Sunday, January 23, 2011
Looking back on this last trip to Asia; going over favorite memories, these things emerge.
Hong Kong: As always the Star Ferry, the bus ride to Victoria Peak, Tsim Chai Kee for shrimp wonton noodle soup, getting apples and oranges for a good price at Fa Yuen Market, the Indonesian encounter, feeling so safe at the Dragon Hostel that we kept our door propped open most of the time we were there except when asleep. Photo: From Pacific Coffee on Victoria Peak ("The Peak"). This is the second time I've used this photo - I really love it.
Bangkok: Nice clean cool no-brothelish hotel and having coffee outside in the morning, amulet market, figuring out how to take the buses well, food courts and especially Siam Paragon, chicken street, figuring out that we were never going to get a cab or tuk-tuk for anything other than robbery cost, salad bar at Tops Market.
Chiang Mai: Lanna House, a nice hotel with decent breakfast buffet, Central Airport Plaza for the best food court, taking 20 baht song taoews everywhere, mango with sticky rice and sweet coconut milk, khao soi noodles. Photo: David and Leslie near Hue - speaking of photos I love!
Phnom Penh: Being with Samnang’s family and David at this place of good memories, Juedi’s cooking, dinner with Henning and Ment, hanging out with Lance in Battambang.
Saigon: Being back with Mrs. Kim and the sweet girls who work there, the pork chop lady – WooHoo!
Hue: Being in this beautiful city, staying in the Binh Duong II, eating at Thu’s (mmm, banana pancakes), taking a car into the countryside on a beautiful rainy day (see photo above).
Hanoi: Staying at the Camellia2, breakfasts at hotel, meeting up with David, Chicken Street with Jim, Halong Bay junk trip, going to King Cafe with David, graduation day at the Temple of Literature (see Photo at left), walking around the old quarter.
Overall: Traveling with David, traveling with Leslie (speaking of perpetual motion machines!!!), Leslie tracking the money so well, Leslie's brilliant plane seat work (we had some great seats), doing really well on public transportation, so much championship food, just the whole thing.
The Bus Ride (a story written on the bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh)
Introduction: One of the people who posts on the Lonely Planet Thorntree Travel Forum calls himself Bun Cha, which is also the name of the brilliant grilled pork, noodle, and sweet fish sauce soup dish (usually accompanied by the little fried spring rolls called nem) served mostly in Hanoi. Photos taken at various times.
His name was Trevor, a recent graduate of an average Australian university. His girlfriend, Jennifer was an American, a university drop-out – “I’m taking a year or two off to sort my head out.” They had traveled from Bangkok, where they spent two weeks mostly on Kao Sanh Road, to Phnom Penh. With visits to the “killing fields,” Tuol Sleng, and the tour to the garbage dump where ragged children sift through the stinking detritus (a tour!?), Phnom Penh was a sobering experience, so they were glad to get to Siem Reap where they met the most fabulous tuk-tuk driver … But they needed to have a real Asia backpacking experience, so bought tickets for the 12 hour bus trip to Ban Lung.
“Is there a toilet on the bus?” Asked Trevor. “Yes, have toilet,” said the pretty and terminally bored girl selling tickets. They boarded at 6 in the evening and the first thing they noticed was that the seats didn’t have much legroom. “But hey, it’s Asia and we’re backpackers.” As the bus pulled onto the road, Jennifer asked, “Where’s the toilet?” “I don’t know.” Trevor answered. “I’ll ask the guy who’s riding up there with the driver. “Where is the toilet?” The question drew a blank look from the driver’s assistant. “Where Toilet?” Blank. “TOILET?” Shrug. Back in his cramped seat he said, “I don’t know where the toilet is – I couldn’t get them to understand the question.” Jennifer is getting irritated, her voice rising, “You’d think they would learn to speak English! Why don’t they know where the toilet is!” Across the aisle a weathered western traveler says, “There’s not a toilet on this bus.”
By now the TV monitor is showing a series of boy meets girl videos and the singing actually isn’t that bad, but jeez it’s loud. The bus is rocking, horn blatting along the “highway” and the air-conditioning vent is drip-drip-dripping on Jennifer which upsets her, so she and Trevor switch seats (“It’s gonna be a long damn trip” he thinks) and by now the video is a Chinese movie featuring preposterous fights and sword fights and pretty girls with tragic looks if you know what I mean and I think you do.
The bus stops at a restaurant where you probably don’t want to eat. “There’ll be toilets out back.” the man across the aisle says. “Well finally.” Jennifer says, but returns unhappy. “They’re just holes in concrete – I can’t do that!” Trevor shrugs. He’s getting a little tired of it. The driver blows the horn and everyone gets back on the bus.
And so it goes into the night, the singing, the biff-bop-pow of endless fights, the blatting of the horn. Jennifer finally has no choice and uses a rest-stop toilet. “They don’t have any paper! Oh my God!” The air-conditioning finally fails around 11:30. By now the video is the most awful variety show low-brow comedy routine and the volume is even louder.
Trevor and Jennifer hear a man behind them say, “Turn it off.” Nothing happens, of course, and again the man says, “I said, turn it OFF!” The guy beside the driver looks back, then turns away. “TURN IT OFF, I SAID!” Trevor looks around and to his horror, sees a man standing up with a double-barreled shotgun in his hands and it’s almost like Trevor is looking into the side-by-side barrels like two huge nostrils, the kind of nostrils where you could pick your nose, with a finger in each nostril at the same time! Boom! The monitor vaporizes! Boom! The DVD player explodes! Their ears are ringing and the smell of cordite fills the air. The man walks toward the front of the bus, the driver shrinking against the window and the driver assistant guy huddled shaking in fear on the floor. The man reaches over and pushes the door opener. The door opens and the man steps out of the bus and walks into the darkness of the Asian night.
“My God,” Trevor says, “What just happened? Who was that?” The man across the aisle says with a slight smile. “What just happened was justice. And that was Bun Cha.”
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Tuesday. The taxi ride from the Bangkok hotel to the airport was memorable for a circuitous route, some white-knuckle speeds, good time, and a pleasant negotiation with the taxi driver at the end. We had an easy flight from Bangkok on a plane less than half full – mostly Indians, many of the men with long beards and turbans. After a last minute on-line check, Leslie found that our plane had many open seats and so changed our seats to
the two end seats of a four-seat row. Nice! Glad to be on Cathay Pacific. Photo: Coffee at Pacific Coffee on the Peak overlooking the harbor
At the HK airport we had an interaction through which I realized, “It’s not me, it’s you” (the person at fault, as usual, in general). What a breakthrough! All these years, thinking, “It’s not you, it’s me” – but then to find out, no, “It’s you!” Leslie had a slightly different take on things.
Back in Hong Kong, the beginning and end of all our Asia trips, we go quickly through the best-managed airport ever, down the ramp to the A21 bus, hop on, pay our senior fare of $16.5HKD (~$2.10USD) each vs. at least $230HKD (~$30USD) for a taxi, and in less than an hour we’re at our place at the Dragon Hostel in the Sincere House on Tung Choi Street at Argyle Road. It’s the Dragon Hostel, but it’s really a guesthouse. Our room is larger than before (sleeping area 7.5’x7.6’ + some hall space and bathroom 2.4’x5.75’). The exchange rate is 7.78HKD to 1USD (all prices in this blog are in HKD). With temps in the 50s and 60s, it’s as cold as we’ve ever seen here.
In an effort to avoid the Chungking Mansions (where we always change our money) we discover that the bank wants to charge about $15USD to change $200. Not likely, so on the bus we go, down Nathan Road, and through the portals of one of my favorite and one of Leslie's least
favorite places, Chungking Mansions. Leslie did the deal and when I suggested she give the money to me after the pay-out (we’re in a wide corridor of a notorious place) she growled at me and wanted to talk about it. I was looking at the money-changing guy and I kind of shook my head and shrugged and he actually smiled – an unheard of action on the part of a CKM money-changer. Photo above: A back section of the harbor from airport bridge
By now we’re pretty tired. Bus back up Nathan Road to pay for the room, then to dinner at Good Hope Noodles, where Leslie decided she didn’t want to eat because of the general grubbiness – always a good move to follow ones’ instincts (oh, and there was a hair in her food). Incredibly, the waitress deleted the cost of her noodles. I finished mine and Leslie had the last of the tripnic for dinner: bacon sandwich, fried bananas, and frozen yogurt.
Our room at the Dragon is one of the larger ones and has windows. Windows are the good news and the bad news as this is not a quiet part of a not quiet city. The step up into the bathroom (the usual tiny space) is, according to Leslie, “Luang Prabang high.” So here we are with a few days in Hong Kong and then back to the states. A good place to be. Photo: Dragon Hostel commons - Stanley at his desk
Wednesday. We had a good night’s sleep, due in large part to turning on the aircon fan. Breakfast at the café run by “Jenny” at the Fa Yuen Market. Leslie had soup with noodle, vegetable, egg, and pork and I had the usual egg, bacon, and toast. After breakfast we went to get apples from the nice-looking woman at one of the fruit and vegetable stands. There were too many men pushing carts through the narrow aisles, so the woman said come back later. I wanted to walk down a little aisle nearby where there were some foreign places (Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian), so we went there. There were a number of Indonesian people eating and several were super-friendly, telling us about the food and wanting us to eat there, but we said later. Back at the vegetable stand we bought 4 apples for $10 and the woman gave us 2 very tasty mandarin oranges. Of such things are good times made. Photo below: Random street scene in Central
After relaxing in our room for awhile we thought
we might mount yet another expedition to what we call the “middle class people’s shopping center” or the Sham Shi Po area where the amazing Golden Computer Arcade packs ‘em in. For once, choosing something easier, we walked around our neighborhood and the Ladies Market for about an hour and a half. We saw the BBQ place where I had such a good meal when I’d gotten totally lost in 2005 (this time outside the BBQ place the police were tending to an old woman who had fallen or something) and later we stopped in the Taipan Bakery for a coconut tart and a scone.
We walked back to the Fa Yuen Market to try
the Indonesian food. With help from a woman selling sim cards I got tasty nasi campur (that’s phonetic) – rice with a piece of chicken, some kind of fried grain patty, and a packet of coconut-based gravy with black-eyed peas, tofu (or chicken) skin, and some kind of vegetable to pour over the rice, all wrapped up in brown waxed paper stapled together and unfolded and eaten with ketjap manis and several sambals at an amazingly small counter with some friendly Indonesian women. What a time! Photo above: Our happy little room at the Dragon Photo below: Indonesian cafe. Food is in the paper packets on the counter
Leslie took a nap while I wrote and read (The Winter King, a book about King Arthur).
After she awoke I went on a BBQ pork quest while she went to the buzzing busy Dragon office/common room with a constant in and out of Chinese tourists, Europeans, and assorted people. The quest was for Wing Hub Roasties, which I had tried and failed to find our first time through HK in November. The reason to go to Wing Hub is that they are one of the few places in HK or the world, as far as that goes, that they do Chinese BBQ in the old way, with wood fires. This time, with a better map I was there in about a 15 minute walk. I was a little early to bring food back, so I wandered, including wandering back across Nathan Road and to the flower market, including the ultimate orchid seller, then got turned around – Oh Lost! But the better map served me well and I was soon in the take-away line at Wing Hub, where they had sometimes 2 and sometimes 3 men chopping and slicing non-stop. It was quite a performance and then it was my turn and of course none of the chopping guys spoke a word of English and my pronunciation of char sui was off, but someone came to my rescue and they chopped it up and got me out of there for $30 for a big serving of pork on rice. I went a few doors away where I’d seen someone buying bun and tried to get 3, but the woman would only sell me 2 orders of 3 for
$15 ($2USD). Okay, so I got 3 pork and 3 chicken, which was fine, because I’ve never had chicken. Another good guesthouse picnic.
And that’s a day or so in the exciting life of the easily amused Leslie and Charles in Hong Kong. Photo: Star Ferry. Photo below: On the ferry
Thursday. I slept poorly last night. I had an apple and a granola bar for breakfast and went with Leslie to the Fa Yuen Market for another bowl of soup from Jenny’s. We took our laundry to what turns out to be a Thai operated place, did this and that in our room for awhile, and started out for the Peak: Bus #6A to the Star
Ferry, ferry across the harbor (free for seniors), bus #15 up the winding narrow road (I sat in one of the front seats on the top deck and had a nice time talking with a German couple headed for 10 weeks in New Zealand), and then there we were, again, on Victoria Peak looking out over Hong Kong and the Hong Kong harbor. Of course we went to Pacific Coffee and straight away got a table next to the big window so we were hanging over the steep side of the Peak with the Peak Tram coming up the track almost directly beneath us. A good time, reading the South China Morning Post over an espresso on one of the clearest and certainly the coldest day we’ve ever had in HK.
Bus back down, got off at exactly the right place to walk about 15 minutes to Tsim Chai Kee Noodle where we had what we always have – the world’s greatest shrimp wonton noodle soup, steamed vegetable with oyster sauce, and (for me) Coke. Photo: THE MENUTotal $52HKD or $6.60USD for two people – not bad! We’re going back tomorrow. Walk toward the ferry along elevated walkways, through the IFC Shopping Center, past the big construction site with fewer sidewalk superintendents than usual, because of the weather I guess, and back on the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui, bus up Nathan Road, pick up the laundry, to the room, and collapse.
For dinner I started walking back to Wing Hub Roasties for duck, but (1) I was pretty tired and (2) I’ve had a lot of rich food in recent weeks, so instead went to the Taipan Bakery and got an egg tart and a coconut tart, which along with an apple and some milk made a decent meal. Leslie had leftover wonton noodle soup, frozen yogurt (kept from the breakfast buffet from the Bangkok hotel), and an apple from the Fa Yuen Market.
And that’s another day in the exciting life of the easily amused Leslie and Charles in Hong Kong. Their motto is, Where’s the Party At!
Friday: Breakfast at Fa Yuen Market again. We eat at one of the first places on the 3rd floor. The next section is where the bird fanciers meet (men with one or more bamboo bird cages with song birds in them and they hang the cages from whatever while they have tea and talk with their other bird fancier buddies) and the last section has dim sum and whatnot, along with old people, including one man with a poodle that sits quietly while the man hangs out with his friend having dim sum and tea. Photo below: These jewelry/gold stores are on every 2nd or 3rd block along Nathan Road
After breakfast Leslie went back
to the room and I took the bus down Nathan Road first to the Chungking Mansions to buy a couple of little bags and then to a Pacific Coffee to meet Phil, an internet friend, along with his perpetual motion machine son, two year old Henry. Had a really nice time, a nice man, neat kid.
Back to the Dragon and Leslie and I took off for Tsim Chai Kee for more shrimp wonton noodle soup and so on – of course. Last Star Ferry rides to the Island and back, walking around the neighborhood. Making a Ladies Market run and Leslie doing very well with some gifts. She went back to the room and I went to the roasted duck place for some great duck on rice. Leisurely packing. Good night moon. Good night Hong Kong. We had championship neighbors this leg (it can get a little loud at Stanley’s with comings and goings and groups of young Chinese travelers talking in the halls, but not this time around). Photo: Fa Yuen Market
Good night’s sleep, fixed coffee, Fa Yuen for breakfast, said goodbye to Stanley, walked a few blocks to the A21 bus stop and away we went to the airport for $16.50 each (just over $2USD/person). Had a kind of weird encounter with an older American woman who had a couple of bags stacked in the seat beside her. I asked her to move them and she said (combatively), “Where would I put them?” I said,
“In the luggage bins” and reached to give her a hand with them and she says, “You can’t take my suitcase!” “I’m not taking your suitcase – whatever” and went to another less desirable seat. What a jerk. The people she was with, her son and I guess her daughter, were apologizing and I’m saying, nevermind. Across the bridge, over the harbor, and we’re here, Hong Kong International Airport – light years beyond DFW not quite international airport. Sigh.
Monday, January 10, 2011
The first time we flew into Thailand, in 1978, we could see pagodas far below rising out of squares of green padi, then a big sprawling city, and thump we were down and the airplane door opened and the thick warm, then hot tropical air filling the cabin with Asia and my mind flashing back and now, ahhh.
Food! Let's talk about food. Thailand and Food – it’s a lifestyle!
Wednesday: “American breakfast” from hotel buffet included in the cost of the room – egg, bacon, toast, preserves, pineapple, watermelon, coffee – not great; lunch: ground pork stir-fried with chilies, red curry (chicken), satay, rice, and (as with every other meal) massive quantities of prik nam pla (fish sauce and little very hot chilies) and assorted other
chili-based condiments; dinner: Indian set, including chicken tika masala, dhal, raita, potatoes with dry peppers, rice, cilantro and other chutneys. Photo: She's fixing mango with sticky rice
Thursday: pad see eu (fried flat noodles with Chinese greens, like chow fun) and coffee; lunch: green curry (chicken), ground pork with chilies, rice, pad thai (fried rice noodle with shrimp, peanuts, tofu, bean sprouts), ice coffee; dinner: grilled chicken, papaya salad (shreds of green papaya pounded with peanuts, green beans, fish sauce, etc.), sticky rice, bad sausage from a street vendor (took one bite, no mas).
Friday: American breakfast (because street vendors near hotel gone); fried bananas, lunch: green curry, chicken with cashews and dry mild chilies, pork satay; dinner: grilled chicken & pork, papaya salad, peanuts, sticky rice.
Saturday: American breakfast (still no nearby street food); lunch: tom yum with shrimp (piquant multi-taste sour soup), red curry, ground pork
with chilies and green beans, rice; dinner: salad bar (ahhh) with romaine, mild peppers, etc. + Chiang Mai sausage (spicy, citrusy, cilantro grilled sausage) naan. Photo: bowl of red curry, satay, prik nam pla, ground pork with chilies
Sunday (travel day to Chiang Mai): Getting tired of the so-called American breakfast; lunch: “tripnic” (sandwiches); checked in to hotel and headed for Sunday street market and dinner of mango with sticky rice with coconut milk, chicken and pork satay, more mango and sticky rice, a little bit more mango and sticky rice, a little bit more …, crispy, tasty French fries(?).
Monday: Vegetarian hotel buffet – cereal with banana, pancake, vegetables, potato fritter, coffee; lunch: khao sawy (a Shan noodle curry soup with chicken, crispy things, pickled cabbage, shredded cabbage, shallots, basil, cilantro, and so on), pad Thai, iced coffee; dinner: chicken panaeng curry (“dry” fried curry)
with citrus leaves, peanuts, and rice, a little bit more mango, sticky rice, and coconut milk (did I mention that it’s sweet coconut milk?), salad. Photo: Khao soi stand (or in this case khow soy)
Tuesday: More vegetarian buffet – cheese toast, vegetables, cereal with banana; lunch: chicken with ginger on rice, pad see eu, a little bit more mango, sticky rice and coconut milk; dinner: khao sawy (it’s spelled several ways) again – even better this time, papaya salad with little dry shrimps, salad, roti with banana and sweetened condensed milk from the Muslim man and woman selling from a sidewalk stand outside a Buddhist temple.
One of the pleasures in traveling is reading – for me, nothing deep, just good old page-turners. So far I’ve read Gai-Jin, another great Clavell travel read; most of Kerouac’s Big Sur (I quit after reading about 90%, not enjoying the dissolution of a formerly great writer); The Quiet American by Graham Greene, which, although written in the early 1950s, captured the Vietnam War as about as well as any other book; WatershipDown – oh what a great book; Rats, a good book about, what else, rats; Pale Horse Coming, an uber violent book
We went to the amulet market in Bangkok via the #25 bus.
Fortunately, the wrong (blue) #25 bus passed us by because the driver let some people off before the bus stop and then wouldn’t stop for us. A woman who saw what happened engaged Leslie in conversation, learned where we were going and told Leslie that she was going the same way to pray at a temple a stop or two before where we wanted to go. So we followed her to the right (red, or as she said, “led”) #25 bus, which took us to within a few blocks of the amulet market near a water taxi pier. Had she not helped us it would have been a very long day. Photo: Outside the amulet market
Plenty of wild and ca-razy guys around, wearing shorts, Chang and other beer-logo t-shirts and escorting their young prostitutes here and there, filling the other 23 hours with shopping ...
Amazingly pushy French guys at Bangkok airport (Leslie muttering, well, I won’t say what she was muttering). Photo: The extra nice bus stop near our hotel
People who’ve helped us: the woman on her way to pray and got us on the right #25; the Indian man who gave us a lot of information on riding the bus; a man who asked us where we were going as we walked down a tiny lane near the amulet market, and then redirected us; three women at a food court – one who got up from her seat to tell me where to find utensils, another who helped Leslie order, and
another who sent a friend around and out of the way to show me where to order khao soi; the school teacher who tried to explain that Skytrain stops are on the back of the card and then when Leslie (independently) figured that out I asked the man if that was what he was telling me and he said yes; and many more people helping and sweet - about 4-5 people helping and nice for every one lying and so on. Photo: On the bus - the one with a teak floor
Sports TV from Japan: Women wrestlers and a totally stolid audience (the kind of Japanese people spending an evening at the rasslin' match; then a few minutes of scantily clad babes playing a sort of football. Uh-huh.
And now I’m just about out of steam. Fever and feeling bad for a night and a day and a night. Up and at them again today for one more amulet market and gold store run. Headed to Hong Kong tomorrow. Photo: The old people's band, playing at the walking market in Chiang Mai
Finally, two nights ago I dreamed the essence of Leslie. What an amazing beautiful experience that was! Her Mom was there, too, and that was nice.