Monday, February 29, 2016

Funeral in Saigon

Outside my gate

I heard the funeral procession go by in the morning, just before the sun tore holes in the canopy of clouds and punctured us all with its searing gold rods of light. I didn’t know the person who died and I wasn’t supposed to. I had only moved to the neighborhood five days ago and knew not one thing beyond my four mint-colored walls. Only when the music and the voices breached my pale green box did I become aware of the outside world’s existence. 

That night there was music to signal the end of a three-day mourning period. The sounds of a brass band seeped through my thick curtains and when I went outside I found that the band was right down the alley beside my house. I  watched from a distance, standing near a graffiti-embellished tree. 

Apparently in Vietnam,  when a person dies a band of musicians is hired to play traditional funeral music for two days. The deceased person’s sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law  wear sheer white tunics and veils. The tunics cover the whole body, like giant bridal veils, though they reminded me more of the white burqas I saw in Pakistan. The deceased person’s other family members wear mourning turbans, which are pieces of white clothes tied around the head like a bandanna. Most people were wearing these. 

When I felt that I was lingering too long I began walking around the back alleys. I looked up at the purple Saigon sky and could make out the dim lights of Orion. So stars are visible in the city after all, I thought. The images I absorbed walking through that  alley after dark  still haunt me. Those stoic concrete walls, lit up in white light, with sky-purple draperies overheard, and the faint sound of funeral music wafting through the air, potent as a smell.  A woman eating a bowl of noodles in her kitchen, her silhouette framed by the edges of a glass-less window. Maybe these were the impressions Graham Greene had when he wrote about Saigon. Though they look different in the twenty-first century, they still exist.

- January 15, 2015

Friday, February 26, 2016

Civilization is communication: Maine Diary Excerpt

Bubble Lake, Acadia National Park, ME

Shubert carried me to Bar Harbor but Chopin lead me through the shaded roads of Acadia. Listening to their music in the car reminded me of the phases I went through with each of the classical composers as I was "discovering" them. My Schubert phase, my Chopin phase. My Dvorak phase.

On the road I alsopassed a pumpkin patch with bright orange pumpkins, surely a sign of fall. Up this far the leaves have begun to change and I could see hints of yellow and red in the green trees lining the road.

Yesterday before leaving Acadia I got to visit Bass Harbor and see one last lighthouse. I continue to be intrigued by the rhythmic sound of the ocean here.  The waves don’t come in tempos, but instead are an unending sloshing against the rocky shoreline. There is no break in the melody, no pause, no breath, only a constant pulsing. In the distance I could hear a bell, not sure what it was for, I called it sea chimes.

The strange thing about traveling alone is that after the journey is over, it feels as though it never happened. Maybe when I see my friends again I won’t know what to tell them. Maybe I’ll tell them about all the conversations I overheard, and the ones I was a part of. It seems like no one was particularly interested in hearing my story, but was overflowing with the desire to tell me theirs. I might have learned more about other people on this trip than I learned about myself. On that note, I just read an interesting quote from Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, “Civilization is communication. That which is not expressed doesn’t exist.” So if I don’t write about this trip, if I don’t tell anyone about it, then it might as well have never happened...

-       excerpt from my travel diary, September 10, 2015

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Angkor Temple Profile: Banyon

Name: Banyon

Built: late 12th or early 13th century

Distinctive feature: large serene faces on the towers

Conservatory Body: Japanese Government 

Visitor's note: this temple is on the main route and one of the most visited temples in Angkor. Go immediately after sunrise to avoid large crowds

You will be far from alone at Banyon temple

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sunnday Day for Wisteria Dress

A rare sunny days breaks the monotony of the Portland winter, and I had a chance to debut this new dress I made.

Dress: my original, Spring 2016 collection
Shoes: thrifted
Bag: Bottega Vanetta
Sunglasses: from the gift shop of the Hong Kong Museum of Art
Gold Locket: vintage

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

6 Great Cafes of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has apparently changed quiet a lot in the last few years, and most of the cafes I frequented seemed relatively new.

Foreign Correspondents Club
The Foreign Correspondents Club is by far the oldest and most prestigious establishment among this café list. Althgouh it is no longer an exclusive club, the atmosphere can be enjoyed restaurant or lounge. I enjoyed sitting by the window sipping a coffee and watching traffic go by along the river. And I did evesdrop on a conversation between two journalists! How cliché!

Java House
Jave House is also a Phnom Penh classic and a place that everyone should visit. I ordered a filet mignon with brie cheese sauce, and sautéed potatoes for USD $6. Incredible. The ice teas were also excellent.

Sisco is a new café that seemed to still be learning the ropes. It was being remodeled when I visited, but the staff were friendly and the drinks and donut were great. Nice views from the second floor.

Mojo is a brand new café with a nightclub atmosphere. I loved going in the day and sitting by the window. At night, the place can get rather dark with the all-black interior. Food and drink were excellent and cheap. I recommend the Pad Thai!

Brown Coffee is a local chain and ended up being my favorite place to work. Reliable wifi, delicious pastries, and the best Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk that I had in Cambodia, where just some of the reasons I kept returning.

Gong Cha
Gong Cha is a Taiwanese Bubble Tea chain. I usually don’t go to bubble tea cafes when I want to write, but I found Gong Cha’s Phnom Penh branch surprisingly atmospheric.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Something Beautiful: Thoughts from Siem Reap

I’ve been up since 4:30 am and I love this place. Two things that haven’t been true in a while. I’m sweating, stinky, sticky, and wearing my worst clothes and I am still happy. What a difference leaving Phnom Penh made. I really thought I would like that city but I didn’t. It was suffocating and dull. I was worried that I may hate Siem Reap too, since I knew it would be a tourist town - a place where the entire economy revolves around tourism. But unlike Luang Prabang or Hoi An or Bagan, Siem Reap is actually a really chill place. It’s actually a livable place. It is clean, well-lit, and has sidewalks. There is a healthy population of ex-pats and even the locals seem savvy. The roads here are the most developed I have seen in Cambodia by far.

When I rode the bus into Siem Reap, all I could see were whole villages eaten alive by dirt. Anything that couldn’t move fast enough was covered in it. Trees, bark and leaves. Umbrellas, whole houses, gates, car parts, and things forgotten. Everything cloaked in dirt.  Dirt would cover even shadows if it could cling to them. It was as if the entire landscape was made of iron, and it had rusted over and was not a reddish orange.  I was disgusted by that parched landscape, as if the earth were gasping for water with dry dust-coated lungs. I started to think Siem Reap would look like this. Why not? This was the only scene after miles and miles of countryside. But somehow when we entered the city the scene changed drastically, especially when I dismounted the bus and road a tuktuk into town. Suddenly I  found myself in a dense forest. The air was cool and tall thin trees shaded everything beneath them. There greenery as far as the neck could bend. The sun was hidden behind the tree-fringed horizon. I could have been in Portland, or Shimane. I could have been home. I needed that shade and those trees like the earth needs to breath. I needed to not see a landscape conquered by dirt. I needed something lush and beautiful.

I woke up this morning joyously, and savored the cool dark ride in the tuktuk this morning. When we found droves of people by the lake waiting to take the perfect photo for sunrise, we walked to the eastern gate and waited on the stoop for the sun to rise. There were no dramatic colors in the sky today. It was a cool, pale, slow lightening. I left at 6:45 am and still no sight of the sun. But when I walked back to the west gate of Angkor Wat, I saw the sun some up a a ferocious speed, as if hurrying to make up for lost time. It was glowing red, the same color as the dirt of the land. I had a  few quiet hours in the temples by myself, and it didn’t become bitterly hot until around 11:00.  By then the tourists were packing into the narrow stone corridors and it became impossible to enjoy anything, much less photograph it. So I left around 12:00 and opted to spend the afternoon indoors at a cafe, which I am enjoying. The atmosphere of the cafes we have been to has not impressed me, but the wifi is fast, the drinks are decent, and no one seems to mind how long we have been here, so I’m not complaining. I wish I had more time in Siem Reap.

Friday, Jan. 30,  The Hive Cafe, Siem Reap, 12:55 pm

Touchdown Tokyo

Every time I fly to Japan, I have this routine of changing clothes in one of the large, accessible stalls in the arrivals lobby. I would do ...