these short days are
filled with long
shadows, even at noon.
the shroud of
frozen leaves jacketing
the sticky tang
of critter. I
have searched these
dead places for signs
of who I was and
nothing. but the
day and the next
day. and yet:
I am awake
again, for the
first time. alive: I cock
my head at the
I am here. (I
here.) and I am
everthing I have
ever forgotten. (I
I am short
on sound. I
am long of ear.
(More Boat Photos Here)
The boat was called The Jahan. We were on it for 8 days. We took it up the Mekong River starting at a port just west of Saigon. We crossed the border into Cambodia. At Phnom Phen, we turned up the Tonle Sap River and finally into the great Tonle Sap Lake, where the cruise ended, at Siem Reap. We were told that we were the last trip of the season that could take the route we took, because the dry season was starting and it would soon be too shallow to make it up the Tonle Sap River portion. I’m happy we made the cut-off because it was one of the more beautiful sections of the cruise. This photo was taken while on the Tonle Sap, returning from a visit to a nearby village.
There were the things we saw from The Boat and while off The Boat, and those things were really amazing. And then there was being on The Boat itself, which was also amazing, but for different reasons. I don’t like to use the word “amazing.” I purposely leave it out of my vocabulary most of the time. It’s vague. It’s overused. The Grand Canyon is said to be “amazing.” An appetizer of spring rolls is said to be “amazing.” But I can’t think of a better way to cover it, to cover the feeling of the cruise, without getting into details. And right now I’m just trying to keep it simple. So: it was amazing.
The trip wasn’t simple. It was complicated. There were some very moving things we saw. And some horrific things. This was not a trip all about seeing “beautiful stuff.” It was not a trip all about being comfortable. It could be that kind of trip, if you wanted it to be. And there were a couple of people on The Boat that might have made it that kind of trip. But if I can put my judgmental hat on for a second, those people had it wrong. It shouldn’t have been that kind of trip. It shouldn’t have been simple like that. Because it wasn’t. It was wonderfully complicated. And so it’s complicated to talk about. Because the cruise changed my outlook. On a lot of different things. On nearly everything.
So, for this reason, it’s sort of easy to separate the The Boat from the excursions we took from it. The Boat was an experience in and of itself. And in many ways The Boat, unlike the excursions, was simple. Because it was beautiful and it was well run and if it weren’t for the ever-moving landscape to our port and starboard, you never would have known you were even on a boat. Because we had gourmet dinners and air-conditioned rooms and waterfall showers. We had cocktails at 6 pm and breakfast at 7 am. Sometimes a little mid-afternoon tea. The staff were professionals in every sense of the word. Together, they truly ran a “tight ship.” Everything worked. And when it didn’t, it was fixed immediately. They made everybody feel like a guest in a home, not like a passenger on a ship. They learned your first name on the first day and called you by it for the rest of the cruise, which created an atmosphere of familiarity which was really nice. Not in a false or saccharine way, but in a heartfelt, genuine way. And then when we learned about the projects that the cruise line did to help the villages where we stopped, it made us happy to be a part of the whole thing. It made us feel like it really was sort of like a family, and that we were apart of it, and that even though we were tourists, and we were just stopping through these villages and these people’s worlds, we were helping to give back a little.
Our new tour bus comes decked out with a goddamned bed.
For the better restfulness on dem squirrel-hunting excursions.
Pretty soon, we should get a roadie.
Don’t flatter yourself.
He only paused the Southeast Asia photos so for to get one of the bright orange crape myrtle back there.
Weakness for dem oranges, innit.
And dem reds.
For me, the story of Saigon, is about the driving. And I feel like this photo explains the whole theory of Vietnamese traffic: JUST KEEP MOVING. Maintain a slow, steady speed and just don’t stop. It is the rule for driving and it is the rule for walking. People are good at charting trajectories. They want you to keep on yours. Everything counts on you sticking to your trajectory. If you stop, if you make any sudden moves, it throws everything off. So basically, do not drive (or cross the street) like a New Yorker. I found this out the hard way.
To a westerner, the traffic in Vietnam pretty much seems like complete chaos. There are no turn lanes. There are very few stop lights, and they are often ignored. People kinda drive the same way you would walk in a crowded shopping mall. Or at the Texas State Fair. Or on The Mall in DC during a rally. If you want to turn through traffic, you just weave through the onslaught of scooters coming at you. Traffic is just one giant game of chicken. Hopefully not Frogger. Which reminds me, our guide referred to the Frogs Legs we ate on our Vespa tour “Jumping Chickens.”
I didn’t have the same problem spotting hydrants in Bangkok as I did throughout Cambodia.
There were plenty of them, and they all pretty much looked exactly the same. Short and red, with a round bulbous middle and two outlets.
These are all about the bass, no treble.
This one was just outside of the grounds of Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace. Wat Phra Kaew is the temple of The Emerald Buddha, which is pretty spectacular, though smaller than I expected it to be. It was also very near Wat Pho, which is the temple that houses the massive reclining buddha.
Speaking of buddhas, I guess these hydrants sorta reminded me of little buddhas.
Little Ruby Red Buddhas.
After we left Saigon, I didn’t see many hydrants. Partly this is because, while we were on the boat trip, we visited small villages that didn’t really have “running water” much less fire spigots. But even in Phnom Phen, the capital of Cambodia, I didn’t notice any. I figured I had just overlooked them because I had been distracted by all that we were seeing and doing the day we spent there.
On the other hand, I’m pretty damn good at noticing dem hydrants.
For a while, in Siem Reap, I thought I was going to have the same problem. Maybe I wouldn’t find one in all of Cambodia. And can you imagine that failure? What the hell was I going to tell all of you? I started to panic.
And then I found this one. It was right near an ATM machine where our tuk-tuk driver took us to get cash. (American cash, by the way. Cambodia mostly trades in American dollars and American dollars are what the ATM machines dole out. You typically only see the Cambodian riel if you’re getting back change for less than a US dollar. There are no coins.)
For the next day and a half, we traveled around Siem Reap quite a bit, mostly via tuk-tuk. We went to “Pub Street,” the popular place for tourists to go for shopping/food. We took a street-food tour of the city on the back of Vespa scooters.
I never saw another hydrant, except at the airport.
I was still kind of ashamed about all of this. I reckoned I’d been too busy taking photos of temples and markets and eating bugs and I’d lost my touch at spotting the ubiquitous fireplug. But then when I got home I Googled “Phnom Phen fire hydrant” and found this article from September which indicated that there were actually only a couple hundred fire hydrants in the entire city. And I found another article from 1994 which seemed to indicate that, at that time, there were no fire hydrants. And I suppose this doesn’t really surprise me, given what we learned about Cambodia on the trip and how badly the country was set back by the Khmer Rouge.
It also doesn’t surprise me because I’m goddamned good at spotting fire hydrants. It was ridiculous for me to doubt myself.
We were on the boat for eight days. We stopped in small villages in Vietnam and Cambodia along the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers.
More on all of this later.
For now, just this boat hydrant.
While hot and sweaty and slightly nauseous from moped fumes, we stopped for an iced coffee in Phuc Long in Saigon. We were also avoiding a tuk-tuk driver who wanted us to hire him for the afternoon. (We just wanted to walk, but he thought that was absolutely nuts. And maybe it was.)
C has never been much of a coffee drinker, but she likes the Vietnamese coffees with the sweet condensed milk. So do I. We got two of those. And three waters. The one thing I wish I could convey better in photos is the near-suffocating heat and humidity. You would never guess it was so hot in a lot of the photos I took in Southeast Asia because you’ll see locals wearing long-sleeved shirts. Sometimes a couple of layers of them. And not sweating.
I would break a sweat as soon as I walked outside. Some days I’d drench a couple of shirts.
Phuc Long was right across the street from a market full of the pushiest sales people I have ever encountered. Despite this, it was fun to walk through narrow passageways, with people grabbing your arm and imploring you to check out their merchandise (#notaeuphemism) because they have the perfect thing at a price that is JUST FOR YOU. A pair of shorts. An XXXL (maybe this is the only size they get) Tommy Hilfiger shirt. A knock-off purse.
I’m making this all sound terrible, aren’t I? The heat, the car fumes, the pushy sales people in the market. But it was great. It was all great.
More on Saigon later. For now I’m sticking to hydrants. Sadly, there weren’t a lot of them, so it’ll be pretty easy to go through them.
Let’s start with the hydrants. Because we need to start somewhere, don’t we?
Saigon had classic ones. Red with yellow hats, mostly. Didn’t observe any other species.
Somebody had equipped this one with a trash collection bag.
Maybe the same person who drew the face?