assuredly not normal. My ankles are crossed and my torso is steady but my hips are chairdancing really hard and I’m grinning like a goshdarned fool.

“Do you like this music? I can play you anything you want.”

“This. Play this,” I say, delighted.

He does. On repeat, even, and then Havana plays for a third time as he indicts me with another glass of collusion, stays to chat about rice farming, and adds himself to the Facebook.

More of this, please, in the world. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in tourist sites that I forget how much I adore a lazy hideaway, slow drinking, and a pop rock friendship.

Cheers, Siem Reap, and cheers, hospitality on a terrace with the Russians.

Casual diplomacy triumphantly trumps again.

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I Learned a Lot (and Linga!)

A good example of a reasonably priced meal is when you can eat a delicious lunch of shrimp amok (a spiced Cambodian coconut milk dish with garlic and shallots) capped by a mango milkshake for lunch, and then are forced additionally to have three adult beverages in order to meet the credit card minimum of $10.

“It is happy hour,” said the waitress at the Paper Tiger.

“It is one p.m.” said I.

“It is always happy hour,” she replied.

And so I caved.

I had had a productive morning at the Angkor National Museum getting brainy and answering long-held questions like “what was seriously up with all those penis carvings on that Thai beach in 2013?” (see archival exhibit A here:) 

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I decided that the discovery had earned me a quaff or three.  

So, here’s what I pondered over my gins: the Hindu religion is similar to Catholicism in that people are supposed to believe there is only one divine entity, but it’s sort of also split into three parts.  Catholics have the father, son, and holy ghost, one of which we’re supposed to eat on a weekly basis, and Hindus have Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.  

As the story goes, Brahma and Vishnu were arguing about who created the world when this fiery shaft of light appeared.  It went so deep into the underworld and so high into the heavens that B and V each traveled over a thousand years in opposite directions in search of an end, but couldn’t find one.  Then Shiva appeared from within it and was like, “without me, neither of you creates anything.”  This phallic shape, then, came to represent fertility and how life cannot begin without that precious seed.  In Hindu artwork, it’s often set into a base with a trough from which water can flow and feed it.  

So there’s a female aspect, too.

Interesting, right?  I liked the museum.  Turns out Cambodia has this fascinating history of which I had zero knowledge pre-Pol Pot, which is a shame because the first two thousand years are filled with all the art, architecture and mythology of ancient lands… and Pol Pot?  Well, he was just an extremist maniacal asshole. 

For hundreds of years and through the building of Angkor Wat (literally “the temple of the capital”) this vast kingdom covered modern-day Cambodia, plus much or most of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and even into India and China.  

So why did I never learn this stuff?  Worse, why have I never taught it?  As a direct result of Pol Pot’s atrocities, I have ethnically Cambodian students every year.  They were really excited when they found out I’d be going to “their” country, and there’s no question about them being eager to learn and connect.

It makes me want to reach back a dozen years, to when I realized that nobody gives a damn about social studies and I can teach the vague standards with any content that engages my students.  

I probably won’t tell them about the penisy stuff, and maybe leave the booze prices for their college economics.  Ancient Asian history, though? 

We’re hittin’ that.

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The Tyler Story, and a Call for Recommendations

“Is Tyler here?  Tyler?” I asked the class.  I was substitute teaching second grade at the beginning of my illustrious career, and I thought I knew everything- including that Tyler would be a boy.

“Here,” said a voice, and I looked up.

“You absolute magnificent badass,” I thought at the kid, stunned but smiling at her placidly.  Tyler was a girl, and I wanted her name.  

Oh yes, I would have her name.

Fast forward to adult nights in the Old Port, and Tyler would become my bar moniker.  You know the deal- the one you give to people when you’re not really interested.  When the guy is drooling the Bud Lights he ordered at the microbrewery onto your toes, or when instead of buying you a drink, he buys you spinach artichoke dip.  Or oh!  Just hands you his lease instead of trying a line.  

Those cobblestones get weird in summer.

Anyway, Tyler became my bar name, and when this real guy named Tyler joined our staff after a few years of doing Peace Corps stuff in Cambodia, I noticed he had some abstract art instead of a human profile pic so I started using his last name, too, in hopes that dudes would send him hilarious off-color messages while looking for me.  

This did not happen, but I like to think it cemented our friendship.  

I reminisce fondly upon those glory days, as I age gracefully into not getting hit on in person a single time in five months of Asia.  (Stricken from the record: the guy in the karaoke booth who snuck in and ran his hand up my leg.  It doesn’t count because before I even know what had happened, he was stumbling into Katie for a post-Celine Dion ballad mammary honk.  Clearly I could not take it personally.)

Anyway, the point is that a few weeks ago I asked Tyler what to do in Cambodia, and he responded with some recommendations that I hope do not turn out to be revenge for all the bandying about with his birthright.  So bam: here I am.  I’m booked for a week, then wide open until July 1, when I head back home to see if I’ve still got it.  

Now, y’all- same question to you.  What (literally on earth) should I do?  I’ve got some work left to finish so wifi is a must, but outside that I’m free to roam.

Suggestions?  I eagerly await.

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Sydney

It’s weird to go from a society that is uniform and (at least surface) conservative to one that’s made up of a bunch of jolly descendants of penal colonists, even more so since I’m pretty sure I booked myself into the red light district again. Club X (VERY adult toys) is a couple of doors down, and it’s advertising something in virtual reality in which I’m extremely curious in a purely scientific, of course, way. There’s also the airplane drinks store- featuring an excellent variety of nips- and the Clouds Blvd (tagline Lingerie, etc.: HAHAHA “etc”) store- also featuring an excellent variety of nips. Or things that barely cover them.

I just went to find breakfast and passed a place called “Two Sticks”. I honestly wondered if it was Asian food or a gay bar.

Anyway, I’m perfectly safe and the hotel is cheap. This is ideal because everything else here is just insanely expensive. Half a glass of club soda? Four bucks. Beers are like 10 dollars a pop, and I haven’t seen any Foster’s yet so I’m pretty sure what it’s actually Australian for is “marketing to idiot Americans”.

All that said, I LOVE Sydney! The city is super walkable, and I trucked around all day yesterday- although I mostly only took pictures of the Opera House in different lights and from different angles. People are friendly and open; I talked to more strangers in five hours than I did during my entire stint in Singapore.

This place has a soul, and I recommend it.

Today: Bondi Beach and Ice Cube. Tomorrow? I’m thinking Manly.

Let me know if you want any red light souvies.

This One’s Inappropriate

March 14, 2018

This one isn’t going into the Fulbright blog, because I want to be able to say things like “holy shit!” with impunity.

You guys, I saw the craziest things I’ve seen today!  Well, definitely since ChickenFest, anyway.

The setting: Ubud, Bali, where I’ve moved because it was too hard to swim at my dumb other beach and Emily’s pictures make this place look amazing.  My pics, on the other hand, make it look like this:

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I like it, though.  I took an immediate pleasant stroll down the road and I had my first “holy shit!” when I saw what they were selling for souvies.  I mean, what if they search your bags at the airport?  I feel like I would be judged harshly by size… color… all kinds of things.  No, thank you.

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Anyway, I was pleased that this place called Monkey Forest was right at the bottom of the hill.  These were my first clues that I’d like it:

Hahaha “another toilet for ladies”.  You go, gender equality.

The silly other tourists were laughing at something else: the thought of a monkey actually attacking.  I looked at them solemnly, shaking my head.

“I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?” one asked.

“Rabies,” I said stonefaced, and I turned and paid the entrance fee.

The Monkey Forest is soooo pretty; it almost doesn’t even need all the scrappy primates.  Holy shit with that statue, though.  Master, schmaster of his domain.

And holy shit with that monkey doing drugs!  I could only get a blurry photo because it was raining and I was shocked to my core, but these dudes opened and that bigger one ate an entire pill pack of something or other.

“Stop it!  Stop it, monkey!” I shrilled, “that’s drugs!  DRUGS!  An egg will be your brain on drugs!”

The monkey didn’t stop it, so I went to get a park ranger.

“A monkey is back there doing drugs.”

“Your drugs?”

“No!  God, no. NOT MY DRUGS.” (I’d just finished a book about the Bali prison called Hotel K because I like to read books set in the places I go.  Hotel K is scary as all hell and the last place I want to go to is there, but I really did want to do right by that monkey.)

“Please come with me,” I said, “the monkey is going to be extremely stoned and I’m concerned for him.”

I led the way.  The park guy laughed when he found out the monkey had eaten an entire package of diet pills.

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Personally, I’m not so sure it’s funny, but HOLY SHIT.  The friend monkey just put his hand IN THE OTHER MONKEY.  From behind.  I have a picture of that, too, but I’m not showing it.  Like I said, I went to ChickenFest.  I know what it’s like to have my eyes burned out of my head.

Holy, what a day.  I’m leaving a lot of stuff out, too, because of my family maybe not liking this one so much.  I had to share, though- I had to.  Walk around with that stuff buried inside you and you might explode.

I’ll end with these tamer monkeys, I think, though.  They’re much cuter, and like, that’s the last picture we should have in our heads.

 

Please don’t stop being friends with me.

FRIENDS! and Best Night Ever

At about the billionth blare of yet another Mitsubishi Lancer, I’d had it.  Often, it was likely a cab driver letting me know he was available, but far too many men had whistled sharply or leered “hola!” out the windows for me to be even remotely comfortable.  I had dark patches of sweat down my t-shirt and my waterproof athletic shorts were baggy and misshapen after the third day in a row.  So I was gross and jumpy, but that weird global siren of “blonde” still held.

I wanted to round up every man in the country and put him on a conveyer belt through an assembly line of angry feminist mama bears.  I got back to my room and vowed I wouldn’t leave it again.

Well, this lasted until hunger hit, so I ventured out to the nearest restaurant- which featured two dollar rum, a friendly waitress, and zero other patrons.  Score.  One of the locals, Rosa, had walked me down the first night and doubled as my first warning.

“You mustn’t be out after nine!” she admonished, and “make sure you bring a friend with you wherever you go.”

“But I don’t have any friends here.”

“Oh.”

Oh.

Okay.

(Sad face.)

But friends, last night I made friends!  And they dispelled all my previous impressions.

Friday night changed the atmosphere of my restaurant, and when Roger got up with his guitar and started playing Jose Feliciano covers of covers, I was filled with childlike delight.

But then all of a sudden he was tableside as I polished off my yucca.

“Want to get up and sing with me?” he asked, as people started to trickle in.

“My middle name is Oke!” I replied.  “Sure!”

I had had at least six dollars of rum at that point and had to back up and explain that my first name is Carrie and the Oke thing is just a joke I like to tell- I don’t actually sing stuff.  Not outside the shower or the Hyundai.

“No karaoke, even?  Haha, your name!”

I thought fleetingly of my Dr. Dre performance at Silver House and decided to keep it in the vault.

“Not like, anything I could actually hear, or that people felt the need to listen to.”  I was referring here to the wholesome family of six who now occupied the table directly in front of his amp.

Roger laughed with satisfying glee and grabbed his guitar and song list. We practiced quietly in the corner until he found my range (limited) and we decided on our set (the same).  I drank two more dollars for courage.  My belly was ready for this!

We went to the front.  Sat down.  I carefully flattened a wrinkle in my running gear as Roger introduced us:

“SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish CARRIE OKE! SpanishSpanishSpanishSpanishSpanish.”

People clapped and looked at us expectantly.  The two children, eyes like saucers, crept ever closer.  Cell phones came out and switched to video mode.

I took a big ole breath and sang them where the answer was, my friend!  Followed that by asking what would they do if we sang out of tune?  Would they stand up and walk out on us?  And they didn’t!

The cell phones went away and the applause was more polite than raucous, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more of a rock star then when the 7 year old boy grabbed the mic afterward and shouted “Carrie Oke!” while I beamed.  He even joined me at my table and we happily counted to ten and diez at each other in a nod to my limited linguistics.  Because friends, you know, should always be able to count at each other.

Si, that was your redemption song, Panama, and I thank you.

Adios, gracias, and thank you very much.

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I don’t have any pictures of myself singing so here are some friendly neighborhood cows.

The Highway, the Danger Zone, and Beautiful Boquete

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It’s just before 6 a.m. and the roosters are cockadoodle doin’ it well, which is how LL Cool J would’ve written it if he’d been raised in the rainforest.  Lizards are a-skitter and there’s a chorus of birds singing lush and falsetto.

Boquete is in the northern part of the country, closer to Costa Rica then Colombia.  I hoped to come here post-urban adventure to finish this vacation with utter relaxation: sipping local “the world’s best” coffee, hiking to waterfalls on the volcano on which my room is perched, and snapping sloths in their natural habitat, while pleased, I think about how gross and cool it is that they’re slow enough to grow an entire ecosystem in their fur.

I am just so gosh darn lucky to have gotten here alive.

Within a moment in the cab, I realized that something was amiss.  We wove down the road like the thread on a seamstress’s deadline, and my driver- Josef- kept groping for something while muttering anxiously en Espanol.  “Up,” he demanded, and I eventually understood to hoist my butt as he groped at the seat underneath me, emerging worryingly with keys and an expression of true satisfaction.

We stopped at a gas station and inexplicably switched from a yellow cab to an unmarked SUV.  Josef grinned at my puzzled face, then rev’d the engine through a blast of rap music that assaulted at full volume.  As my shell-shocked brain retreated, he tossed the beer cans into the back and took off, with me in the front clenching every muscle in my body as I noticed the tv set in the dashboard flashed some skin in a thong and then the accompanying soft core pornography.

“You like?” asked Josef.

I just stuttered.  Grunted.  Remembered all the prayers of my youth.  As it turns out, I was not the quick-thinking survivalist when the internal warning bell screeched in time with the hybrid Spanish gangster beats.

On the road, we blew through alto signs like red meant “go” and octagonal meant “faster” and my puppet self jerked at every makeshift, hairpin turn.  The music became a reasonable volume of rhythmic “f” and “n” words, and as I thought of it as Tupac with Tourette’s, I pondered my options.

Ask him to stop, that I’d reached my destination?  There were no streetlights on this rural road: no.

Bail bravely from the bucket seat with a pavement-softening power roll?  All of AC/DC’s thunder struck and the heavens gushed through their opening.

So much for prayer and plan b.

Sooner than anticipated- Josef lurched maniacally at 125 in opposition to the speed limit’s 80- we arrived at the aptly named Haven.  There, he became gentle and shyly offered me his phone number.

I dully checked in, and on each of my trembling body parts.

And in bed I intend to stay until I recover.

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