Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh

We've ridden buses all over Southeast Asia for many years now – a lot of good trips, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes a little long, but always good, always good...

Notes taken on the bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh, staring out the window, in a dream... On the road again, through the streets of Saigon where there are more trees in some (older) neighborhoods than one might expect. The streets aren't nearly as full today as on days before – Tet! Drummers and dancers coming through the neighborhood yesterday. The dancers wear silk robes – one dancer has a jolly, but kind of menacing mask and the other has a bearded sage face; both carry fans and one of them fanned bad winds or spirits out of Leslie. Photo: Sunset over the Mekong

Endless streets thinning out...semi-rural now with gardens and some padi (what people call rice paddy)...different varieties of palm trees...tile roofs, tin roofs...banana trees, bigger gardens, mango trees...small river, padi, bamboo...many businesses closed, many yellow-flowered trees in pots (for Tet)...big market open...Catholic church with a large statue of the virgin dressed in blue and pink.

My iPod playing Loser by the Grateful Dead. It's live and Jerry is playing one of the hottest solos I've ever heard him play. Chinese cemetery, people burning paper money, padi, water buffalo – yeah! Only a few people working the fields today.

Now the Stones from the ancient Got Live! Album. I know I've told this story before, but here I go again. Through a series of events I ended up my time in Vietnam 1966-67 in an Army “psyops” unit because they needed a few Marines to go on Marine operations. That's how I ended up in the Hill Fights – bad shit. One of the things we did on operations was at night to haul some pretty big speakers up into trees and broadcast stuff to the enemy, like Buddhist funeral music and how hopeless their situation was so far from home, and so on. It wasn't part of the plan, but we also had some rock & roll tapes, including the Got Live! album. We liked to play stuff for the Marines, like, Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadows.

But right now it's, I've Been Loving You Too Long, and despite all the blood and darkness, yeah, Vietnam, I've been loving you too long, “I can't stop now, too late, I can't stop loving you now, no no no...” A school – pale yellow stucco, like schools all over Southeast Asia, one story, in a U, with a veranda all the way around the inside dirt playground. Goats...trees with clusters of white flowers.

It's time for lunch – egg, cheese, cucumber, cilantro, and tomato baguette sandwich from the woman who sets up at the end of our alley for a few hours every morning. Each of our sandwiches is wrapped in half a page from a phone book and each cost 15,000VND ($.75). Tabasco completes the picture. This last morning the woman came out from behind her cart and hugged Leslie.

Cao Dai temple...guy across the aisle takes his shirt off. Fortunately he's young and don't smell bad. Visions of Johanna – “Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles.” Huge padi and one person out there – white conical hat in the green, IN THE GREEN. Some kind of orchard...bougainvillea cascading over a gate...red lanterns, yellow flowers – Tet!

We're rolling through a small town, over a big river empty of everything but brown water and water hyacinths, no boats, no people...huge padi, empty empty, stretching far away – who ever saw an empty padi in Vietnam! Now I see two people standing together in the green and Robert Earl Keen is singing Feeling Good Again – “I looked across the room and saw you standing on the stairs” - this trip is intense. Photo below: Children begging at door of bus

Here we are at the Vietnam-Cambodia border. Everybody off the bus. Back on. Off. On, and five minutes after clearing the border pull into a bus stop cafe for 20 minutes, now on the road again, past the casinos, hotels, and brothels. Cambodia dustier than Vietnam...fields mostly

fallow, dry...more palms, houses different than in Vietnam, most set above the ground on pilings or stilts, smaller, most are wood, painted blue or ochre or gray or unpainted and weathered, shutters, not a pane of glass anywhere, tin roofs, some tile. And these days, only the countless little roadside stands have thatch roofs...big shallow lake and the water shone like diamonds in the dew...stucco school...more new houses every year...ox cart...motorcycles – motos”...Angker Beer sign (many of these)...water buffalo...blue and white Cambodian People's Party sign...

Huge sere fields dotted with the single tall palms that are so perfectly Cambodian...massive fall of bougainvillea...houses, all with dirt yards. Black Angels, a psychedelic neo-hippie rock & roll band...bus swerves..shoot-em-up on monitor at front of bus...turn it up Black Angels.

Now the Mekong, rolling on through Asia and the ages...bus straight on to the ferry with beggar children running along beside the bus and on to the ferry to beg through the ride...children being given the (incredibly sweet) canned drinks and the crackers that had been given to each passenger by the bus company and the children clutching desperately at the cans and cracker boxes, fighting for them at times and the sun setting over the Mekong and the Dead doing Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun, he's crying like a fire in the sun … The vagabond who's rapping at your door, is standing in the clothes that you once wore...strike another match, go start anew, and it's all over now, Baby Blue.” Photo: Sunset over the Mekong

A trance trip on the bus, into the Cambodian night...


And now, for our listening pleasure, Dengue Fever - Uku (the Mekong) in case we needed some more trance

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