A Travellerspoint blog

Laos

final chapter: IDYLLIC..... has finally come to an end....

11th October 2002 (past email posing as travel blog)

i have arrived in not-at-all-idyllic khaosan road in bangkok.
sad chichi.

i am missing the idyllic days i spent with idyllic panda in idyllc luang prabang already!
oh well.... i guess most idyllic travel situations come to an end, then it's back to the real world.

we spent the last of my morning in idyllic cafes. my favourite cafe has to be this french-owned (i know...) cafe opposite the nam khan with wooden decor and mats u lie on and those triangular/pyramidal cushion thingy u lean your back on.... and the walls are lined with past issues of national geographics! the oldest issue i saw was 1969...
me and panda agreed we could lie there and sip tea the whole day just reading the national geographics, and listening to enya or some such.
anyway,
so idyllic.......

transitted at sukhothai... beautiful l'il airport.
plane was ok. i was terrified after reading the lao aviation section in the lonely planet. suzanne and shawn (poms) were telling us about the things they write about lao aviation... i had to read it. apparently, my research wasn't thorough enuff b4 i left....

safety records of lao aviation aren't made public. pilots are forced to circle around during heavy cloud cover, searching for a hole in the sky through which to descend! if fuel runs out, then pilot returns to departure point or descend at another airport in the region. they then refuel the tank, and try again!
so... no radar or any of these instruments to help in landing.
very reassuring.
and after hearing panda's accounts of stewardess coming down the aisle to wipe moisture off the vents........

anyway, i survived.

and, was thrown into the infamous bangkok traffic, ending at khaosan road. bought a couple of things..... (can't help it panda! they're kinda cheap...).

so, am back to singy tomorrow.

signing off in
busycrowdednoisytrashymusichotnightnotidyllickhaosanroad,
chi.

Posted by Chi 22:44 Comments (0)

Laos

Chapter 5 and a half, 6 and 7....

10th October 2002 (past email posing as travel blog)

well....
i forgot to mention this in the last chapter, but thought it could be an interesting trivia for u all. while were were doing our trek on the 'mysterious tour', we had to 1) crouch to avoid the branches and leaves.... and 2) sometimes lift our leg knee-high to avoid getting caught in thorny bushes.... so much so that i feel all scrunched up at times....
anyway our guide, Noo, told us that during the indochina war, the americans (or was it the french? see, i shouldn't have left this so late, i tend to forget things as u all know)... anyway, these 'invaders' brought in these thorny shrubs so that the lao couldn't run through the forest like they always do!
how rude i thought!....

another passing random memory: while i was scrunched up like a l'il ball floating in knee-high-air, i was also chanting/practising a phrase in the lao language that Noo taught me...
"i thank you for the delicious food"...

just thought i'd share some of my 'random' experience with u. we had many 'random' experiences here....

so...
that was chapter 5 and a half.

yesterday was an idyllic day for us in idyllic laos.
'idyllic' - our new favourite word.
see... 'cos of my short memory, i can't really remember much of what we did yesterday, except shopped. i'd have to say i've never shopped this much in my life! seriously!
i started having fun bargaining... but after awhile, i got quite over it.
i've never bought so many things while i was travelling....
it's insane.
then we just spent the rest of the night at this restaurant with this lovely english couple - sean and suzanne, whom panda met while in cambodia. (or was it vietnam?).

ah! we tried laolao.... this lao wine. man it's potent!
and we also tried khao kum... we love that name!
i love khao kum. i've bought a small bottle to go back with, so all u peops in singapore can have a taste of that khao kum! *grin*

oh oh!... we also went tubing down the Nam Khan – a river that joins the mekong. we can't believe we did it. 'cos who knows what's in the river??
we'd actually decided not to do it but Noo had already went and gotten us the tubes. we felt bad, so we trekked through the middle of town with our tubes.... down to the river. i was debating whether to go in... i mean where do the sewage go if not into that river?? but we were there... with our tubes, and thought, "ok, let's do it".

it took me forever to 'paddle' the tube with my bum in the 'donut hole'. there wasn't a strong enough current to bring us downriver. i got so over it after an hour of trying and got off the riverbank just as soon as we hit the mekong. i was freezing my tits off and had very very tired arms by this time. panda seemed to just flow down the river... dunno how she did it!
the fishermen on boats and by the riverbanks must have thought we were insane doing this during the beginning of winter. the water itself wasn't that cold, it was just that we kept our shirt on (it's not very respectful to be wearing bikinis in laos) and the dampness was making me shiver.
apparently, the locals only go into the river when it's summer.
so.... only crazy falangs like us think it's something fun to do.
we took a tuk-tuk back to the guesthouse... all dripping wet... like 2 wet puppies.

'twas hilarious b4 we left. we thought Noo was coming with us 'cos the tubes were left in the guesthouse's tuk-tuk. we waited and waited and waited, thinking Noo was off on a short errand and would be back soon. half an hour later, Wandalah (sweet lady) came out and said "u want Noo?"
"yes" we said.... still thinking he was just running late. "where's he gone to?"
wandalah went on about him going to the immigration dept for some guests... and something about passports.... and we were just sitting in the tuk-tuk thinking.... hmmmm...... so when is he gonna come back?
finally, we realised we misunderstood each other.
Wandalah thought we were actually waiting for the sun to get hotter! i mean... it was 2pm.... how much hotter can the sun get? and we were thinking Noo was coming back to get us!

today (chapter 7, heh), we got on a long boat and went to pak ou caves. we weren't all that impressed really. except for the 4000 over buddha statues in the cave. we enjoyed the boat ride more. it was idyllic....
had lao noodle soup for lunch at this idyllic village by the mekong. we then took a very IDYLLIC, sedate walk through the village, across the mekong (from luang prabang). nothing like the trek we did on tuesday. which i was half grateful for 'cos i was a very exhausted chichi this arvo. (it wasn't fun waking up this morning put it this way).

had my last Beer Lao at sunset by the Mekong this evening....

we had our cooking lesson with wanderah tonight. the preparation took about 3 hours! me and panda were soooo starving by then. but it was great fun just learning about the region's veges and learning what ingredients to put in these lao dishes, shredding the bamboo shoots the traditional way, and pounding on chilli and sesame seeds and cutting up some other something.
in our excitement, we forgot to bring our notepad down to the kitchen, so we would have to trust our memories. we got to a point where we thought, we'd just have to remember what ingredients go into making the sauce, and we can make up the rest.

we had this eggplant dish with the 'secret' amazing sauce....
some bamboo shoot dish with vermicelli, also with a 'secret' sauce...
a vegetable salad dish with pounded sesame seeds.... hmmm... yummm....
a white mushroom dish with (another species of) sweet bamboo shoots.....
and some pork dish, also with 'secret' sauce.

anyway, i'm just blabbing.
am kinda tired and not in the mood to write but still, i want to. hmm...

i'm leaving luang prabang tomorrow for bangkok. will be there for the night... then back in singapore on saturday.

i know the mails are getting more and more boring... but thanks for
reading anyway =)

lots of squishy hugs and sloppy kisses all round from idyllic laos,
chi.

Posted by Chi 21:30 Comments (0)

Laos

chapter 5: the adventure begins.... on a mystery tour we didn't know about.

08th October 2002 (old email posing as travel blog)

i was damn proud of myself this morning. got up at quarter past 4 in the morning, walked up 329 steps with panda, with only our torchlights as guidance, to reach the top of phousy hill, and watched the sunrise. it was well worth it!

we then went down the hill, bought some sticky rice and saw the monks' procession. we knelt down by the side of the road and offered the sticky rice to them. we were gonna do it with Wanderah (sweet lady from the guest house) but we were too late coming down the hill, so we did it our own 'falang' (foreigner) way. we'd have to get up early again one morning and do it the Lao way with Wanderah.

at 8, we got on a tuk-tuk for an hour's journey ride through bumpity roads (yay!... hahahaa) to get to Ban Taet Paen, a village south of Luang Prabang.

that's when the mystery hike began.

we had no idea that the trek was gonna take up the whole day. we had thought the waterfalls (Kuang Xi waterfall) was gonna be the highlight.... the main course so to speak. it turned out to be the dessert.... well, maybe even just an after-eight-choc-mint.

we started trekking from about 9.15am (that's not including the steps up to phousy hill....) and didn't stop walking till 3.45pm, when we finally arrived at the waterfalls to take a well-deserved 10 minute dip in the cold waters. the trek was fantastic, although arduous.
we had absolutely no idea.
and our water supply wasn't all that ample either, but we managed.
the trek started easy.
big paved roads.
but as we proceeded on, the paths seemed to get smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller...... it got so ridiculous at one stage where the ground was all mushy and less than 2 feet wide. branches and leaves were intersecting our paths and poking into our faces every which way. poor panda only had sandals and socks on, and was imagining herself sliding off the mountain, like in a wet 'n' wild adventure.

we must have been taken off the 'falang' (foreign) trekking paths and onto some real treks taken by.... i was imagining, guerillas.
i was also thinking, if there were any, which i don't think there will be... i won't have nothing to shoot with except my camera. not that i want to anyway.
and this ridiculous idea continued to.... ahem.... what if wars were fought with cameras! i mean, during the day, u shoot your enemies with your camera when u see them, just like u'd shoot an AK-47. then by the end of the day, u develop those photos, and whoever was caught on film is out of the war-game.
.... no one dies!
i'm blaming this wild-thought on the air we were breathing... from the forest floor....
'cos most of the time we were so busy looking down, trying to find the best spot to place our foot on, so we won't slide off the mountain or step on a big-juicy millipede.

this is the first time i've gone trekking in a tropical forest and man it's an experience.
it's so lush!
well so lush as to be in your face most of the time! branches and leaves everywhere! and all sorts of insects (ack!)

anyway, we visited a couple of villages which were amazing!
panda reckoned these are places not a lot of 'falangs' (foreigners) come through 'cos the hill tribes she visited in vietnam were kinda touristy... and the villagers speak english. whereas, where we were today, they were more reserved and there was absolutely no hassling.

we felt like we were hassling them.

the two villages we visited are from 2 different tribes - the Khamu and the Hmong. i couldn't really tell the difference 'cos not a lot of them were wearing their tribal clothes (not sure if they even differ). and i've noticed that the few people who wear them are always the women.
at the first village with the Khamu tribe, we went to a little hut and saw this woman in the process of making paper out of bamboo bark. she was boiling the bark to make it softer. and then they'd beat it, boil them again, and hang them out to dry.

towards the end of our 'mystery-trek', our guide brought us through these rice fields and some sort of 'bean' field. they used these beans to make Lao Beer.
we ate some along the way.
but these crops are much taller than us, and 'cos they've grown them so close to one another, we had to swim (breaststroke) through them while walking on a one-n-a-half-foot footpath.
all these acrobatic stunts we did on the mountain pass. it was very exciting!
and panda got to pat her rice fields too.
she was a happy panda.

i think when we went through the crops, we went past another tribe. we trekked past 2 women with their days' pickings, and our guide said they are from the Lao Long tribe.

our guide was fab! he took us to places we would otherwise not have experienced or saw if we went with a normal trekking tour. he's the nephew of the sweet lady from the guest house. he's such a lovely boy. and the friend he brought along had this mean looking knife to cut away forest growth that were in our path.
all very exciting.
a big adventure for me and panda.
we were rightly shagged after that.

anyway, i'm signing off now. it's been a looOoOOoooong day,
a very very exhausted chi.

Posted by Chi 20:17 Comments (0)

Laos

chapter 4: chatting to monks in Wat Sop

07th October 2002 (old email posing as travel blog)

hey hey....

well, the highlight today was chatting to 2 monks from Wat (temple) Sop...
we rode past this Wat, and i saw this group of monks sitting on the ledge of the temple and wanted very much to take a photo of them. so i stopped, reversed, and asked them if i could.
then we started chatting...
one of them... his name is Loy, wanted very much to chat to panda. he asked me twice(!) why panda wasn't talking to him. so panda got off her bike and went to chat with him on the temple grounds, while i stayed by the side of the road chatting to my favourite monk - Sithat Velyvang =)
they are so lovely.

Sithat had just recently come to luang prabuang from his village is Sainyabuli, to become a monk. and it was within these 3 months that he learned to speak english and i was very very impressed! we could actually hold a decent conversation...
he said he studied very very hard.
he had to wake up at 4 every morning to pray and meditate, and then at 6am, they start their rounds around the city. (we're going to be there tomorrow morning to offer them sticky rice). and he doesn't go to bed till 11.30pm-12mn.
he also said he wants to be a tour guide when he grows up. first he'd need to leave the monastry and go to vientiane and study for 3-4 years at the lao-australia school, or the lao-america school.

he also said that today was Lao National Teachers' Day, which was why they're so free. and with his accent, i thought he said Lao National Jesus Day! i was a l'il confused but after much to-ing and fro-ing, we managed to work out what he was trying to say.

Loy later invited us to visit his temple/school.
we were sitting in the garden outside their classrooms and learning more about them, and vice versa.

panda and i were ecstatic to be given this opportunity to chat to them! we were on a high when we left the temple grounds.
i don't have to swim across the distance to caress those clouds anymore... i think i touched them today =)

we shopped lots today too. so many beautiful lao handicrafts and fabric! we feasted our eyes on all the colours and shapes and ... and... everything!
we went to this market and everyone was asking me to "make them lucky" by buying something from them 'cos no one has yet bought anything.
"today no lucky.... make me lucky please...."
but please don't get me wrong, they weren't begging or anything, and it wasn't much of a hassle....
it was just very hard to walk away from these stalls and proceed to the next. one of them actually used the money i bought something with, and waved it over their wares, to bring them luck with customers.

we visited a couple of wats (temples) today and they were amazing! the biggest wat we visited was called Wat Xieng Thong and it was beautiful! it was built in the mid-16th century, by the mekong river. it was one of the only two wats that was spared destruction when the Black Flag Haw invaded. not quite sure what the black flag haw is yet, but i remember reading somewhere that they might be some chinese warrior group. have to do some researching!
i have become quite the l'il researcher according to panda!

panda had to finish the day (as is the tradition) with a Beer Lao by the Mekong. while chichi had a coke-light.
again, there were big black/brown/grey butterflies fluttering about.
i was again imagining surrounding/wrapping myself with a white bubble.
but the clincher came when one flew straight into my face!
panda sculled the rest of her beer, and we left.

anyway, panda's waiting for me to go to dinner.

loving this place more and more,
chi.

Posted by Chi 17:59 Comments (0)

Laos

chapter 3: bus ride up to Luang Prabang

06 October 2002 (past email posing as travelblog)

after having a really hard time getting up this morning, we caught a tuk-tuk to the bus depot and began our journey up to luang prabang – the older capital of laos and the site of the first lao kingdom. it was called Lan Xang then... sometime in the 14th century if i remembered correctly.

well, the bus journey was quite "uneventful" in terms of not having any near collisions and bus breakdowns and very-bumpity rides...
but the road was winding left and right and back round again..... and it went on forever. i think only 5% of the bus journey was on a straight road. and it was only on these straight roads were there huge pot-holes. so.... a few bumps here and there... nothing to rave about.

when we were climbing and winding up the hill, we could see clouds in the distance that were on the same level as us. i wanted very much to swim over the distance and touch the clouds and caress its edges... wondering what it would feel like....
would it be wet? would it feel like fog? will i be able to see when i'm in a cloud or would i just see fluffy pillows? would i be able to snuggle in amongst the clouds, and feel like i'm in an air-conditioned room?
yadda...yadda... yadda...

panda on the other hand, wanted to reach out and pat the rice fields...

so we both had aspirations while on the bus.

the route was sooOoOOooo beautiful though.
the green mountains.... were sooOoOooo green.
thatched roofs dotted along the way....
people, sitting around in villages-dotted-along-the-way, doing their thing....
some of the lao were dressed in traditional tribal clothes and the kids were sooooOoooOOo cute! and i saw a couple of them along the way wearing these cute colourful fluffy hats.... orh! if only i had taken pictures!

i love the kids. when we were in vientiane, there were all these kids running around and playing with each other by the side of the road. all by themselves. and they're only like 3-6 year olds.
and when they flash their smiles at you, u'd feel like u're on top of the world. and they give them so freely!
it's also amazing to see that they could be left alone and their parents do not have to worry about crazies on the streets etc. these kids are just... out there doing their thing.
fantastic.

anyway, we're right now staying in this beautiful house owned by this really cute old lady. she's the bestest! she's so sweet and smiley and...
and...and... me and panda have fallen in love with her! she has the nicest house..... all furnished in wood, and decorated with lao fabric..... i'd have to ask if i could take some photos of her beautiful abode.
we're also going to ask her to teach us how to cook a lao dish or two. apparently, the guidebook said we could.
we could see phousy hill (phousy pronounced without the 'h', so.....) from our bedroom window. we're thinking of going up there tomorrow morning to see the sunrise, and possibly hear the chants of the monks? (michelle is this the hill u were talking about?)

had some lao dinner tonight by the beautiful mekong. we tried the luang prabang special watercress salad and... yummo! the dressing was fantastic! and the veges so fresh!

chichi was very brave tonight. during dinner, she sat amongst butterflies which looked like big moths, flapping their big black/brown/grey wings.
i was putting a white bubble round myself.....
but as soon as the sun went down and it was dark, the butterflies went to sleep... i relaxed soon after.

alright, i had better go get ready for beauty sleep.

hope u're all well and happy =)

a very contented chi in luang prabang.

Posted by Chi 21:35 Comments (0)

Laos

chapter 2: jumping up and down with panda in vientiane

05 October 2002 (old email posing as travelblog)

i can't believe i'm actually here in vientiane with panda!

i arrived in wattay international airport (vientiane) last night, after a scary takeoff from bangkok international. it was a very very small plane to start with... 2 seats on each side. and not very long at all. when the plane was ascending, it didn't feel like the aircraft had enough power... 'twas flying at a very slow speed.
i dunno, maybe that's what small planes do...

anyway, caught a cab into town and as i was paying the cab driver on the pavement.... i heard a 'chi-chi!' in the distance. it was panda! we were both so excited we couldn't stop jumping up and down. and this segued in our hotel room... on our bed....

didn't do much last night... just caught up with each other over a Beer Lao each in a pub/restaurant place near the guesthouse we were staying. i got a l'il drunk, or rather just a l'il high, on the 660ml bottle. i didn't even finish it.

today, we ventured down to the mekong river after brekkie. this city, this capital city, is so sedate and peaceful... and clean! i was in a quandry as to what i should do with my ciggy butt. there were no bins around either.

anyway, we thought we'd go for a l'il adventure-walk. chichi had the map in her hand, courtesy of lonelyplanet. street names in the lonelyplanet map were obviously in english. did we find any street names in english, if at all?
most streets don't even have a name! if there is, it's in lao writing.
so.... we.... got lost.

but that's fine, 'cos by this stage, we've come across a few locals selling food or just hanging out by the roadside. from them, we learned to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in lao. and, equipped as we were, we asked locals how to get to thalat sao, the morning market. i must say we did quite well.

also by this time, we were dying....
the heat... the stillness of the air... the getting lost and having to walk further than we thought....
our t-shirts were sticking like glue against our backs.
shorts too.
but we made it to the market.

had a hilarious time trying to work out how to put on this lao skirt i was buying. ended up, with the woman selling the skirt, literally ripping up the whole bottom bit...
i stood wide-eyed.
then she indicated to me that i had to sew it back somehow... i had no idea what she was trying to tell me... i tried. i really did. i even looked at the skirt she was wearing as an example. in the end, we somehow managed to ask if someone does alteration/sewing around here, and got it done.

i just don't understand why the fabric is sold in the sewed-up-stage, and we have to rip the bottom bit off, and sew them back up again??

i must say, panda is getting very good at bargaining!

got on a tuk-tuk this arvo and visited this amazing monument, painted gold. Pha That Luang it's called. and it's a symbol of both buddhist religion and lao sovereignty. it was just amazing. this big gold structure with stupas around it, each symbolising the buddhist perfections like alms giving and equanimity. and on the 4 walls of this semi-massive structure were 200 and something holes, each with a tiny statue of buddha in it. we were astounded.

we then rented bikes in the evening when it was much cooler and rode along the mekong river...
it was a nice ride on quite a 'bumpity' road. i had a really small but cool, yellow bike with banana handles and a bell that doesn't really work. panda had a big blue one with bells that work. hmph.

anyway, stopped by a nice quiet li'l riverside bar and had some Beer Lao and took some pictures with our l'il travel mascots (panda had a l'il pandabear, and i just had a l'il bear with me).

it's nice to see how the lao re-uses things like bottle caps to play draughts, and coconut husks/shells as flower pots... and i bet they do so with a lot more other things.
goes to show how much we take things for granted and how much a lot
of us are into blind-consumerism. not that there is anything wrong with that if u subscribe to that lifestyle, but the simplicity of the people here is just so beautiful to look at.

anyway, have to go now. gotta sleep early tonight. very early bus journey tomorrow to luang prabang, roughly 10 hours north of vientiane.

big hugs,
chi.

Posted by Chi 21:04 Comments (0)

Laos

chapter 1: inane ramblings from bangkok international airport (think that's the right name for the airport)

04 October 2002 (old email posing as travelblog)

hey hey,

after 4 hours here, i have resigned to alternating between looking for a new chair (either in terminal 1 or terminal 2 to read my lonelyplanet, and surfing the net/writing emails like this which is of no consequence.
(read: do not continue if u don't have the energy or time).

i have successfully walked from one end of terminal 1, right to the other end of terminal 2 and back again.... not once, not twice, but 4 times (round-trip).
why?

(i) 'cos i wanted to check out the airport and see what there is to offer in terms of entertainment for the bored, the restless, and those who have hours to wait for their next flight and not-much-to-spend backpackers.... like me.
there weren't any daytona or galaxy or pac-man or point-blank around.

(ii) i spotted an internet place on my first walk but forgot where it was so had to backtrack,which didn't bother me then 'cos i knew i had hours ahead of me and plenty of time to spare. then i bought a card that allows me to surf the net for about 3 hours (this internet place is at the furthest end of terminal 2).

(iii) i got restless reading on an uncomfortable chair and my tummy was telling me it's way past lunchtime. KFC is right at the other (furthest) end of terminal 1 and i was craving for a zinger burger.

(iv) i got restless reading on yet another uncomfortable chair. and wanted to get on the net and use up my credit, so had to walk A...L...L.... the way back.

(v) got tired of surfing and found ..... the same model of uncomfortable chair(!). was pleased(not) with the find, sat down and read. soon after, my departing flight came up on the screen with the number of the check-in counter and i thought i could check-in my backpack. but u see, the check-in counter is at terminal one... so i had to traipse all the way back there.

(vi) but alas, the counters weren't open yet... and i traipse all the way back here to write to u all.

so after this, i will have to trek halfway round the world again to the check-in counter 'cos i'm so keen to stash my backpack away! then i'll feel much lighter about going back and forth.... not.

sorry, but it's all too damn exciting to start with. i dunno if i could keep up with these exciting anecdotes when i'm actually in laos...

blah.

u don't have to wait much longer Vientiane,
chi.

Posted by Chi 09:23 Comments (0)

Amsterdam

25th May 2002 (my past email, posing as travel blog now.)

i'm mass emailing yet again .... BUT....

it means i'm on the road again....
woohoooOoOOooOOooo....!!!
the joys of not doing poo-ey temp work...
rather, i'm squandering those hard-earned dosh, wandering through seedy but beautiful narrow alleyways, and hopefully some pretty cobbled streets on this trip. just generally being a happy snapper.
talking about snaps, i've yet to scan my pics from my US trip and show u all the wonders of that very vast land. (oh well, didn't expect i wasn't gonna get a job-with-scanner-on-table was i? pfft...)

anyway, i'm now in prague. was in berlin before that, and amsterdam before berlin. i got myself an unlimited 30-day travel coach pass for use in many many cities in europe, for a grand total of 167 pounds! life doesn't get any grander. only thing is, bus trips take forever, but i've learned to cope and think it's much better that way since i can read up my lonelyplanet before i arrive in each city.
also, i have time on my hands, and it's not like i've got a JOB to rush back to...
no i'm not bitter.

but i do have to rush through the cities though... 30 days don't add up to much. ah well, if i don't get to experience each city, at least i get a wee taste.

anyway, my first update: amsterdam!

caught up with a friend mia, from melbourne, who's living in amsterdam now. i'm very jealous.
was staying at her place.. well, not really... staying at this flat she's minding for a week. such a beautiful flat! with big bay windows stretching across the length of the room, and on the other side of the glass window, the balcony/rooftop. (we're on the top floor).

the city of bicycles.
bicycles rule here, not that u don't already know. but it's so kewl. and apparently every friday night, in-line skaters take to the streets... kinda like critical mass but on a much smaller scale, and i don't think there's much of a political stand.. just a whole lot of amsterdammers having fun on skates, on the road.

the dutch are so friendly and helpful! they're always smiley when i ask them questions and they go out of their way to help me. i was at the LGBT kiosk the other day, looking for the free gay press but couldn't find it. i was leaving when the volunteer working there called me back and handed me a lesbian listings pamphlet which has listings of cafes/bars/clubs....
... and of course, meetings, discussions and workshops.
(i bet gay men are secretly jealous that we have workshops and discuss about a whole lot of stuff! *grin* )

he then directed me to the LGBT bookshop - Vrolijk (frolic?)
when i got there, i asked one of the guys there for the free gay press, and he said "sorry, as of today, it's no longer free. they cost 2.50 euros now." and this other guy working there, who must have seen my disappointed look, picked up a copy and offered it to me for free! "here take it. it's your lucky day today." and the first guy proceeded to give me a carrier bag to put the magazine and all the stuff i had on my arms (thick heavy lonelyplanet, parka, water bottle, my lunch).

this is just one of the wonderful things that's happened to me in amsterdam that day. my guardian angel must have woken up early in the morning and explored amsterdam on foot with me. normally she'd be sleeping.

a hilarious sight i recalled was this man in his late 40's/ early 50's on his bicycle..
he was kinda short, kinda frumpy, and all he was wearing (i guess it was a very hot day) was a leopard-print swimming costume! not trunks... but swimming costume. i don't know which was more hilarious. the fact that he was in a costume, or the leopard prints.
well, to each his own hey.

not everything is funny though.
i was happily walking along one of the many canals here when a car drove up behind me and slowed down when he came by me. i was wondering what was up, so i turned and looked into the car...
something was definitely up....
he was bloody wanking away.
one hand on the wheel, the other....
well, it can be funny...

quirks of amsterdam:

(i) if u live here, there's a certain night when u're only allowed to leave rubbish out on the streets for collection... as is like most other cities. but, if u do it on a night when it isn't garbage night, there are garbage police who'd go through the contents in the garbage bag and search for info or some kinda identification, like letters addressed to you etc., and they'll come looking for u.

a slight digression: my friend mia, was telling me that in melbourne, there's the dog-poo police, who'd go round testing the dna of dog poos that owners failed to clean up. i didn't know that!

(ii) amsterdammers love using the word "gezellig" (heh-zel-lick), but with both the g(s) at either end pronounced a gutteral, almost silent "ch".
it means cozy, or a place where good times can be had.

so a gezellig place is cosy and inviting and full of gezellig things that make it oh-so gezellig.

i was at one of the tourist booths one day and the people who work there were sitting behind glass windows with microphones. i was waiting in line when i noticed this. and when it got to my turn, i had to speak through this microphone by my side, and hear the person on the other side of the window serving me at same time on this other speaker thingy.
how un-gezellig is that!
it's so hard to communicate. i mean, do robbers really want brochures and city maps and transport maps?
"gimme all you tulip postcards and no one gets hurt!"

i cycled one night into the red light district. it was an eye-opener. women were standing in the glass windows, like cubicles/glass rooms, facing the street, almost like as if they are on display in a museum. (one woman in each "cubicle"). and these "glass cubicles" are lit up in neon pink. so walking down the street, u'd see these pink-lit "boxes". and the girls in the windows were just standing there, or the more energetic ones, dancing.
according to a magazine i picked up here, the going rate is 50 euros for what they unpoetically called "a suck and fuck", but always with a condom. and apparently, the windows are rented to the women for between 100 and 150 euro dollars for an 8 hour shift. the popular girls take in about 450-600 euros a day/night. they fill out tax forms, and many belong to a loose union called The Red Thread.

on saturday night, we visited the dyke bars.
didn't make it to clubs ços they were expensive. but poor fraser, friend of mia's, who's been coming out with us and showing me around (very sweet boy) had to suffer in rooms full of girls.

on my last night, we went to a "coffeeshop". all three of us were very light-weight. we ordered a ready made spliff that we didn't even finish... probably only halfway through, and was stoned as. i had the excuse of having a cocktail beforehand since i don't drink that much anymore.
we then proceeded to the squat bar - Vrankrijk, that had monday nights for lesbians and gay boys. it wasn't very happening, but t'was kewl.

(sorry, my writing isn't in order of events...)

i'd also visited the Anne Frankhuis (anne frank house), the house and secret annex where the little jewish girl (aged 14) wrote her diary while in hiding during the war.
it wasn't as i expected ços it's been reconstructed and everything looked quite new, but was informative.
there was an interactive bit at the end which confused me a li'l.
basically it started with the history of hitler and book burning. (in fact, i was at the square in the former east berlin where the nazis burnt all those books, just a couple of days ago). anyway, it's in a large room with consoles (one red button, the other green) so that u feel like u're in a game show. there's a huge screen in front of you.

u press the green button if u're for freedom of speech.
u press the red button if u're for the government banning discrimination.

one of the footage was of the pope speaking out against lesbians and gays strutting their stuff during pride 2000 in rome, the jubilee year, and how it was disrespectful.. disgraceful...immoral...wrong... abnormal... rah rah rah...

which button should i press?
on the one hand, i am fully in favour of freedom of speech. but in this case, i think i should press the red button. but then, doesn't that mean, i'm not in favour of freedom of expression?

i just think the two opposing buttons aren't very fair.

  • stamps my foot*

i also visited the mushroom gallery while i was in this liberated city. it was basically trippy vegetables displayed under glass cabinets with descriptions saying what they do to ya... like relaxing hypnotic herb, or a stimulating high...etc. and they were obviously for sale. there is also a changing exhibit of the work of artists, created while under the influence of these trippy veges.

anyway... time to stop my rant.
i know it's sudden (u're all probably relieved), but it's costing me lots. and tell me if it's boring u, then i won't write these long rant-y things anymore.
i always do when i get started hey.

i'll update on berlin and prague when i next write.

hope u're all well and happy!
big hugs and sloppiest of sloppiest kisses!

-c.

Posted by Chi 18:22 Comments (0)

USA

the later part of SF and the Green Tortoise trip

11th July 2001 (old cut+paste email posing as travel blog)

it’s that time again.......

when mass-emailing works best for the financially-disabled and time-saving nomad.

it’s gonna be a long one...

just got off the green tortoise bus about 4 days ago. still trying to get used to big crazy new york... crazy as it is, i haven’t encountered anyone asking me for change or a spare cigarette!

in san francisco, they were everywhere! i’ve never seen so many homeless people in my life. it’s quite depressing. i got cursed once with bad karma when i refused a ciggie to this homeless kid. u know how sometimes they said they’d give u a quarter for a cig? and u always end up giving the cig away without taking the quarter? well, when i was at the Haight one day (a really kewl suburb in SF - funky clothes store, biggest record store ever, hemp-town), i endeavoured to not give away any ciggies.
so this guy, the same one who approached me for a cig, followed me down the street and “bad-karma-d” me for about 3 minutes b4 leaving me alone.
it was kinda scary.

SF pride weekend:
‘twas pretty unreal. esp the dyke march the day before. it started at about 4pm at Mission Dolores Park, with bands playing... like Tribe 8! it’s kinda like Fair Day in sydney, except it's a park full of grrls!! :) kewt ones too...
anyway, bands performed, we drank and ate (i was with sharona), then at about 730pm, the dyke march began and we all marched down to the Castro (main gay suburb) where the street party was. i caught up with gretchen, a gal i met one night at the lexington (girly bar). we started hanging out and i spent the rest of the weekend with her until i left SF on monday night. she was really nice :)

we got up too late for the parade the next day (which started at 10am!), and spent the rest of the day lounging in front of the women’s stage. (there were different stages located at various locations in the city that weekend).

i left SF on monday night and got on the green tortoise bus, which took me from SF to NY.


the Green Tortoise Northern Eastbound 12 days trip:

i got on this trip 'cos i calculated that it was gonna be the cheapest way for me to get from the west coast to the east coast, and visit some places along the way. (compared to renting a car, which i did a few weeks back with Moto when we went around the south-west of USA, which cost me a small fortune. it was fun though... no regrets.)

the green tortoise is an adventure tour travel bus and i absolutely hated it at the beginning of the trip and thought to myself, “fucking hell, i’ve got 10 more days left on this crampy smelly bus with a bunch of loonies till i get to NY!”
but as it turned out, it was one of the best 12 days i’ve had in the states (or rather, 10days, since i hated it at the beginning). i wished the end didn’t come as soon as it did.

there were 39 of us, including 2 really amazing bus drivers – robert and... sue, whom i had this huge crush on *grin*. sue and robert took turns driving our 1954 green bus. we camped out 4-5 nights, and the rest were overnight drives, which were kinda kewl in itself ‘cos sue and robert wouldn’t tell us where we were heading, and we’d often wake up in the morning to some gorgeous national park :)

the route we took was:
california ---> nevada ---> idaho ---> wyoming ---> montana ---> south dakota ---> minnesota ---> wisconsin ---> illinois ---> indiana ---> ohio ---> new york ( ---> boston).

we swam in hot springs, cold lakes and rivers/streams almost everyday. they were our means of washing up. there was an arvo when we all got naked and jumped into a muddy stream and had a mud bath and mud-baked ourselves silly. we hardly had any showers... only 2 on the whole trip when we entered national parks that have shower facilities. fortunately, no one stank.

went through yellowstone national park and i have to admit, that was kinda awful even tho nature, esp the hotpools, were amazing. it was so tourists-infested. they had proper boardwalks for trails. that was on the 4th day. and after spending 4 days in the wilderness with no one else except the 39 of us, tourists weren’t exactly what we were expecting.
we then went on to Mammoth Hot Springs where the white rocks were stained orange from the sulphur flowing/seeping out from the earth... quite a sight. smelly too :)
imagine: pure white, and orange-streaked landscape with wisps of smoke coming up from the ground. quite surreal.

Badlands in South Dakota was really KEWL! there was no one else there but us, and we had the whole prairie to ourselves. i can’t begin to describe how vast the land is. that night, we camped anywhere we wanted. of course we didn’t stray too far off the bus...
i took the best poo ever, facing the sunset in the distance behind the hills... haha :D had to hike a fair way away with the trusty shovel. dug a hole. did my business. enjoyed the moment – no sound except for birds chirping,looking into infinity painted with sunset, savouring every second of it. covered up whatever needed covering. trekked back with trusty shovel by my side to our base. ahh.. the simple pleasures of life...

got to see niagara falls too. it was the day b4 we got into NY... it was a sad sad day :(
as it meant good-byes...

aw man, there are still things i wanna mention about the trip, so i guess this is all jumbled up, as usual:

we went on heaps of treks, almost always ending up in a hot spring or lake or somewhere we can swim in. sometimes we trek back, other times, the bus will pick us up on the other end.

had a few of what we called “bus-fucks” (no not the dirty variety).
considering it’s an ancient 1954 bus, it had served us well.
on the 2nd day, at about 530am, robert turned around from the driver’s seat and shouted “everyone wake up and get out of the bus!! u all have to walk up this hill! i might or might not meet u at the top... not sure if Mission Trails (name of our bus) can make it!”
we were up this windy mountain road at Sawtooth National park, and ‘cos it’s a route that the green tortoise has never been on, they weren’t expecting it. so all of us piled out, sleepy-eyed, and started climbing up the hill. 530 in the morning.

there was this period of time when we had to push the bus almost everytime after the engine is switched off, like when we camped out. something wrong with the alternator or something, and the bus won’t start. during those 2 days of huffing and puffing, we had to keep reminding everyone not to turn off the engine lest it dies on us again.... until we got to chicago and got the alternator replaced.

we blew a tyre on a highway one day too.
took about an hour and a half to replace it ‘cos it was an inner tyre.
ran out diesel in cleveland, ohio once at 330 in the morning...
but these tiny calamities somehow generated its own sense of fun...

we cooked most of our meals and they were always yummy! i was so impressed on teh first morning when we got our supplies down from the roof of the bus. had salmon bagel with capers and cream and fresh fruits...
wasn’t expecting exciting meals like these. thought it might be cereal or toasts. we had veg curry night, roast veg night, steak night, mexican lunch, pasta, salad, etc, etc... i can go on and on. they really took care of us... chocolates and chupa chups were passed around the bus on drives... yummy energy bars given us b4 a trek...
we did get sick of cooking by the end of it though. just the whole process of setting up... getting all the stuff down form the roof - food, tables, crockery et al. so we ate out.

we got to ohio one night and thought we’d have burger king. and there were amish people eating in burger king itself!... with kids... and that was already about 1045pm! it was a strange sight... i thought part of their culture was to grow and eat their own food??

oooh... one arvo, when we were in a little town in idaho called salmon, at a gas station, we met some jesus-loving hippies! it was really strange. they came in their vans and buses, and at first, wheni saw this guy wearing a “i love jesus” button on his shirt, i thought he had meant it as joke. but slowly, we began to see “jesus loves u” bumper stickers on their vehicles, and bible verses scribbled on their windows...
this girl came on board the bus and started chatting to us. she was wearing one of those thin gold cross on her neck, and when someones wears that, u know they’re not joking.... and man, she looked like she was high on something. she was so out of it. we asked her where they were heading, and she replied “the rainbow gathering”... which is a big hippie fest in the woods that lasts for a week or something. anyway, we then continued and asked her what this rainbow gathering entails, and she went “ w-e-l-l......... e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.....”, like real slow and spaced out. so we asked, “like what?” ... and she’s like, “u.... k-n-o-w.......... s-t-u-f-f......”.
bwahahahahaa!...
‘twas really funny!

hmmm... burger-king eating amish, and jesus-loving hippies. great antithesis...

the day b4 we got into chicago, which incidentally was the 4th of july (independence day), we stopped in a little town in minnesota called Albert Lea. went to a thrift shop and everyone got green outfits to wear when we get to chicago. as a group, we looked fantastic. some of the outfits... man! i can’t even begin to describe it. i would have to scan those photos and send them out.
rounf the corner from the thrift shop was this gas station called “Pump ‘n’ Munch”! we thought the connotation was hilarious.

we all stayed up the last night on the road and got real drunk playing drinking games. started playing truth/dare... or rather, dare/dare.

  • ** censored ***

cut out of original email
3 paragraphs... involving names.
about stuff that happened on the bus on the last night, and the night when we were in NY.... and also about someone i had a major crush on. anyway!

  • ** censored ***

okay okay... i htink i should stop now. i thought i was gonna write a short essay, but it’s kinda getting way too long...
hope it wasn’t all too boring for u guys. just wanted to share my experiences from the amazing last 2 weeks. i’m sure it’s an inadequate description, not giving it enough justice. but it’s the best i can do.

i hope you’re all well and things are swell :)
i want to hear your individual stories too!

i’m leaving new york this weekend... i’ve cut short my stay here by about 2 weeks ‘cos i’m so out of money. so i’ll be in london on the 15th of july! not sure what i’m gonna do yet once i get there, but i’m kinda over being on the road (as much fun as it might be, i’m tired), so i might just settle in london and look for a job and travel later. *shrugs*
will decide when i get there.

big hugs,
chi.

p.s. if u wanna know how the 39 of us fitted into the green tortoise bus for 12 days, here’s a description...

roof of the bus is where we stored out non-refrigerated food, 3 big tables, our propane gas for cooking and out big woks.
left and right side of bus, at the bottom, accessible from the outside, is where we kept out cutlery, crockery, gallons of water, tools for the bus (for all the bus-fucks we had), extra diesel (which came in handy!!)...
back half of the bus is where we slept, on a platform, and underneath that platform was where we stored our big backpacks, and we don’t have everyday access to it. every 3-4 days, or unless it’s really urgent, we’ll bring them out.
there are bunks above the platform too... kinda like bus-racks in a normal coach, but wider.
right at the back of the bus is the driver’s sleeper. sue and robert take turns sleeping in it, when one is not driving Mission Trails - name of our beloved green 1954 bus.
middle of the bus are 2 tables on either side of the aisle, which convert to sleepers at night when we do the “miracle”. (will explain the “miracle” later)
front half of the bus, we have 2 horizontal benches on either side of the aisle that stretches length-wise. and underneath these benches are the coolers for our vegs and cheese and stuff like that.
in the middle of the aisle is another smaller cooler where we store our alcohol.
so, when the “miracle” happens, which is around 11pm when we’re doing an overnight road trip, the front half of the bus with the benches converts into a big platform stretching across the aisle, so the aisle is no more. and we put our daypacks and shoes under this platform. the tables then convert into a sleeping “platform” as well. and when we sleep, we sleep in a “zipper” pattern- ugh, i can’t explain this. if u can’t imagine, too bad. ha.
on nights when we camp out, we’ll pull the foam mattresses out of the bus, and sleep on the ground, under the stars.
right at the front of the bus, is our “funnel”. used in times of emergency, like drinking way too much alcohol for the bus to do pee-stops all the time.

i just can’t stop writing can i?
heh :)

Posted by Chi 06:02 Comments (2)

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