Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloweens Past

Not feeling well today. A life plagued with kidney gripes.

No trick-or-treaters tonight--a new concept here that's just taking hold, so no surprise. Plus, they have to brave a dark yard and a growling terrier. Not worth any baby toblerones.

Clive Davis over at the Spectator links to a Guardian article on how the American Halloween tradition has been turned on its head by the English. So many of the comments posted are brutal.

Favorite costumes:
As a kid in Virginia Beach: Raggedy Ann.

In college: I was a box of Cheer, and my best friend went as the dirty laundry. We used measuring cups as our drinking glasses.
Baltimore: Pinocchio--accidentally entered myself in a contest by walking down the stairs of a restaurant (I was looking for the bathroom) and won 100 bucks for best "literary figure."
Florida: Gumby--had to drive in it. Through a toll booth. It was difficult.

Anybody else?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Trip to Wellness

It's late and I've just returned from a day trip to a wellness spa. Will post later on the 100 euro bathing suit. Now that my sea legs have been put to the test (lots of water), I'm home and, well, getting ready for a hot bath....

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Scott McCracken Who Never Was

I'm the youngest of six.
First there were two boys, then three girls. So when Number Six was ponying along, everyone assumed it would be a boy. In fact, so sure were they, no one bothered to pick out a girl's name, and settled on Scott for a boy.

When all that turned out to not be the case, my sister Sarah wrote a letter to my cousin Richard, asking him to be her brother, since basically she was robbed. Not sure how that all went over with my two older brothers.

Last week for my birthday, Sarah sent me a note and this photo of me (not Scott) in Grandmother's lap on my Christening day, surrounded by my disappointed sisters.

When you were born, we all took out the Webster's Dictionary and sat or laid on the floor and looked up girls' names in the back and wrote down our favorite names for you. I sent Mom a note on a memorandum sheet that said, "Dear Mom, You had a baby. It is a girl. Love Sarah"

I love you!!!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Mark Twain Nguyen

One of the journalists brought in this Mark Twain version of "Adam and Eve," with both a Vietnamese and English translation. I can't explain the Little House on the Prairie Meets Harlequin Romance cover image, but there you go.

From Eve's diary:
"The moon got loose last night and slid down and fell out of its scheme--a very great loss; it breaks my heart to think of it. There isn't another thing among the ornaments and decorations that is comparable to it for beauty and finish. It should have been fastened better. If we can only get it back again."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Post-Coital Deep Knee Bends

A visit to the Museum of Contraception and Abortion in Vienna. The photograph is of 1928 instructions on one method of contraception. Roughly translated: As the man lies on the bed after sex (actually, it recommends that he go ahead and go to sleep) the woman is supposed to run in a circle around the room three times, doing 10 deep knee bends.

So. Am I the only one who still does this?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I Miss Elementary School

More sex posts on the way... call it research (it IS research. Honest!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gong Bangers

One of my worries before leaving the newspaper in Vietnam was the English translation. Turns out, my concerns were well-founded. I received a pdf file today of the newspaper, with the headline for a feature on the resurgence of ancient Vietnamese gongs reading: Bang the Gong.

For the Extraordinary Man

Fence-Hoppin' Dog

Found out what Remi was up to while I was in Vietnam.

This, according to Christoph: he was walking her on one of the first mornings I was away, when she ducked her head down and slipped out of her collar. She took off in the direction of my house, which is only a few houses down from his.
He went after her but couldn't find her. Called her name, whistled, searched the yard, searched up and down the street. "REMI! REMIIII!!!"...
She had skipped my house and gone on to Maxima's house next door, where she had apparently jumped the gate and was sunning herself in the yard.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Killer Egg Nog, Tractors, Live Chickens

So last night I'm over at Anna and Christoph's, and Anna brings out the egg liquer. I tell my story about my mom swigging egg nog and getting caught on home video--just knocking back the glass and slurping it all up when she thinks no one is watching.

And then I ask Anna where she got the egg liquer, which is egg nog to the 10th power--wickedstrong.

Turns out she got it off a guy who pulls up to the house on a tractor, selling his stuff. She bought a baked chicken from him, too. And he's apparently the guy trying to talk her into buying a live one, which I presume he'd bring on the tractor--something I'd clear my schedule for just to watch--the arrival of the chicken by tractor.

What's NOT Listed in Your Travel Guide

... off to work I go... to do a piece on the Museum of Contraception and Abortion in Vienna.

I love my job.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Whacko at the Rex (Hotel)

The last few days I was in Saigon, I slipped off to the pool at the Rex Hotel in the mornings. Being small-minded, it was important for me to return home with a tan.

There was never more than a few people there, and I always parked my stuff at a table and chair near the deep end steps.

On my last morning, there was an exchange between a staff guy and an Asian woman, presumably Vietnamese.

He kept trying to drag a chair over to my area for her, and she kept wildly refusing. He gestured a lot--in international mime his signs meant "but, you CAN'T do that!"--but she was insistent. In the end, he threw his hands up and walked away.

Apparently what she wanted was my spot. Her consolation prize was to set up shop with her towel on the hothothot ground directly in front of me, and directly in the path of people trying to get to the pool.

She laid down on her towel, and then fashioned another towel around her head and face, despite 95 degree heat. I admired her determination, although where she was going with it was unclear.

After two or three minutes she got up and oiled herself head to toe. Then again. Then again. Then again. A half a bottle in 10 minutes. As someone who grew up on the beach, even I found this a stunning consumption of time.

I was inches from finishing my book, but snapped it shut for the drama that was unfolding at my feet.

In between oilings, she plopped back down on the towel and did leg lifts.

Bored with all that, she decided to go for a little swim. But took a detour behind the staff area, grabbed a life preserver off the back wall hook, and then tossed it into the pool to use as a toy. She splashed around n it a bit, started more calf exercises (up down, up down), and then got bored with all that.

There's no more to this story... she returned the life preserver but left her towel there at my feet.

There are wackos on every continent.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mother and Child Reunion, Part XXII

My little dog;
A heartbeat at my feet.
--Edith Wharton

Jiggety Jig

Home again yesterday morning. Grueling flight.
A large branch had fallen in the yard, so I spent some time getting it settled for firewood.
It's cold here. Fire burning in the fire place. Remi beside me. Very tired. I have to say, I'm appreciating the quiet after the noise of Saigon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Goodnight, Saigon

In a few minutes I'll be leaving for the airport and, snap--like that--24 hours, three airports, two flights including a long haul, one train ride, and I'll be home....

This morning I got up and took a motorbike to the city center. A guy driving his motorbike along beside me had managed to balance a huge bucket between his feet that was filled to the rim with live shrimp.

I told one of the journalists about it, and wondered what would happen if the guy got into an accident. He said they'd all sit down with their chopsticks and have a meal....

The staff treated me to a goodbye lunch. I promised myself I wouldn't get emotional.... Anyhow, they've done a tremendous job.

When I get home it'll be 65 degrees colder, but Remi will be there. No beatin' that.

Thanh Nien's Golden Boy

Wunderkind. I'll miss him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Look Back at Vietnam

Found this site chronicling South Vietnam during the last years of the war. Absolutely worth a look.

The Glamour of Being Crammed into Small Spaces for Long Periods of Time

I nearly spilled my coffee when I read this quote from an interview with David Frost in the Financial Times. He's obviously never flown coach:

"I think there's still a considerable glamour in traveling. It's the long flights that are still romantic--when you have time to enter into a different world on a plane, to think about where you are heading."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Filing Systems

When I was a kid, my mother used to constantly be on my case because of my disastrously messy room.
What she did not know was that she was messing with a journalist's (to-be) natural order of things.

Get a load of this editor's desk:

and this guy... he's not so messy as the first.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tonight's Special Is...

Pig Nail with Asparagus

Paris Hilton, she ain't

The newsroom was one big hangover tonight. Very quiet.

Except for about 15 minutes when they turned on the tv to watch a popular 19-year-old soap actress confess to a sex videotape.

The "tell all" show itself was very bizarre--looked like it was being filmed in someone's old-fashioned living room. And when the star started to cry, a bunch of people emerged from nowhere to comfort her. Only in Vietnam could you fit 10 people onto a loveseat--lilliputian, they are.
But the poor actress. She confessed on the show, said she would quit acting forever. Her director was sitting beside her, and clearly looked distraught.
About an hour later "our" paper reported that the entire show was canceled, effective immediately.

I asked my Vietnamese colleague about the situation. He really likes the actress, and was pretty moved by her resignation. He said that the public would be very willing to forgive her, but the culture itself would not tolerate it--and that she really would have to quit acting. But now, everyone who has every acted with her on the same program seem to be losing their jobs...

Steppin' Out

Here's a fact: Newspeople like their liquor.

When I worked at a newsmagazine, the owner decided to install a cafeteria in the building to prevent his editors from leaving to eat, because half of them would get wasted and not come back in time to meet deadline.

Here's another fact: It's same all over the world. I've done lots of drinking with lots of editors in lots of countries. AFTER close, of course.

Last night was no different. We met deadline again (t's hard in the beginning) so went out on the motorbikes to find an open bar. Thanks to Vietnam's law trying to "stem evil," few places are allowed to stay open after 12:30. One restaurant/bar, called the Cowboy Saloon, told us at first that they were closed--then said they didn't want us in there, in case we made noise. Was a quiet saloon, I gues.

In any case, we managed to find a place, and kept them open til about 4.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Riding Shotgun in Saigon

Sometimes I'm just happy to make it from Point A to Point B.

Got on a moto to go grab a bit to eat before heading to the newsroom. I've used this driver before because he's near my hotel. But tonight he was seeing three roads instead of one. Not sure what's in that green tea he's drinking, but it's not helpful.

After about two blocks he pulls over and I think "thank you, beloved Jesus. I owe you one for showing up so soon after I called." I was preparing to get off, but the driver only wanted to check the address I'd given him. Again when he starts up, he's wobbly.

That's it. I point him to pull over, and he does. I hand him my 10,000 dong, smile and pat him on the back. "Thanks!" I say, and walk away.

He's ripped, but not so ripped that he can't figure out that he didn't bring me where I wanted to go. And now I've offended his honor. Not only does he want to give me my money back, but he wants me to get back on the motorbike.

Keep the money, I say, I'm really happy walking tonight.

That doesn't work, and he follows me up on the sidewalk with his motorbike (not unusual). I cross to the other side (NOT easy. See earlier entries), but he's undeterred.

It ends with him forcing the money back on me, a couple more minutes of me walking and him riding alongside me on his motorbike. When we come upon a couple of cops he disappears.

And all I wanted to do was get some dinner.

A Pack of Miracle

Apparently it's good for everything from sex to constipation.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Remi and the Ungotten Mole

Got an email from Remi's sitter. Seems she dug herself a hole, in a furious search for a mole. Wound up dirtydirtydirty, and was frog marched in for a bath. Only one more week and I get to see my little girl.

Airport Art

A very large piece of Buddhist art in the Thai airport

It's Raining Macs

Since Tuesday I've been using two macs... just because I can. The gluttony. My powerbook died just before I got on a plane to Vietnam, so I rented one in Bratislava and had my mac cloned to it. Then bought a macbookpro here--an unsettling experience to see your new pricey laptop arrive on the back of a motorbike that has traveled along with 3 million other motorbikes on potholey streets...
... but here I am... sending emails from the rented one, and watching dvds on the new one, using the exceptionally cool Apple Remote thingy.

Surrendering to Sidewalks in Saigon

Things are slowing down.

I go into the newsroom around 7pm and get out around 2 am. So I can get out for a couple of hours during the day.

Which is a brave thing. To go out on foot in Saigon is a brave thing to do. Walking on the sidewalk is like walking through a host of living rooms and kitchens, since there are always lounging people to dodge, cooking people to dodge, broken cement, and of course the motorbikes, either parked or in motion. Throw in a couple of dogs, little kids, men walking around in pajamas (they're "retired" I hear, when I ask why a grown man is wandering around outside in his pajamas), coconut salesmen, cigarette saleswomen, mechanics, repairmen, street cleaners wearing conicle hats, and a cacaphony of assaulting sounds, and you have... not even the closest idea of what it is like, since the Vietnamese culture has successfully upended the Englisn language as a tool to describe it. More than a million words and they are all useless.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Where's YOUR diploma?

There's a journalism project I applied to work on.
They said Okay, Great, but we need a few documents, and then they rolled out a scroll of things needed in triplicate: passport, driver's license, father's military record, mother's birth certificate, first grade report card....

What they DID ask for, really, is a copy of my high school diploma (FedEXed) and my college transcripts. First, I haven't seen my diploma since the day after graduation, and my transcripts? That sounds a few weeks/months in the making.
Anyhow, it's for a total of two months' of work over two years... gotta love the EU--perfecting red tape.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I want to sleep. I miss sleep. Everything hurts. I get home in a coupla weeks, on my birthday. I want to sleep through it, as well as many of the days that follow.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Girl

I miss Remi.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Can I Go Now?

4 am.

I awoke today at 2pm after getting to sleep after 5 am.

Tracked down the so-called Apple store, among the sea of computer shops jammed together in this district (looks like a computer flea market. You may as well buy your laptop off the back of a truck).

After going up and down the street at least twice, I found it, and was relieved that it was a store with an actual lock on the door. More than that, a gate and a guard.
It was clearly closed (I'd been warned it might be open only weekdays), so I took a quick look, saw the lights off, and started to walk away.
The guard approached me.
I asked him if he spoke English and he stared at me, without any acknowledgement that relevant sound had emerged from my lips. Like my dog does.

So I started to gesture, more or less with a wave of my hands and a smile, as in "No problem, I'm leaving."

But he didn't let me leave. He kept blocking my path, and got a motorbike guy to help him. So ... I can't communicate with him in English, or in my best international mime... but he still won't let me leave until he learns why I'm there. So what's left? fluent Vietnamese? Wouldn't I have tried that first?

I'm standing there, trying to figure out how to pull a language out of my pocket, and he notes the paper in my hand with the address on it, examines it, then points to the street number to show me that I'm at the correct address.

Thanks, man.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Sneak Peek

Here's a look at one of our premiere issues of the new English-language daily now on the stands in Vietnam.

There was a lot of tension in the newsroom today--some internal politics I'm glad to not have to be a part of.

Christoph the neighbor sent me an sms update on Remi--frightened by the thunderstom and now sleeping it off. Wish I could be there to cuddle her.

What's a Pizzle?

Last night after the close, the few of us still hanging around in the newsroom went out for a beer to celebrate, a) getting closer to meeting deadline, and b)circulation has increased 4-fold in five days of publication--and has far exceeded their original goal.

But on to more important matters---English translation on the menu: Braised Beef's pizzle (Pizzle apparently being code word for penis). Another: Braised four objects in hot pot.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Importance of Consonants

I don't know enough about the "local" languages to understand why, but the Vietnamese and Chinese get a lot of consonants back to front. Larry becomes Rally, Jessica becomes Sejjica, and so forth.

So this causes general confusion with any word more than one syllable, as consonants are place at random when speaking, and received at random when listening.

In the newsroom, I asked a guy to put the "Starbucks" photo in the folder. His English is medium, so I thought enunciation would be all it took.

A few minutes later, the "Pop Star" photo winds up in the folder.

"Ky," I said. "Where's the Starbucks photo?"

"In the folder."

"No," I said. "The Pop Star is in there, we need Starbucks."

He looks confused. Enunciation is only Stage !. I prepare for Stage 2, and bring out the pen and write what I need.

Ah, the sweetness of illumination. I finally get the Starbucks photo.

Pop Star. Starbucks. Starbucks. Pop Star.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sleep, Wonderful Sleep

Thanh Nien's daily sold out on the first day of publication, and they ran another print run. Yesterday was harder than the first because it hit everyone that the'd have to do this ad infinitum.

Got home at 4 am and played hooky until the afternoon to catch up on a) sleep, b) other freelance business. I'm going back in again in about 1/2 an hour.

a tropical storm is on its way.