Saturday, June 30, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I am pleased to know however, that veteran traveler Michael Palin (one of my heros, also of Monty Python fame), has not only hiked the gorge, but that I had the privilege of hiking it a few months prior. It’s always nice to beat someone you look up to at a notable accomplishment.
The inn where Palin and I had breakfast, on seperate occasions.
Palin is ever so gracious in that he posts all of his books on his website; allowing registered users to read them free of charge, with the benefits of extra photos and multimedia supplements.
As I was reading his chapter on the gorge, I was amused to find we shared the same sense of vertigo. In his book Himalaya, Palin writes, “Lunch is easily walked off on a thigh-stretchingly steep climb known as the 28 Bends. Trudging upwards in a tight zigzag, I count off each one carefully and still find another 20 left at the end.” He later writes “When I stop on a narrow ledge to look around me, I find myself having to plant my feet very securely, for it feels as if the soaring vertical walls across the gorge are exerting some magnetic force, determined to tear me from my flimsy ledge.”
I remember climbing this stretch all too well, on hands and knees the whole way. It was so steep, and I was so exhausted, that I could not bring myself to stand upright, for fear I would tumble ass over tea kettle over the cliff. Needless to say, along with my numerous spelunking expeditions in college, it was one of the most treacherous hikes I’ve ever done.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
In Vietnam it’s a common assumption that if you live where you can bury it or wash it away in a stream, then you don’t need indoor plumbing. My friends who live in the dunes around Mui Ne simply direct me up in the hills (by the way, never squat on an incline when you have diarrhea). My friends who live on the ocean-side direct me to the shore. I’ll never forget my first walk along the beach near the Phan Thiet wharf and wondering why so many people were sitting in the mud. My friends that live along the cemetery direct me to “unoccupied” graves. I found that after dark it’s hard to get the thought of ghosts pulling me back into an empty grave with my pants around my ankles.
When I first bought my house and was putting in the bathroom, I decided to put in a traditional squatty potty. I was so accustomed to it by then, that I saw no point in a Western toilet. Squatty potties are easier to clean, good for maintaining lower-body strength, and are better suited to the way the human body is engineered. The bathroom plumbing all worked by gravity, which was cheaper (and since I didn’t have a private well, my only real option), but in the end it was a big mistake because the water pressure wasn’t strong enough most of the time. Even so, my friend helping me was worried I was spending too much money. He tried to convince me that I didn’t need an indoor toilet. He could teach me how to use the stream below his house (he lived behind me), like his family does. Remembering that the stream was barely a trickle that seeped out from the bottom of the hill, I knew that would never work for me. What was worse however, was that the stream-toilet also doubled as the family bathtub and the dish washer.
Toilet paper is always in short supply. In a pinch I’ve found new uses for pages in books I’ve already read, socks, receipts, and low-valued Vietnamese currency when I’m really hard-up. Some people never find what the need. For this reason, never touch ANYTHING in public bathrooms.
Using the toilet is always an adventure in Vietnam, but it can be just as perplexing for my countryside friends when they encounter a western-style toilet. I’ve found a lot of footprints on toilet seats in hotels where someone climbed on top the seat itself and squatted. Eventually they seem to figure it out, but I’ve still not solved the cement slab with that bucket of water.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Fish Egg Trees grow in many places that have been memorable to me as well. They grow in front of my friend Khiem’s house, where I meet him to drink beer and eat dried squid and stuffed crab at the harbor. They grow in front of the district police station where I always pick a few berries before I go inside to renew my residence permit every month. One grows above the stand in Mui Ne where I eat banh canh and drink peanut milk with my friends after work. They grow all along the streets and markets of Phan Thiet, and in front of the home of many of my closest friends.
I planted three in front of my house in the graveyard, where I anxiously watched them grow day by day. The sun baked my house in dry season, making it unbearable in the afternoons. I hoped their bows would absorb some of the heat. The lorries sped by every morning, kicking up dust that settled in my living room. I hoped that they would buffet the filth and save me some cleaning. The mourners on their way to the cemetery every day would peer into my windows and chatter about the strange foreigner living in the cottage. I hoped the trees would finally give me some privacy. The birds and bats nested in the holes in my roof, dropping babies in my shoes. I hoped the trees would provide them with a new home and forget about mine. Even with a new brick wall around my front yard, the neighbors still snuck in at night and stole my orchids and water jars. The trees finally give me a place to hide things out of view. I took great pride in the Fish Egg Trees as they thrived and met all the hopes I had for them.
Fish Egg Trees to me, are a symbol of comfort, the best of my life in Vietnam, and the dreams I’ve had living there.