A Tale Of Two Cities

I've had this feeling for the last few days, the kind you get a week or so after Christmas or your birthday when you know there's someone you haven't sent a thank you note to, but you can't remember who it is or what they got you. I was thinking about this today, wondering who it could be that I hadn't thanked, and then I realized: it's you, Internet, you with your lovely comments and your kind words and compliments.

For some reason you keep leaving them and giving them, even when I'm being most ungracious in responding. I do apologize for that; when one has an hour in an Internet cafe, so much of it is taken up with e-mailing one's parents to assure them that, yes, one is still alive, dealing with the business of THE CAR THAT WILL NOT SELL (Jesus, it's a shiny silver 2004 Jeep Liberty with less than 12,000 miles on it and I happen to know there's still a Belle & Sebastian CD in the glove compartment, BUY IT ALREADY), and checking the bank account online to make sure that Mission: Burma or Bust is still on the cards for October.

So thank you, Internet. Thank you for continuing to read, and continuing to say nice things, and thank you also for the lime green sweater you knitted me, which was just what I wanted, and which will certainly come in useful for those chilly San Francisco evenings. (Oh wait, that wasn't you? Shit, I must've forgotten to thank Aunt Gladys.)

But let's talk about this ""write a book!" thing for a second, shall we? I don't think you can just write a book, can you? I'm fairly sure you need, you know, a proposal and a manuscript and an agent and a plot and things. And maybe also some sort of work ethic. While I have indeed written things other than blog posts before, I think trying to understand the baffling logistics of a book might be just a little bit fancy for me. Perhaps it should be consigned to the Best Left Unattempted pile, right alongside Eating Oysters Without Barfing and Appreciating Jazz. So we arrived in the Kingdom of Cambodia yesterday afternoon, after a few frenetic days in Saigon, during which we tried to buy, eat, and do everything Vietnamese that we hadn't bought, eaten, or done in the month that we'd been there. Thanks to some serious hookups and a dash of Knowing The Right People, we ended up staying in a three-star hotel in Saigon for the same price we'd been paying for our grotty minus-half-a-star places. As such, we were able to enjoy both CNN and BBC World, as well as catching a few cinematic masterpieces like Fear, Hide & Seek, 8 Mile, and Welcome to Mooseport from the comfort of the hotel room. There was even a full buffet breakfast (three words: BACON EVERY DAY), complete with a man making omelets and everything. My favorite culinary moment in Saigon, however, was the discovery of "maspotato" on one downtown restaurant's menu (which only just rivaled the "wanton soup" I'd seen in Hoi An.) I fully expect the Vietnamese government to be building Weapons Of Maspotato as we speak.

Either Sean and I have finally started looking like serious real-deal travelers---I have an ethnic-looking headscarf and everything!---or Saigon is rife with illegal drugs, because everywhere we went, a man would pop out from behind a door and whisper "marijuana? marijuana?" Sometimes the sales pitch was a little different---"motorbike? motorbike? no? okay, marijuana? marijuana?"---but it was always pretty prevalent. (That reminds me: in Ha Long Bay, a man followed Sean for twenty minutes, whispering "dirty movie? dirty movie?" until I had to step in and say "excuse me, I am his girlfriend, and I'M RIGHT HERE." Incidentally, what do you think a Vietnamese porno would be called? Debbie Does Dalat?)

I spent a lot of time in Vietnam trying to decide whether it would be rude or brilliant to go on a country-wide crusade extolling the virtues of nude-colored underwear. The women there wear these traditional long white ao dais, you see, which are very pretty and very flattering, but LORD HAVE MERCY, did I see a lot of visible panty lines over the course of a month. I wanted to pull every single woman aside and whisper in confidential tones, "honey, have you thought about putting a thong under that?" I imagined myself saying this with a really strong Southern accent. And a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

But Cambodia, man! It's crazy! (It's also an excellent place for people---like me---who enjoy getting a little enthusiastic with the punctuation in order to make a point. I've seen a store called "Lucky! Lucky!" and another called "New! New!") We walked across the border yesterday---and yes, we totally did just walk across the border, down this unmarked road with a few customs officials at the end of it---and paid a dollar each to some corrupt quarantine officer to prove that we didn't have yellow fever. The conversation went like this:

---Do you have yellow fever?
---No.
---Can you prove it?
---Prove it?
---Do you have a piece of paper that says you don't have yellow fever on it?
---Um, no.
---Give me two dollars. I will write one for you.

I have to admit, I knew very little about Cambodia before we arrived; my knowledge of the country was pretty much confined to Pol Pot, the Killing Fields, and Maddox Jolie. Although the local currency is officially riel, most things are priced in US dollars, and most people prefer that you pay in them, which is quite convenient but certainly a little hard to get used to. While our hotel is comparable to what we were paying in Vietnam---seven bucks a night at the moment; we shelled out an extra dollar for the privilege of hot water---we're finding that food and drink are more expensive, and have been making pronouncements that would sound inane in the States, pronouncements like "A DOLLAR FOR A BEER? WHY, THAT'S HIGHWAY ROBBERY!"

The bus from the border into Phnom Penh took about four hours, and it was the bumpiest ride I've ever taken; I swear, my head hit the ceiling at one point. It was raining outside and they were blaring Cambodian television inside, and I drowned the whole thing out with Wood's impeccable Summer Mix, which I totally pretended was a cassette tape she'd made especially for me and handed to me in homeroom, pointing out how she'd written the names of the songs in pink and the names of the artists in purple. Sean was also listening to music, and at one point I looked over and caught him PLAYING THE AIR DRUMS, and from then on whenever I caught his eye I would also play the air drums, with a very earnest look on my face, and pretty soon we were playing a whole air orchestra (me: violin, flute, triangle; Sean: trumpet, saxophone, clarinet) and that was probably the best part of the whole journey. The air triangle is a bitch to play, though; you end up looking like you just have a chronic nervous tic. I dare you to try it, right now at your desk. Come on, no-one's looking. Give it a go.

1
laurenkie
Sep 14, 2006

yes! go air triangle!

2
Jenn
Sep 14, 2006

You have no idea how much I've loved reading about your trip, I want to do a little dance every time I see Bloglines pick up a new entry or new Flickr photos. It's like I'm riding along in your luggage!

WANTON SOUP. That's the kind of thing that is going to pop up in my head later and make me snicker at inappropriate moments.

3
Matt
Sep 14, 2006

MORE COWBELL!!!

4
Smoness
Sep 14, 2006

This had me giggling away when I should be working. Thanks for including the dear internet on your travels... I get excited every time you post something new about your trip.

5
Erica
Sep 14, 2006

I think I have carpal tunnel syndrome from playing too much air triangle! Crazy Cambodians and their wanting you to pay a dollar for beer. Can't wait to look at your new Flickr Fotos, but alas I am still working.

6
Sarah
Sep 14, 2006

I both apologise for the comment about writing a book and stand by it all at the same time. For, you see, it's that or buying a rucksack big enough to take us all wherever you go ... wait, wait, I've just been to your other site and I now both withdraw my apology and place my advance order for your book all at the same time. What can I say? I'm a multi-tasker (who just played the air-triangle).

7
jes
Sep 14, 2006

Holly, you forever endeared me to you with a single sentence: "Perhaps it should be consigned to the Best Left Unattempted pile, right alongside Eating Oysters Without Barfing and Appreciating Jazz."

How could you possible pick the two things in my lifetime to which I have not yet acclimated? The very thought of each sends shivers down my back.

8
merry mama
Sep 14, 2006

I love this!! Keep us updated!! I will become your newest fan.

9
Meepers
Sep 14, 2006

My cats are now staring at me with the, "Uh-oh, she's gotten into our catnip" look again, I was laughing SO HARD. By the way - where's the Jeep for Sale located? SF or Charleston?

Weapons of maspotato = awesome.

10
StampyDurst
Sep 14, 2006

One potato, two potato, three potato, MAS! (For maximum enjoyment, say this like the Count from Sesame Street while pretending to air "double-dutch jump rope". Clearly I need to get out more. This is reinforced by my thinking that perhaps, if this whole doctor thing doesn't work out, I can trade yellow fever certificates for noodle soup.

Please keep the posts and photos coming.

11
Gina
Sep 14, 2006

impressive resume. i will buy a copy of your book fo sho and say i knew her way back when... lol

maddox joile cracked me up the most! most!

be safe, take care.

12
Susan
Sep 15, 2006

I'm relieved that you are on the underwear situation. You know I worry about things like that.

13
StampyDurst
Sep 15, 2006

Not wanting to run on earlier, I left out a crucial (to me) but largely inconsequential observation on the joys of home while traveling. No matter how intrepid a traveller you are...no matter how much you hope to "blend" in...no matter how much you avoid the company of loud tourist groups full of fellow westerners...there comes a time when the familiar (bacon, Ray Romano films) is like a soft, warm, 500 thread count blanket wrapped around your psyche. In my case, the food epiphany occurred in Paris (a Big Mac and fries on New Years Eve), while I later found myself watching Keanu Reeves in Speed (dubbed very poorly in Spanish) while just down the street from the Alhambra. Did it seem like cheating? Hell yeah! But it provided that little boost that allowed the next leg of the trip to be just as enjoyable as the last.

So enjoy bacon any chance you can. Just make sure it really is bacon.

14
Culotte
Sep 15, 2006

I really want to send you a Mission of Burma CD, just so you can have that pure moment of irony when you arrive in Burma.

"My mission to Burma with Mission of Burma! Isn't that silly!"

And is there an address where I can send 10,000 nude thongs?

15
DM
Sep 15, 2006

When my friend Beth and I went to Portugal, we bought travel books (let me rephrase that, I bought an English/Portuguese dictionary, she bought 8 (EIGHT) travel books) and were very excited to learn that the Portuguese word for bacon is bacon. Our karaoke host went as far as to write a haiku (well, he calls it a haiku. It really isn't but that makes it even more fun):

Two worlds share
Words that sound the same
Sizzling bacon

And comfort for us was finding a Pizza Hut on a day we were wandering around by ourselves and being able to order Bacon Pizza. Plus, they have CSI/Buffy/Angel in English with Portuguese subtitles. Which is where I learned the Portuguese word for rat bastard. Sacana. It's very fun to yell that at people when they have no idea what you're saying.

I'm really enjoying reading about your trip, Holly. You could so give Rick Steves some healthy competition.

16
s@bd
Sep 15, 2006

mmmm .... bacon

17
Liberal Banana
Sep 15, 2006

Hmmm, at $7 a night perhaps a long trip to the Orient could be in the cards after all... It's so fascinating to read about your adventures! And "Debbie Does Dalat?" Hilarious. (Along with, oh, the whole rest of the post.)

18
Adele
Sep 15, 2006

I hereby commit to underwrite the following:

"Holly's National Tour Extolling the Virtues of Nude Underwear or At the Very Least G Strings"

(HNTEVNUAVGS for a more catchy title)

Sheer genius.

19
Betsy
Sep 15, 2006

You could so write a novel. Girl, you not only write beautifully but you have about 7 live already packed into your young self. Do It!

20
Sam
Sep 16, 2006

This post right here(!) is why I will adore you for the rest of my days. Just wonderful in everyway, especially the bit about the nude underwear CRISIS in Vietnam.

21
Gallaudet
Sep 18, 2006

If you can play Air Triangle, you can write a book.

The trick is to make it a book of essays (i.e. Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer), which avoids the issues of Plot Development, Structure, Shape, and Continuity. See how easy?

22
Wood from sweetjuniper
Sep 19, 2006

I would totally have given you a tape in home room. Glad you liked the mix, I love picturing you listening to it on a bus with sean and all the air-instrument playing.