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Showing posts from October, 2005

some pictures

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To go with my thousands and thousands of words. A disclaimer: These were taken with the 35mm point-and-shoot camera my parents bought me in fifth grade. Even then it was a hand-me-down from my friend Bonnie. It’s definitely feeling its age, but it’s a sturdy little thing, and it will have to do until B uploads the photos from her digital camera. For all you visual learners out there, my previous posts are now illustrated. Here’s one of me trying the infamous durian in Singapore. Actually, I look like I’m getting high off it. It is a potent fruit.

10/22: valley girls and boys (and buddhas)

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We began our last day in HK at Hong Kong Park, where we frolicked with black-necked swans and fake rocks covered with real turtles and ponds full of coy that were bigger than the turtles. We took the steep, slightly scary tram to Victoria Peak, where we watched the crowd of tourists and guys selling postcards, one pushy fortune teller and one self-proclaimed “Thai superstar” who was there with a camera crew. And beyond that, HK’s big, curved skyline, pastel in the smog. There was also a mall at the top, of course. We took a boat and one or two types of trains—so much public transportation here—to Tsim Sha Tsui East, one of the New Territories, meaning it was founded around 1897-ish. We decided that the New Territories are the Valley of HK, where things are a little cheaper and a little less cool. Lunched at a dim sum restaurant on the top floor of a mall. There was a complicated system where one of the staff handed you a slip of colored paper printed with a number and you had to wa

10/20: the knock-off dynasty

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Ryan was MIA this morning, so B and Jon and I hit Hollywood Road, where all the antiques are. Jon is the guy to go with, as he knows the difference between the Han and Tang and Qing and Ming dynasties, between real and fake. We saw fat ceramic pots dripping with emerald green glaze, little armless soldiers, asymmetrical shelves, slotted benches. A lot of it was gorgeous, but some of it—even some of the gorgeous pieces—looked a little bit like something you’d find in a model home. The big, pale stone horse was supposed to guard a tomb, but he looked like he’d be equally comfortable guarding a sectional sofa. That’s the trouble with being a pomo kid, you don’t appreciate the real thing. We rode the string of escalators that run up the steep mountainside toward Victoria Peak. They pushed us up past noisy apartment buildings with peeling paint and clothes hanging out the windows on poles. Then all of a sudden we stepped off for a minute and we were at the mossy gates of a white mosque sur

10/19: suzanne, jon, ben and conrad

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B and I were feeling a bit bedraggled after getting off the bus at the wrong stop and trekking the long distance to Ryan’s flat. But when we got there, he’d turned the place festive with candles and music. His new coworker, an Atlantan/New Yorker named Suzanne who used to work for Rough Guides, was also there. She was friendly-goofy, and we all went to a vegetarian restaurant called Original Sin in Holland Village (basically White People Town of Singapore). Then we moved on to a lesbian bar called Club 95 in Chinatown. Small and mellow, with nothing so fussy as fruit punch or vanilla Stoli on hand to appease B’s and my not-so-butch drinking habits. Now we’re in Hong Kong for the last leg of our trip. We’re staying at the Conrad Hilton, which is like a mammoth version of Tea Chapter in that I’m way too lowbrow for the uber-fluffy towels and too-attentive staff and delicate pears they leave on the desk with an orchid as garnish. B’s friend Jon has joined us from Beijing, where he’s be

10/18: i love the '80s and the 1890s

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Right now B and I are sitting at Tea Chapter in Singapore’s Chinatown. We’ve had several pots of earthy red tea and one pot of slightly bitter green tea. Until about 20 minutes ago, 140 Chinese schoolgirls were taking tea lessons upstairs, so it wasn’t exactly tranquil. I don’t think I’d do very well in tea school. I feel big and oafish among the dainty porcelain cups (one for sniffing, one for drinking) and teapots (one for brewing, one for pouring). At Starbucks you get a venti whatever and you are kind of dwarfed by it. You don’t have to have refined tastes to enjoy a bunch of chocolate sprinkles and a triple shot of caffeine. This is stuff for people who like wine tasting and classical music. I like the idea of wine tasting and classical music. Also, I just managed to acquire a tea injury when I seared my wrist on our boiling kettle. Still, it’s all lovely and elaborate, and I think this might be one of my favorite days so far. Earlier this afternoon we visited the Chinatown Heri

10/16: cats and fish

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If any city were to have a serious and comprehensive museum devoted to the cultural and biological history of cats, you’d think it would be Kuching (which, as I mentioned, means “cat” in Malay). The Cat Museum sat at the top of the hill in a big domed building, looking stately and promising. But after a quick look around, we decided it must be the pet project (no pun intended) of some government official’s wife. Someone the city couldn’t say no to. Ever wondered what a giant plaster cat looks like wearing a hijab? Look no further! You can also find cartons of Whiskas behind glass, framed Garfield puzzles and water-stained prints of “cats in western art.” The inclusions were random, half-hearted and totally disorganized. The English portion of the info cards on the walls often started or stopped in the middle of sentences. Ryan was immediately bored and began scouring for little bits of actual Malaysian history, but I was fascinated. There were not one but two collections of Hello Kit

10/15: lost in translation

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The homesickness hit today. Right now drinking a pumpkin spice latte and reading a BHQ submission sounds really nice. I miss feeling competent and grown up. I miss knowing I could drive for hours in any direction and not get lost. I feel sort of silly feeling homesick after being gone only a week (with my girlfriend, no less), but that’s me. We’re in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia now. Sarawak is a state on the island of Borneo. Borneo sounds so exotic. I recall hearing something about “The Wild Man of Borneo,” but B and Ryan have no idea what I’m talking about. I think maybe he was one of PT Barnum’s side show attractions, probably just a local guy with a tan and a lot of facial hair. (Not that Malays actually have a lot of facial hair, I’m just saying that side show attractions frequently did.) We’ve cashed in B’s Hilton points—here’s to putting your grad school tuition on your credit card!—and gotten a ridiculously nice room overlooking the Sarawak River and all the brightly colored

10/14: nature for the impatient

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Tonight we’re staying at Bako National Park, a 30-minute ride from Kuching in a little boat with an outboard motor. It had a sign that said, “Wear life jacket at all times,” but at no point did anyone offer us a life jacket. The river (delta? little sliver of ocean?) ranged from narrow to wide—I know because I kept thinking about whether or not I could swim it, and the answer varied. I also thought a lot about crocodiles as I watched the mangrove forests and tiny houses on stilts roll by. B was not so happy to learn that our hostel had no mosquito netting or air conditioning. Her doctor didn’t prescribe malaria pills, but to her credit, she’s sticking it out. There is a yellow-cliffed beach nearby and lots of wild (or wild-ish) animals. We were barely off the boat when we saw our first bearded pig, a huge boar with a scouring brush for a face (B’s description). There are dozens of what the campground brochure refers to as “naughty macaques,” pale, cat-sized monkeys. I think the brochu

10/13: it takes a village

Spent most of yesterday by the pool. Everything I normally devote my time to seems so far away. Just being is such a good lesson. Of course it also makes me feel extremely untalented because I don’t have any skills that might be useful here. I can’t swim (well, just enough to not drown in a current-less, shark-less swimming pool), I can’t plan itineraries, I can’t make conversation with strangers. All I can do is eat whatever’s in front of me, which makes me more of a circus freak than a savvy traveler. Last night at dinner (fish, spring rolls, two kinds of eggplant and the best desserts I’ve ever had—an array of bright green, chewy, ricey things), I confessed my travel-related insecurities to Ryan, who said that not complaining and not being afraid to try new things are genuine accomplishments. As always, I am accomplished in the negative. I’m good at not taking up too much space, not being too annoying or demanding. My therapist would not be surprised. Nevertheless, I took it as a

10/12: the land of bikinis and hijabs

Yesterday we arrived at the Damai Beach Holiday Inn 45 minutes outside Kuching. Malaysia is technically a developing country, but it seems to be a mixture of living conditions, more along the lines of Mexico than, say, Sub-Saharan Africa. We drove past shacks in the middle of lush green fields, tile-roofed duplexes and a few really opulent mansions. The signs featured lots of cognates: motosikil, insurans, teksi. We passed a school full of very small girls in hijabs. Our cab driver said when they start wearing it depends. A lot seems to be optional for Muslims in this part of the world. Some of the girls wear short sleeves. Ryan said that his Muslim friends told him that if you break your Ramadan fast you can do a make-up day afterward. There’s a sort of modern-Muslim style I’ve observed on some of the trains in Singapore. One young woman had on this brightly printed turquoise dress over jeans (a style I always dig, no matter what B says), with a brown plaid hijab. They wear them pinn

10/11: purses, from production to consumption

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Two buses, one walk and one cab ride, and we’re on a plane to Malaysia, where we’ll spend the next week. By crossing the Singapore/ Malaysia border on foot, we can take a domestic flight from Johor Bahru to Kuching and save like $US 100. Ryan knows all the tricks. He chatted with our cab driver about different Malaysian cities, the Johor Bahru flag, his family, Ramadan, etc. He’s open talking about his own travels, where I would be nervous that I was just making myself sound really rich. But I’m always nervous talking about things, and so I never talk to anyone and never learn anything. B and I sat in the back of the cab, quietly, soaking it in. Ryan often leads the way and he’ll make jokes like, “I love how my two wives walk five paces behind me.” There’s this whole choreography of the uber-well-traveled (Ryan), the well-traveled (B) and the girl who says, “So in LA….” Our last day (for a while) in Singapore, Ryan worked and B and I explored on our own. Meaning she figured out the bu

10/10: opening the cupboard

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Our first stop yesterday was the Tiong Bahru bird area, where older Chinese men bring their birds to sing to each other on Sunday mornings. The morning was rainy-misty, sort of like Seattle in July. The birds were these little green and yellow guys in wooden cages decked out with carvings and ivory ornaments. I thought they all looked like the “after” pictures from Pimp My Cage . Ryan said he would remember that when he taught parody to his class. We stopped at a hawker center for breakfast, sort of like Grand Central Market but cleaner and Chinese. Lots of food booths and little tables beneath a tall tin roof. I ate fish congee (porridge) and drank a venti-esque cup of grass jelly juice. In the afternoon we visited the Changi Prison Museum. At first I thought we were going to get to visit a real Singapore prison. I’d just read an article in other magazine by a person who’d toured a Bolivian prison, apparently a regular occurrence. But while the current real prison is called Changi

10/8: fine city

If you live in a country with all sorts of theoretical rights, but never get around to practicing them, is your country really different from one without rights? Ryan’s example: So we have freedom of the press, but all we read is Us Weekly . Going about town in Singapore today, I didn’t feel like I was in a police state. There were lots of signs reminding me not to litter and a number of cameras, but I got the feeling that I could live more or less the same life here that I do at home. Ryan claims to be a fan of dictatorships these days. I can’t tell how much of that is sincere, how much is an ideology he’s sort of trying on. A lot of America’s rugged individualism is just stupid. Like, “Ain’t no government gonna tell me where to throw my trash. Ain’t no government gonna tell me to carpool.” But I wonder if I’d been raised in a country that didn’t even have a pretense of nonconformity if I’d be an even bigger wuss than I am now. And I hate the idea of not being able to choose my colle

10/6: asian education

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On the plane: So far in my guidebook I’ve read about Malaysia’s history and culture. I could tell you that the early Chinese settlers were generally wealthier than the ones who came at the turn of the century. I could tell you that Malaysia is now roughly 65% Malay, 25% Chinese and 9% Indian. I could tell you that Singapore was forced to be its own country mainly because it had a lot of Chinese people, which made Malaysia nervous. But I couldn’t tell you where we should eat dinner. Oh well, 13 hours to go. A toddler is screaming on one side of me, and, on the other, B is talking about how when we have kids, we’ll be able to keep them quiet. The official mascot of Singapore is the merlion—half lion, half fish. What’s not to love about that? But the guidebook is kind of dismissive, like, “Merlions—what ever , Singapore.” At Ryan’s flat: Ryan, B’s former roommate-turned-professional-nomad, calls it a flat. He’s teaching here for a couple of years and will be our host and travel buddy

home stinky home

My second Saturday is going well. The first one was spent trudging through train and airport lines, lugging our gluttonous suitcases, then inching across the Pacific, lower back pinching, skin continuing to erupt—it has protested each new climate I’ve plunged it into over the last two weeks. I knew it had been a good trip—the memories were already taking shape—but I also had that exhausted-nervous-weird feeling I always get when coming home after a long trip. As if I might have forgotten how to go about my old life. I needn’t have worried. The cats didn’t forget who we were, and B and I managed to hunt down some bean burritos quickly, and my face was thrilled to be reunited with its apricot scrub. I’m happy to be back in LA, in my apartment that smells like cat pee (it doesn’t normally, for the record, but someone got a little bored in our absence) and the new shoes I bought in Singapore’s Little India. They smell like spices and something else I can’t quite place, something a little

malaysia truly asia

My journal is overflowing with notes (and one sketch of a merlion--I'll explain later), and I plan to transcribe all of the reasonably interesting parts when I get back. But I do want to say I blogged from abroad, so here I am, typing from the lobby of the Holiday Inn at Damai Beach in Malaysia. Today's highlights: 1) At the Sarawak Cultural Village, a "living museum" of tribal longhouses condensed for tourist purposes, we saw gorgeous traditional dances...followed by a live song and dance number to "Malaysia Truly Asia," the song the Malaysian tourism board uses in all its TV commercials. Maybe the dancers were just tired, since it was the end of the show, but it seemed like the their moves were a little lackluster. Like they weren't truly into lyrics like, "Mal-aayy-sia, it will steal your heart away...." 2) More dried fish on rice at breakfast. My travel skills are not many, but I will eat pretty much anything and love it. The national qu

out of blog-office reply

No thing like packing to go to a Muslim country (Malaysia) to make you realize what a high percentage of your wardrobe consists of tank tops. Besides tank tops-plus-deslutifying-cover-ups, my suitcase contains: Nearly stamp-free passport Nearly unread guidebooks Yummy-delicious malaria pills My favorite Save the Turtles T-shirt Cara’s novel manuscript, which I hope is PG-13 enough for Singapore censors Two friendly cats At least a couple of these items will have to be unpacked. Maybe if I’d read my guidebooks, I would know whether I’m a paranoid dork for thinking that Singapore might actually care about my reading material. So far the guidebooks say things like, “Remember, sodomy is a crime in Singapore. But the main gay district is at such and such street….” Confusing, but exciting. I love worlds-inside-worlds, I love the lengths people go to in order to have fun. Of course by “people,” I don’t mean me. I suspect I wouldn’t be so good at leading a cultural resistance inside a totalita

heaven on wheels

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It had been years since I’d gone to Venice Beach, but unlike pretty much every other part of the LA, it’s oddly resistant to change. Same trendy-to-freaky ratio, same Scientologists offering Free Stress Tests, same incense and garlic rolls and ladies with pink hair. It had been even more years since I’d roller-skated, but that too was pretty much the same, except this time I rented beach-girl brown leather skates. The last pair I owned looked like those Reebok aerobic shoes from the ’80s, with pink wheels attached. It was foggy, and that kept a lot of people off the beach and out of my way as I flailed. Soon I was clammy with cold-day sweat, but moving along smoothly, up the coast and through the cool, creepy wooden tunnels beneath the Santa Monica pier. I’d never seen them before. Beautiful. Like rickety old circus days. All of this happened a few roller-paces behind my friend Sara, who used to be a figure skater, and can do that back-crossover thing on her rollerblades, and would