poetry, politics, The China Chapter

Unfiltered Thoughts

America’s dichotomized, cut in two,
and I can choose to be a red or a blue
but when the primary votes were trickling through,
I wondered, “What is this country coming to?”

Now I live in China, which is probably not the best,
where the government claims Red beats in the chest
of every man and woman throughout the land
who are too disenfranchised to take a stand.

And this morning I read on the news
that the UK voted to leave the EU
partially in fear that others want to live there too,
“So tighten the borders; that’s the smartest thing to do!”

Of course, we have to acknowledge the middle east
where a state of war is more common than a state of peace.
It’s the birthplace of the religion that we use
to treat any others the way that we choose.

And with this onslaught of global news,
we might ask, “What’s the world coming to?”

The answer is: Nothing. We are what we were,
people no better than ancestors before.
We might think we’d learned from the past—we’ve not
and you know that’s true when dancing clubbers get shot.

With Orlando’s rainbows waving down,
you might think the world would finally find love a common ground.
But as long as people can separate a “they” from a “we,”
there’s no need to find any commonality.

So we tighten our boarders and we ready our guns
and we elect a candidate who’ll put our nation on the run
and we pray to our god above that some day
we can create a hopeful tomorrow from a hateful today.

holidays, photography, politics, The China Chapter, travel

Saigon Night, Holy Night: Một Giáng sinh ở Việt Nam

When my uncle first heard I was spending Christmas 2015 in Vietnam, he told my father that it didn’t seem like too long ago that he was trying his best to spend Christmas away from Vietnam.  While the entirety of the Vietnam War predates my existence, I took this revelation to heart and treated my time in Vietnam more thoughtfully that I might otherwise have.

Without delving too much into politics, I can say that the current mentality of the government of Vietnam still relies very heavily on a war fought 40 years ago and all the propaganda they can squeeze out of it.  History is written by the winners and there is no place as easily accessible as Vietnam to witness this.

To be fair, neither the Vietnamese people nor the government seem to have anything again American citizens; rather it’s the American government they cajole and celebrate a victory over.  And, interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the men and women in southern Vietnam, once allies with the US, seem very hush-hush about the war, despite the large, very anti-American War Remnants Museum in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC; formerly Saigon), placed by the Northern Vietnamese Troops after the end of the war in 1975 to remind the South how lucky they were that the Northern Army had prevailed.

Regardless, our journey from Cambodia (see the last part of our adventures here) into Vietnam was fraught with difficulty.  While in Phnom Penh, it was discovered that our travel agency had given us the wrong paperwork for a border crossing into Vietnam.  Fortunately, Nou Sokhien was on duty at Giant Ibis.  He took the time to go get us visas to Vietnam from the embassy and didn’t charge us for his kindness. (Again, I cannot recommend this bus company highly enough.)

Although clearing the visa matter took a few hours, with Sokhien’s help, the matter was resolved smoothly.  Our tour company also showed up at the bus depot to pay–right then and there–for any unforeseen costs we had incurred that day.  Only a few hours after we should have left, we were on a bus into Vietnam.

We crossed the border without incident and, almost immediately I could sense money was around us.  The bumpy streets of Cambodia, lined with wild grasses and wooden dwellings on stilts, became gated concrete houses adjoining smoothly paved roads.

IMG_6501
Nothing says HCMC like motorbikes!

We made it to the Liberty Park View Hotel late that night and, tired from the hours bouncing about on a bus, I crashed almost immediately while Kerensa and Melissa explored the streets of HCMC for dinner.  When we woke up the next morning, we had a whirlwind day planned–morning at the Cu Chi Tunnels and an afternoon spent touring the city.

The Cu Chi Tunnels were…interesting…and going inside a (widened and heightened for the tourists’ benefit) tunnel still made me feel ever so claustrophobic.  I’m not sure if what we saw was our tour guide’s normal demeanor or if he was just very aware of the fact that he was guiding around American tourists, but he kept congratulating us, saying we would “make good Viet Cong” and “yay, Communism.”  I’m not saying I would have been in support of the Vietnam War–I’m pretty sure I would not have been–but I still felt as though, just by listening to our guide, I was failing to respect the soldiers sent over to die in this foreign, hot land of jungles and Cu Chi traps.

The afternoon tour of HCMC was a little better.  We first went to see the Reunification Palace, where the President of Southern Vietnam lived until April 1975.  Then we dropped by the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral and Old Saigon Post Office.  We ended the afternoon with a drop by the Jade Emperor Pagoda.

Then we wished our tour guide goodbye, grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant, and headed to bed early for our next morning tour: a Christmas Eve boat tour of the Mekong Delta.

That evening, we met up with Clemens and Faye, two Chengdu friends, and headed to Christmas mass.  We passed by a beautiful, super-crowded outside service but walked on when we learned it was (of course) in Vietnamese.  We came to a little English speaking service and…well, celebrated Christmas.  Afterwards, we found a club with a quiet rooftop.  There we grabbed a few drinks and sat around soaking in the warm winter evening.  When the drinks were consumed, the ice cubes melted, and the sticky sweetness of the day had softened into a cool evening, we bid our friends farewell and headed back to our hotel.  The next day, we were leaving for Hanoi.

memorial, photography, politics, The China Chapter, travel

ភាពភ័យរន្ធត់និងបដិសណ្ឋារកិច្ចនៅរាជធានីភ្នំពេញ – Phnom Penh: The Capital of Horror and Hospitality

After a few days in Siem Reap, Melissa, Kerensa, and I were ready to see the busier city of Phnom Penh.  Our Siem Reap driver took us to a bus depot where we boarded a Giant Ibis bus.  If you are ever traveling across Asia and want a great, affordable means of travel, Giant Ibis is the way to go.  The bus we were on boasted wifi–although coverage was not always great–comfortable seats and outlet plugs.  For a country that doesn’t even have electricity in many homes, the bus…was unexpected in the most pleasant of ways.  Giant Ibis’s Phnom Penh site manager, Nou Sokhien, would also prove to be most invaluable in the next leg of our journey.

Pictures Taken En Route to Phnom Penh

 

Our arrival in Phnom Penh was pretty nondescript.  We arrived at the bus terminal and were again picked up by a tour guide and driver.  They took us along the shore of the Tonle Sap River to our hotel, the King Grand Boutique Hotel.  Kerensa’s room was ready as soon as we got to the hotel, so we headed up to her room where we were taught how to use the fancy door locks.  Of all of the hotels on our trip, I think the King Grand was one of my favorites. (Tangent here…I would normally save this until the end of the blog post, but this post gets a tad heavy and this incident is so trivial in comparison.  The King Grand was spectacular except for one server, who took entirely too long to give us change from our bill at the rooftop bar.  After waiting for nearly an hour, we went down to the lobby to find him goofing around with hotel guests.  Don’t eat dinner on the rooftop there and you’ll be fine.  Most of the staff was incredible, the rooms were nice, and the location was top notch.)

After taking a respite to settle into our rooms, we found that the hotel was an incredibly short, convenient walk away from the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda (officially the Temple of the Emerald Buddha).  We wandered to the palace, paid a small entrance fee and poked around.  There was some (royal, I’m assuming?) event taking place in the Hor Samritvimean, so a few of the palace buildings were off limits to both foot traffic and photography.  But that didn’t stop us from meandering about the stupas and enjoying the palace grounds that seemed complete with large pictures of His Majesty, Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia.

 

After touring the palace, we met up with Diana, another teacher from Chengdu.  We ate at Friends the Restaurant and spent a little time investigating their adjacent store.  Most of the proceeds go to charity, so you have to shop, right?  We also made plans to visit the killing fields and genocide museum the next morning…

————————–

I felt a long pause was in order there and I took a pause when writing this entry too, not really sure how to write about such a heavy day.

Before going to Cambodia and Vietnam, I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War and even less of the reign of the Khmer Rouge.  I always associated the USA with fighting–albeit perhaps sometimes blunderingly–on the side of right, opposing evil.  But rarely is history so black and white.  I’m no scholar on the matter, so if the topic of the Vietnam War and Reign of the Khmer Rouge really speaks to you, please investigate it further.  What I’m writing is only the history of the time as I have learned it from being in Cambodia, taking tours, listening to interviews, and talking to Cambodians.

The Khmer Rouge took power of Phnom Penh easily.  Cambodians in the 1970s were tired of being bombed by American fighter jets, a causality of the war with Vietnam.  The citizens of Phnom Penh welcomed the Khmer Rouge with open arms in 1975, thinking the tide of violence would recede.

In less than 24 hours, the people of Phnom Penh knew they had misjudged the Khmer Rouge.  Citizens of Phnom Penh were expelled from the city, forced to work and dwell in the countryside.  But that would be nothing compared to the horrors that were to follow.  For the next 4 years, until 1979 when the North Vietnamese Army drove the Khmer Rouge from power, the regime purged Cambodia of all the indecent people opposed to their idea of a classless, agrarian society.  Such indecent people included doctors, professors, and foreigners.  These people were rounded up and taken to prisons like the Tuol Sleng Prison that we toured.  Here, prisoners were tortured until they gave up names of others who were against the Khmer Rouge’s regime.  These newly named people were then picked up and tortured themselves.  Even a number of Khmer Rouge soldiers actually wound up being tortured and killed at prisons like Tuol Sleng.  Out of the 17000-20000 people who made their way through Tuol Sleng, only 7 to 12 are reported to have survived.

 

When the Khmer Rouge ran out of room for bodies in Tuol Sleng, they sent people to killing fields, like Choeung Ek, located 15 km (9 miles) south of Phnom Penh.  There, people were made to dig mass graves for themselves.  Then Khmer Rouge soldiers hit them with shovels until they were dead.  Infants were swung against a tree, dying instantly from the trauma, and were then tossed into a pile of corpses.

 

The entire day was dreary and depressing, but I appreciated it as one might a trip to Auschwitz, an area, preserved from the flow of time, showing humanity at its worst that we might strive to become humanity at its best.  Still, thoughts give me pause.  After being shut down in 1979, Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek were both turned into profound tourist stops in the 1980s.  In 10 years or so, are there going to be similar monuments in Syria and Sudan?  And who will play the role of the North Vietnamese Army, driving harsh regimes from the land?

photography, politics, The China Chapter, travel

民主,抗议和催泪瓦斯,噢,我的!- Democracy, Protests, and Tear Gas, Oh My!

Wow.  Okay, so when we booked this Hong Kong getaway in early September we definitely did not anticipate having to schedule our time on the island around protesters.  Although the protests have been, for the most part, peaceful, I’ve still seen way to many Locked Up Abroad episodes to want to get too close to any of that.  Kristen and I have done a good job steering clear of Central (except for driving by it at a quick clip last night), but sit-ins and demonstrations are popping up elsewhere as well.  Yesterday, we went to haggle at the Ladies’ Market and, as we neared Mong Kok metro station, buses were scattered and students were sitting, barricaded from the blinding sun by umbrellas, near signs that just read, in English, “Democracy.”  I took a few shots before we headed away from the area (in case there was another bout of tear gassing), but everything seemed fairly calm.  I think there were more Hong Kong citizens taking pictures of the protests rather than protesting themselves…

Sit-in Near Mong Kok by day…

IMG_1095IMG_1102IMG_1107IMG_1111IMG_1121 IMG_1120 IMG_1118 IMG_1113 IMG_1112

Start of Protests at Central by Night

IMG_1461Today we are taking it easy and trying to find a place to visit away from the crowds…

memorial, politics

The Man Who Lived for a Nation…

In 1963, Nelson Mandela, arguing against South African apartheid, said the end of the cruel system was an idea for which he was prepared to die.  Instead, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, only to be released in 1990, when it was obvious apartheid was failing.  He passed away today at the age of 95.  Nelson Mandela did more than die for his country: he lived for her.

Credit Denis Farrell / AP

news, politics

School Log: Thursday, Week 11

I don’t hate politics.  Just politicians.  Well, some of them.  I don’t hate debating our ideas in a public forum, but detest false promises, slander, libel, hateful speech.  I always thought the people most suited to be the President of the United States were those too smart to run for the job.  That’s not to say I don’t have admiration, of some sort, for those who do battle it out in front of the nation.  Politics is exciting.  I just hate all the rhetoric and falsity that accompanies the race for the place, whether it be the White House or the School Board Seat.

This year, my state is getting slammed with ads.  In the uncontested states, it might be easy to forget there’s an election on Tuesday.  If you live it one of the seven states deemed “up for grabs,” you’re not so lucky.  Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Colorado are hotly contested right now.  And being a Virginian, I love feeling so important.  In one electoral vote prediction that I saw, Virginia, Colorado, and New Hampshire went to Obama, while all the other states went to Romney.  That put each candidate at 269 electoral votes, meaning the House and Senate would vote for President and Vice President, respectively.  From a “let’s make history” perspective, I would not mind this outcome.  The Washington Post lists a number of other ways that the candidates could tie next week.  Basically, it should be a fun election night.

But what’s happening in the states that are pretty solidly for Obama or Romney?  Well, in some of these states, like Tennessee, not much is happening.  Except the Democrats having a man on the ballot who has been dubbed “the worst political candidate ever.”  But, according to himself, Mark Clayton is just operating in Jesus-fashion: on the sly.

From across the political spectrum and around the world, I’m out.

politics, travel

Euro-mazing

I’ve been seeing quite a number of smart cars on the roads lately.  What makes sense in the cramped streets of urban Italy looks completely out of place in suburban America.

I went to an Irish pub the other night with a friend of mine.  I don’t know the name, but while we were driving, we were immediately drawn to the neon “Pub Open” sign.  We scooted to the back of the restaurant towards the bar area and were welcomed with a small live Irish band and a barkeep who was old, kind, and infinitely knowledgeable.  There were a few televisions around, so we caught a bit of the presidential debate.  This debate was echoed by one between my friend and a gentleman sitting next to him at the bar.

The gentleman ended up complementing me, continuously asking if my friend and I were dating. We said “no, no” a few times and the stranger remarked that he could tell I was going to be my friend’s redeemer. I can be a lot of things: a confidante, a teammate, a makeshift tennis player…. Redeemer is not on that list.

At any rate, I reveled in the pub debates, the live music, and the constant stream of men and women who entered, drank, paid, and left. Knowing that this establishment exists almost makes my little corner of Virginia seem Euro-urban.

Maybe smart cars aren’t so out of place after all.

politics, travel

Barack Obama!

Who will you vote for in 2008?
I took this quiz online: http://glassbooth.org/
And here are my results….

1 Barack Obama 81% similarity
2 Hillary Clinton 79% similarity
3 John Edwards 78% similarity

Other than that, Julie is asleep. Not much else to do today. I’m gonna mop a little and do some laundry, I think. Romantic life, huh? This week has been very low-key. Diana’s sister came over on Tuesday night which provided me with some entertainment. I’ve been feeling a bit like the Hunchback of Notre Dame in this apartment all the time…

It’s raining here, which is nice because it’s been so hot lately (like 80 degrees). Diana says to wait. It will get much worse. But it also means that Julie and I play inside (there’s a playroom downstairs in the apartment lobby area). We did get to go swimming in the children’s piscina (pool) on Wednesday, which was fun. Julie was grinning like a fool.

I also had a talk with Leon and Diana about my responsibilities…we’ll see what happens.

But for today, I’m just happy that I get out tomorrow! I’m gonna head to Old San Juan and see the San Sebastian Street Festival that has been going on since Thursday. 🙂 Yeah for people! Wanna meet me there?