Monday, March 31, 2008

March Madness

I was crushed. Clinging to the coattails of Stephen Curry and Davidson I sunk into my chair as the final shot ricocheted off the backboard. Their season, over. Kansas' victory solidified all four number one seeds for the first time in NCAA Tournament history.

Davidson didn't go down without a fight.

Led by former NBA-star Del Curry's son, Davidson's improbable run was met with skepticism and doubt. Sports announcers decried their athleticism and experience. Their best player weighed only 185 pounds and stood merely 6'3". They weren't deterred, and didn't play like they were ranked less than number one. Curry stepped his game up a notch every round of play. His release is silky smooth and Dale Ellis-like quick.

But alas the Final Four is set, and it comes this year without the fear of the unknown. Memphis, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA. It's like if the Red Sox and Yankees could play in the World Series against eachother. There is no hidden surprises. No unheralded talents. Each team knows what they need to execute to win. And which dominant force to stop.

Throughout the tournament the big names have lived up to their reputations. I'm loving Kevin Love. His quiet yet controlling post game propels UCLA in big moments. It doesn't hurt to have third-team All-American Darren Collison playing along side him either.

Memphis is led by first-team All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts and fellow wingman Derrick Rose. No surprises here. Memphis has lost only once this season, and I foresee that is the only game they will lose. There are no holes in this team. Thy play hard every possesion. They have the athleticism to stick with Kansas and the attitude to play against North Carolina. They are my pick to win.

North Carolina has had no trouble arriving in their 17th Final Four!!! Tyler "Psycho T" Hansborough is the best player in college basketball. He plays like a lioness attacking zebras. Balls out, leaving everything he has on the court. He is impossible to box out. His teammates compliment him beautifully. They would be my pick to win if Memphis would've been knocked off.

Finally, Kansas squeaked by Davidson to round out the Final Four. I love Kansas. Every year I pick them to win it. Of course this year, when they have a legitimate chance, I was in Vietnam and couldn't fill out a bracket. If they win it this year it is only to spite me.

Brandon Rush recovered 100% from his ACL tear and although they can play out of sync, their athleticism and tenacity makes up for it. My inclination is they are the weakest (along with UCLA) team remaining.

I'm excited and stocking up on chips and salsa. It's gonna be a battle.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back in the Swing

I arrived in a huddled, tired mass. After 36 hours of travel I arrived back in the U.S. successfully. My sister and a special someone picked me up at the third world country that is LAX. It was quite the downgrade from Seoul's airport which was named the best in the world the past three years running.

Because my pops and I have a pea-brain we arrived at the airport at 8:00AM. Three hours early for our departure from Hanoi. Too bad we didn't double check the departure time, as we were told the flight indeed left at 11:00. PM. So we spent 15 hours in a tidy airport in Vietnam with little to do but swat mosquitoes and eat. Two things I enjoy actually.

After a 6 hour flight to Seoul we had an 11 hour layover. The Airline set up a hotel for us. I was thinking it would be within a mile or two. After 20 minutes in the Van, we finally arrived. Looking back it was for the best because I got a chance to see Korea. Which is very cold. Frigid. But also very industrialized, clean and quiet. I only saw a small portion, but from what I heard much of the country is very similar.

After getting in the States I had mixed feelings. I missed certain things here (drinking water, Olive Garden, Tennis, Basketball etc) but also missed the unknown days and adventures of Vietnam. I come back with a different perspective of the world. I have more sympathy and understanding. I realize how communism is self-destructive.

I read a lot on the trip (Kite Runner was a very dark but riveting book). Now I'm back in my routine in San Diego. I've been a tad lazy since I've returned, but the postings will pick up again shortly. I need to start writing again. I miss it. Until then I will be taking naps and watching March Madness.

Keep checking.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

End of the Trip

Here is my final piece from my journal. Today was my last day in Vietnam. Pops and I leave early tommorrow morning for Seoul, South Korea. We have an 11-hour layover (lucky us) before we fly to LAX. I'm experiencing a whirwind of feelings. Mixes of relief, sadness, ambition and nostalgia. I'm going to miss it here.

We arrived in Hanoi, a busty city with peddlars and motorbikes flooding the streets. Pedestrians are discounted, most likely because they get killed every couple minutes by eradic drivers. Pops saved me a few times by reaching across my chest as a bus grazes the tip of my shoe. They will hit you.

Much to our chagrin the prices in Hanoi were higher than expected. Before our arrival here we were told that it is much cheaper than other sections of Vietnam. Not so. For example, pops and I got a massage (a strictly proffesional one) in Saigon and in Hanoi. In Saigon I remember posting that it was a slice of heaven in the hands of a nimble but strong young lady. My massage their was $10 for 75 minutes. An exceptional deal.

Yesterday afternoon, after a humid day of strolling the congested city streets, we were ready for an encore. This time the price would be $25. For only 60 minutes. Still a good deal, but I couldn't help but long for Saigon. Pops and I had the massage in the same room, and thankfully this time he refrained from farting.

Later that night we were taken to a water puppet show, a unique niche for Hanoi. It was inside of a non-airconditioned theater that seated approximately 500 sweaty tourists. Afterward we were scheduled to dine at one of the finest restaurants in the city (not bad for a city of about 3.5 million people). The puppet show was entertaining. Stage left were six musicians playing various forms of string and percussion instruments. In front of them, were two elegantly dressed Vietnamese women who sand along to the music. They had their hair tied slickly back down their bright colored gowns and sat squarely erect.

I made eye contact with the younger one. She blushed and quickly turned her head.

The show lasted an hour and had 17 different skits ranging from: Kids Dancing, Men Fishing, Boat Racing and the dance of the four gods; the Phoenix, the Dragon, the Unicorn and the Turtle.

After the show we hopped on our bus and traveled to the restaurant. It was our farewell dinner, so it was meloncholy yet welcome. During the trip we grew together as a team and fought one another as well. We filled eachothers water bottles and talked trash behind their backs. We teased them and supported them. Overall we were a very tight-knit group.

So much so that our tour leader stood up and gave a speech about us. "You are a very special group of people," he proclaimed to warm ears, "It is rare that I do not appreciate the end of a trip, but this time I am struck with some sadness to be losing you, my friends." He teared up. Some of the women in our group did as well.

Then my Dad spoke. He told a few funny jokes (mainly centered on my inability to attain a job) and eased the tension of the room. I arm wrestled one of the guides as a farewell present and nearly broke his wrist. That would've been memorable I suppose.

Across the street a Karoake Bar called out to us and we decided (as a group) to have one last night out on the town. It was worth it. We danced and laughed and sang, er screamed more fittingly to tunes of the Beatles, The Eagles, Michael Bolton and of course, Madonna.

The high point for me was watching Pops dance like a demented circus monkey (he's perfected it) and knock over a Hanoi Beer. The glass shattered on the ground and instead of criticizing him, everyone just busted out laughing. Then our tour guide (who can truly sing by the way) brought over a broom and instead of sweeping up, he air guitared Hotel California. Such a lovely place.

I was a hit in my respective way. I sang Layla, No Woman No Cry, and I'm embarrased to say, Genie in a Bottle. The latter I receieved the most accolades for, even if I lost some testosterone in the process.

Today, our final day, was spent eating and visiting historic sites. We passed through the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Presidential Palace. Minh has been stored laying in a tomb reminiscent of the Napoleon tomb in France. It was very creepy. The line crept around two windy kilometers and we were shuttled through security four times. They wouldn't allow pictures at certain parts of the walk either. On the way we met a couple from Holland who were traveling together for five months through Asia. Both will be criminal attorneys. Not attorneys who are criminals but the counsel who defend them. Just as bad I teased.

Days off for my Dad and I are difficult to pass because we both prefer itinerary and routine. His hearing has gotten progressively worse (he claims he has water in his ear), which makes conversing as much fun as hailing a taxi without arms. So we walked in silence and absorbed our last few moments in Vietnam.

Tommorrow we fly to Seoul and 11 hours later we fly to LAX. 25 days has come to a close. This has been an unforgettable journey. I can't wait to visit Israel this summer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 8

Here is another piece from my journal. It has been a few days since I left off, but finally I am in a major city again with some Internet access. I am currently in Haiphong City in a 4-star hotel. Probably the nicest we've stayed at thus far. And I'm enjoying it. I'm getting a foot massage as I type this. Not really. Not even a Vietnamese masseuse would touch these feet.

A couple days ago I took a train ride for over 12 hours. I was thinking Polar Express. Nope. Motel 6 would've looked like they Hyatt comparitively. We stayed four to a cell (room). Of course they stuck the boys together (me, pops, Flavian the French dude who looks like me but not as hot. I'm aware that sounds bad. And Ed, the guy less liked than Bush's second term). We had biked eariler that day and there were no showers on the train.

It smelled the way a high school boy's locker room smells after the football and wrestling teams have an orgy together. Not pleasant. Nonetheless it was a fun trip as I tried to befriend this hot Danish girl who wore big red sunglasses and faked disinterest.

Fine, it was disinterest. But she was better looking than pops and Ed. And I wasted some time with her anyway.

The cells are set up with bunks. Other carts of the train had 6 to a room. Imagine a dorm size. Except cut it in half. With a window and a pull-out table. The train shakes violently and the clacking of the tracks is as repetitive as beeping at a grocery store.

Thinking ahead, I asked my buddy Bill to buy a deck of cards so we could play on the trip. I found some dusty change in my backpack and him, I and two others played Texas Hold 'Em for three hours. I won.

What did I win?

The terms (since no one requested we play for money save for me) were the first one out had to fill up water for the top three the next day, the second one out had to get the top two whatever food they desired, the third one out had to let the winner draft behind them the entire next day. Everyone defaulted but Bill (the first one out), the trustworthy guy from Toronto. Him and I talk sports a lot. Which makes me yearn for some spring training and March Madness.

Thankfully I'll be in town in time to catch the quarters.

We arrived at our station at half past four in the morning. I was exhausted. It was then our energetic tour guide told us to be awake in two hours so we can get on our bikes again. I wished he would've said he lost my bag or something less hurftul.

Groggily the next day we rode about 80km to a national park. We toured a primate rescue center and I met some of my closest relatives. Captivity and conservation of species is such a paradoxical concept isn't it. On one hand you want the species to survive and extend their lifespan. On the other wouldn't you prefer it be in their natural environment not in small metal cages?

The bike ride was spectacular. We cycled through Ninh Binh which is famous for its karst topography. Green and grey limestone cliffs sprout wonderously out of the ground. Almost every un-excavated inch is covered in lush vegetation. We cycled past moats and women working the rice fields. They wear peasant straw hats and black rubber boots. They work the entire day bending over. Their stomachs must be rock hard.

A couple people in our group have fallen sick. One lady had severe cramps and vomited on the bus. The other guy has had the runs more than Prefontaine. I've been lucky so far.

The next day we cycled to a prehitoric cave dating back over 7000 years. It was dark and musty with ancient writing on the wall. Kind of like a Route 66 reststop. It is located in a rainforest which drizzled down on us the entire time. It was refreshing. We cycled on through the city and
passed field after field of agriculture. Rice, pineapple, grapes. Vietnam has extraordinary natural resources. It's no wonder why control over this country is highly coveted.

Tommorrow is our last day with the bikes. We bike around the coast of an island not far from Haiphong. The trip is winding down and I'm stricken with a sense of relief and sadness. The world is so big and I want to see it. All. I miss America and our lifestyle. Tennis, basketball, weight lifting, vuluptuous women, etc. But when I leave I know no small part will be longing for the warm blue water, the incessant sales pitches, the array of plants, the ability to afford, well, everything.

I will try and post again before I touch down in 5 days at LAX. But if I don't, thanks for reading. I hope I've kept you entertained.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 7

Here is another piece from my journal. I apologize for being unable to respond to comments. I just don't give a s@#$. Psyche. I am very curious what they say and encourage more, but I can't read them because it's beyond these computers proximity. These computers need to get an education or something. Anyway, it allows me to post and I have a few minutes so here goes:

Thank God today's ride is over. My lord. I'm converting from whatever I was before?? because something got me through today (other than my scrambled thoughts). We woke up at 6:45AM and ate a quick breakfast. There was no juice, no eggs, no water. Lots of cut fruit though, so I just stocked up on pineapple. I'm practically a pina colada. Which sounds really good right now.

We took a short transfer on the bus for thirty minutes and began the morning bike ride. 13KM flat followed by 11km uphill, then 10km downhill. Thankfully, I made it through the morning without much pain or irritation in my knee. On a side note: Pops went off today. He loves the hills so he just took off. He finished first out of our group, then went back down to where I was huffing and puffing and joined me. I was mildly impressed. And barely breathing.

Then he decided to go back down and up again. Fellow riders were in absolute shock. One said we should test him for HGH. I said it's probably cocaine. Once I got to the top I was so relieved I fell down. I'm gonna try and score some of pop's coke.

I knew there was a reason he keeps trodding off to the bathroom.

Things went smoothly until the afternoon ride - 50km. The first 30 were rolling hills, but predominantly flat. We biked through small towns on our way to Hue, the third largest city in Vietnam. People there were very poor. And also very religious. Humongous coffins lined both sides of the streets for most of the ride. It's beautiful and creepy at the same time. Colorful ones, wooden ones, cement ones. It's a all a tad overdone.

They can't afford runing water while their living but they have lavish deaths/departures. Religion suckers people into copping out of this life in favor of a pleasant after-life. I'm skeptical. Instead of improving their quality of living, they pour their savings into burials. And the church. A sad cycle.

After lunch I forgot to take my painkillers. Biiiiig mistake. The last 20km I barely made it. I was parched, exhausted, itchy, yelping and angry. In other words a typical day for me. Just kidding. I tried to muster hellos to the enthusiastic locals but it sounded more like heo. And soft, like a marshmallow. Mmmmmm. I'm in dire need of some fatty American foods.

Tonight is our last night with the driver and the assistant driver. I taught them the fist-pound (they think I'm the coolest thing since Schwarzenegger, not that they're wrong) and they use it to eachother now. I talked to the other two tour guides today about Vietnamese life and women. They were very curious about American wrestling. Apparently they have hour long debates on the authenticity of WWF and that other WC whatever. I told them it's 100% real.

And one stood up and celebrated like Carlton on Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

One of our guides is 31 and has a girlfriend. The other (we call Don Tuan like Don Juan) plays the field. And he's good. I should take some notes. Or atleast teach him how to dance.

I told him that in the States, women like men who are strong and cut-up. He nodded. He told told me those people spend 10 minutes lifting and 50 minutes looking in the mirror.

I think it's closer to 5-55minutes. We had a great talk. They picked my brain about American culture and I picked theirs about Vietnam. Most women in Vietnam will approve of a man as long as he's thin. He said I am too bulky for them. These guys weigh about 130 pounds each. In other words, one bicep curl.

I haven't seen much of Hue yet, we just arrived. Tommorrow is an off day of cycling for us as we prepare for our train ride. We leave tommorrow afternoon and get in the next morning at 4AM. We ride at 7:30AM.

Short post today because I have to eat dinner with the gang. FYI - I have almost one entire arm peeled. Pretty gross, but an achievement nonetheless.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 6

Here is another piece from my journal. Sorry the blog postings have been insconsistent, but it's congruent with the computers here. Some allow me access and some don't in this country. Anyway, I need to rant a bit so here goes:

I HATE MOSQUITOES!! I hate them.
They love my skin more than Obama loves fundraisers. More than creampuffs love Rosie.

It's ridiculous.

After stammering around the bus muttering obsecenities someone finally acknowledged my existence and asked what was the matter. I explained how deet, the bug-repellant, doesn't work at all and if anything helps attract them not repel them. Others on the bus heard and chimed in "Oh, I havent been bitten," "What mosquitoes?," "Seriously you got bit?," "I have maybe one bite this whole trip!!"

Meanwhile while I heard those I got bit like 10 more times. My skin must be super tasty.
So I'm very itchy.

To add insult to injury I'm peeling. My skin on my shoulder looks like a croissant. I'm serious I'm tempted to bust a Goldfinger and use it for a spring roll.
Fortunately, I have learned my lesson and apply sunscreen all the time now. At least I'll look like Matthew McConahey when I get back.

My third rant is about the food. I like it but it's redundant. I can tell you right now what I'm going to eat for dinner.

To the t. It's prepared slightly differently but it's always the same dishes. Therefore on my off days, like today, I scrounge the city to try and find pizza. Pops tells me that I refuse to immerse myself in the culture. I told him the culture needs to immerse itself to me. It seemed like the most American thing to say.

Fourth and most importantly I injured myself. I have a sharp pain on my ACL-tear knee that hurts every time I pedal. I actually pedalled one footed for an entire afternoon the other day. It was miserable. The pain is centered on my kneecap (primarily the upper part). If anyone knows what this is or how I can fix it I would be very grateful for your input. My lungs, quads and hamstrings feel great in better news.

But enough of me being a baby and on to Vietnam stuff:

I visited My Lai today (the 16th). It was another trip that hurt my heart. For those unfamiliar with this town, Americans (during the war) invaded this unsuspecting town and murdered almost everybody. Women, children, everyone. It was absolutely sickening. The locals had no weapons and no chance to flee. It was a massacre. Over 500 were killed.

Coincidentally, I was there on the precise 40th year anniversery. There were American journalists there (I got asked a few questions) and thousands of local people remembering the lost. A few elderly men and women who survived the attack spoke to tourists and locals about the horrendous day. Grief was apparent in their eyes; mourning their departed family and friends 40 years later.

Life hardens you. One minute a girl is eating a mango and playing with her baby brother and the next she has a bullet in her brain. What a travesty that under malicious orders American troops acted devoid of conscious. This stuff happens everyday and we become immune to it.

We desensitize. We can't possibly personalize it because it would ruin our lives. We would be unable to function beacuse we would perpetuate a state of misery. So we forget and move on. Or we acknowledge and move on. But this stuff happens and is still happening.

Amazingly, the locals (at My Lai) all said hello and smiled at me. A few of the older locals gave resentful looks, but most everyone was extremely cordial. Which I find truly admirable. There is no grudge held.

In fact, beacuse I really enjoy spending time with kids, I like to pick them up and even carry them on my shoulders. I picked up some kids in My Lai and many tourists took photos. The locals got a real kick out of it. And the child's parents smile broadly.

True love knows no color, sex or shape. It's pure. There is nothing more beautiful than to watch a young kid smile and play with his friends. Which made pops and I observe something.

We don't play enough. Think of the last time you played with your boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/sibling. I don't mean romantically but played tag or something silly and childish. Imagine how therapeutic it would be. I miss that. Americans needs that. The world needs that.
It may sound sophomoric, but who cares? Remembering what it's like to be young and pure and leaving all your problems at the door is truly refreshing. Try it sometime.

Overall, it was a difficult sight to visit the spot of the massacre. It's unfathomable what American troops did. And the depth of the destruction they're capable of.

Today we traveled to a town called Hoi An. This town is equivalent to Disneyland for girls and is jam-packed with Europeans. Everywhere you look there are designer shops of clothes and shoes. And each shop tailors the clothes precisely to your fitting. The fabric is premier quality and the prices are nominal. I got a nice pair of silver pants I've been wanting for a while. And I picked up something else for someone else as well ;). If I were to honeymoon, this surely would be a fine choice.

Tomorrow is the most difficult ride of the trip. 110km, and most of it uphill. I'm gonna take some painkillers and attempt it. Wish me luck.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 5

Here is another piece from my journal. I haven't been able to post the past couple of days because the internet wouldn't allow me access to my blogsite. Strangely every other site it could do. Must be too many hits (I wish lol).

The best ride we've done so far came yesterday for me which might mean three days back in the states. We biked through a brand new portion of Highway One (the major coast highway think PCH without the blondes). The first 40k was rolling hills on orange dirt roads. As we rode past their was granite and limestone and many other geological sites to see.

The next 30km was uphill. Which is not easy when the sun is glaring down at you like a schoolteacher over her students. Sunblock only goes so far. Needless to say my skin is still reeping the benefits of too much Vitamin C for sun exposure. I definitly received the worst burn of my life. Inteligently I chose to wear a cut-off tee so I can show off my massive guns to the locals.

This decision makes sleeping on my side at night almost impossible. But enough complaining becuase the remainder of the trip was absolutely gorgeous. If you've ever seen the opening scenes of Jurassic Park (the first one I know there's like 20) it looks like that. The final 25km or so were downhill. And the weather was cool. It was the most fun I've had in Vietnam thus far.

On the way I stopped at a school where students were outside doing exercises. They were touching there head, shoulders, knees and toes over and over and over. They could really use Gene Simmons. When I stopped a couple hundred kids came skipping over saying plenty of "hellloooss" along the way. I taught them the fist-pound and took a couple of great pics. The kids were skiddish at first but eventually opened up and I even lifted one to do bicep curls for a minute or so. Wow, reading that sounds pretty bad, but I assure you it was mutual love and appreciation. Methinks.

We arrived at the city Nha Trang which is located precisely on the beach. Here is where they are hosting Miss Universe 2008. It's in June. I'm coming back for sure. Hysterically the next day we decided to tour the city and saw a mini-Hollywood. There is actually a sign which is a precise replica of the Hollywood sign in the hills that reads VINPEARL. It even lights up bright orange at night.

To get to this island you have to take a Gondola ride over the water. This is the only one I've ever seen that travels over water. On the island is an amusement park where everything is in english. There are even signs that tell you to continue. In case American tourists were unsure of what to do after getting off the escalators.

This place has a waterpark , rollercoaster, and plenty of fine dining. It's being pimped for the contest and it is more overdone than Don King's hair. To top off this unique experience no one was there. No one. My pops and a couple from Chicago were the only people on this island and it was like leasing out Disneyland. Unfortunately they were too mature to enjoy any of it, hence I couldn't either. (I was upset).

Pops and I got back to the hotel and got in a big argument over something minor. Something like he wanted me to show him how to use the internet. I said I'd shown him a million times and a monkey would've mastered it by now. He said "for all I do for you.." You can see where this conversation went very quickly.

We had a pretty decent bout (argument) and nothing was broken or thrown. I decided to venture into the city by myself for the rest of the day. I strolled down to the beach and did the first thing I could think of. I got drunk. I wasn't sure what I was drinking but it sure tasted good and the Vietnamese waitress was cutely smiling as she ordered more rounds.

When dusk settled (picturesque with canabas and palm trees, white sand beaches with parks right next to it, coupled with immaculate hotels) I walked into the city. And for the first time I felt like what it must feel like to be a minority. Because I wandered into the city and away from the tourist spot people stared. I definitly looked like I didn't belong. At first I resented their stares, but then I began to empathize and put myself in their shoes. I'm sure minorities across the country face similar stares every day.

As I tried to find a place to eat dinnerI was hassled innumerously by men asking if i wanted "massage." I assume they could take me where I could get one because I surely didn't want one from them. A massage here is probably what you think it is. I's overtly subtle. If that makes sense. Well, at the massage parlors it is fairly obvious what you are getting and the selection. Yet it is all done inside massage businesses, so it is fairly low key. I feel bad for the women, and there ages look real young. It's quite disgusting to watch overweight tourists frequent these shops but they really have no shame.

Today I rode like Lance Armstrong. It must've been my 10-hour sleep because even pops couldn't catch me today. I built up such a lead over the other riders that I had to pul off and wait ten minutes (just so I could see from a distance my dad). Cycling is very interesting because if you get into a rhythym you forget you're cycling. To add to my fuel I found my iPod which really helped out. I was jamming out to Motion City, Offspring, The Plain White T's and even some Nas.

Funniest moment of the day: I got to a busy intersection before all the other riders and got off my bike. I stil had my iPod on so I began to dance. Hip-Hop dance. Those of you who know me this is not a pretty site. But it is a funny site. The locals were crying they were laughing so hard. They got in a circle and watched as I popped back and forth on the intersection corner. I would smile at the local girls who would fiegn indifference, then blush when I got close.

FYI Everywhere we go people wave and say hello. Imagine if Americans did this to tourists. I doubt it's ever happened. These people are really responsive and hospitable.

It's getting late here and we have another 70km ride tommorow so I need to get some rest. After all, I'm wearing the yellow jersey.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 4

Here is another piece from my journal. Today we traveled by bus from Ho Chi Minh City to the beautiful town of Dai Lat.

Today was my first day outside jam-packed Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Our group travels on a Titanic sized tour bus. Which makes navigating the narrow, congested streets like driving a hummer next to go-karts.

The first half of the bus contains our seats (my observational skills are improving) and the second half contains about 15 bikes, water coolers, equipment, a proffesional masseuse (I wish) and extraneous luggage. I have to sit next to tweedle dumb and dumber (pops and a fellow Coloradoan), and listen to them argue over the exchange rate. Granted the exchange rate fluctuates about 2 cents per day, but they still haven't mastered it. A conversation generally sounds like this:

Pops: So 60,000 dong equals one dollar?

Tweedle Dumber: Wait are you asking or telling?

Pops: Hmm, not really sure. Per sake of argument let's say asking.

Dumber: I thought 160,000 was one dollar.

Pops: Ok.

Me: No, it's very simple (patronizing has become my forte). 16,000 dong is equivalent to one dollar.

Pops: Ahh, so if I buy the camera for 100,000 dong I might as well just drop a $20.

Me: (Extremely long pause while I stare him in the eye). Yes. Just do that.

Dumber: Do you have a brain?

Pops: Probably not.

Dumber: Me either.

This is a fairly typical conversation. I am required to listen because they happened to be seated directly behind me. I wish I could blast some Maroon 5 and call it a night but I forgot my earphones. (And also my retainer which means my teeth will serve as field goal posts when I return). The drive today was 7 hours, which meant only three conversations about the exchange rate.

Outside of HCMC are continuous businesses, cafes and houses. I use the term houses casually because they range in size from the screen your viewing to two acre estates. One incredible feature of Vietnam is the variety in architecture and the lack of separation of classes. For example there are shacks that are attached to four-story high rises. Some houses have gates that look like they came from Newport Beach. Others mirror colonial style. There is definitly no home owners association here. Which means I'm never surprised by the mix, colors and size of the homes.

On today's trek our bus driver (who took driving lessons from Jimmie Johnson) nearly drove us off the road twice. Another time he drove by a construciton area so close that he knocked over a man working while another threw his shovel at our bus. Making a quarter size ding on the side of it.

When we arrived in Dai Lat I could immediately tell it was the Orange County of Vietnam. The streets are clean and have sidewalks (for some reason it's rare for towns to have these). There is a mini-replica of the Eiffel Tower and colonial style homes and hotels. This is a tourist hot-spot.

We hopped on our bikes for a short ride (30km) through town. There were dark grey clouds with rays of sunshine seeping through and fresh rain on the ground. We biked beside a pristine lake with crisp blue water. A professional bike group passed us and whymiscally said, "Heellllloooo."

I'm still surprised by the warm hospitality we've received. There was a cool breeze and the temperature must've hovered in the mid 70's. It was perfect. Today was a warm up compared to tommorrow's journey (75 miles). Thankfully the bus travels right behind us in case we get tired, or I desperately crave M&Ms, I can be saved.

A few more observations:
When we enter a restaurant we are seated promptly. And most times they hover (literally over our shoulders) until we order a drink. But they don't bring the drinks. Nah, they wait about 10 minutes and when they do, it's never together. They refuse to serve two people simultaneously. And because I'm always the youngest I have to wait until pops needs a refill to quench my thirst.

Also, we have to ask for the bill. Not once have they brought it to us unsolicited. Which is rather amusing because they avoid eye contact with us. So meals are elongated 15 minutes until this ritual is satiated.

I'm excited for tommorrow and annoyed I have to once again wake up right at 6AM. This is supposed to be a vacation! It's challenging but worth it.

Haven't forgotten about my post yesterday, but wanted to post a more upbeat one after it.
Hope Barack won!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 3

Here is another piece from my journal. Today was the first time we rode our bikes. Last night we met our group at a hotel near the central park and got acclimated to our guides and fellow travelers. Thanks for the feedback, for some reason I cannot access my blog but I can still post so I hope it's working. Thanks for reading.

Yesterday night pops and I strolled down to the lobby of our hotel to meet up with our group. There are a total of 13 travelers in the group including two local tour guides (Tuang and Thang). Holly is our American leader. She has close cropped brown hair and is pry in her mid 40's.

Before I write about the day's events, I want to write out some observations I've made:
First, everyone here wears sandals. Even when they ride motor bikes (like mini motorcycles). Also, the dynamics of the roads change completely during the course of a day. For example, in the morning you would be hard-pressed to find two people sharing one motorbike. Albeit at approx. 5PM the exact opposite occurs.

Suddenly, everyone in Saigon has a date. Although the girls don't wrap their hands around the men like in the U.S., they simply hold onto the bike. Yet when they stop and park, most young people are very openly affectionate. Here a lighter skin Vietnamese women is viewed more attractively than darker. The rationale behind this is - a woman with dark skin is out in the sun and works a peasant-like job, whereas succesful women in the city are indoors more and thereby not as dark and probably more succesful and better educated.

To compensate for this, almost every woman wears a mask when they are riding scooters and out in public. She also shields herself from the pollution and any carbon in the atmosphere. Good decision in a city as dense as this one.

People are friendly. Especially children. On our bike trek today we passed hundreds of schoolkids and everyone waved and said a musical, "Helllooooo!" It was beautiful. The Vietnamese language is much more musical than ours. When they attempt to speak English they're accents are much different than anything Americans are used to.

I have written down plenty more observations, but I want to give you guys some updates on the trip.

The people in our group come from across the west. There's a couple from Chicago, a couple from Australia, one lady from London, one man from France, one man from Oregon, one man from Colorado, and a young couple from Canada. I'm still learning their personalities (and names) but everyone is intelligent, engaging and liberal. And fit.

On a solemn note, today we rode 30KM to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Vietcong and by the Liberation Movement and used against the United States and Southern VN Army. My eyes welled up. It broke my heart to see man's inhumanity and cruelty.

The Vietcong employed land mines and dug many a booby trap during the war. Even thirty years later civilians are killed or maimed by stepping on them. The traps are intricate and quite grotesque. The Vietcong covered the traps with leaves and were completly hidden out of view. An American soldier would step on the ground and fall down ten feet into either sharp steel bars or razor-sharp bamboo shoots.

The traps were exceptionally efficent. The designs of the traps range, but if the soldier didn't die, he would bleed to death, get infected with tetanus, starve, or have an amputation. These traps are everywhere. Literally every few feet.

The tunnels protected the Vietcong from B-52 bombs (we saw craters from them) and gave them safety on the ground. Americans would walk over hundreds of Vietcong (hiding underneath them), completely unaware. It was such a phenomenol tactical error for the United States to fight here in Vietnam. The land is so lush and the United States camouflage fits in like Castro at a Bush reception. I'm actually surprised there weren't more American deaths.

The tunnels were so tiny (they've sinced been widen to accomodate tourists) that I could hardly squeeze into the openings. Underneath the ground, only a few feet of space surrounds you. It's remarkably claustrophobic. And the Vietcong lived under there for years.

After touring the tunnels, we toured the War Museum in Saigon. It just made me sick. Nautious and dizzy. I had to sit down at one point because I thought I was going to pass out or vomit. Inside the museum are remnants from the war. There are photographs, preserved tanks and weapons and mock prison cells. The worse part and the most famous are the fetus' in formaldehyde. The deformities are unbearable to view longer than a quick glance. Thousands of Vietnamese to this today have effects from American Agent Orange used during the war.

The photos on the wall tell a story of fear, loss, destruction, pain, anger and grief. If people woke up every morning and saw these photos, there would be no more war. If the politicians and the corporatocracy sent their kids to war there would be no more war. If people weren't angry and dind't live out of rage and hatred there would be no more war.

Which strengthens my belief that there is nothing more brave and powerful than practicing pacifism. I'm astonished I'm in the slim minority in the world that feels this way.

I want to strongly recommend a fantastic, riveting book right now that breaches these subjects and describes why and how the U.S. acts imperiallistically. It's called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. If you haven't read it, you need to. Start today.

As I sit and type this and reflect on the days events it's difficult to enjoy the scenery and our jaded lives in America while there is tremendous suffering across the world.

If we choose to live peacefully and not cunsumptively, is that enough? Is standing on a street corner twice a week for three hours enough effort to promote peace? Is crying for one day about the atrocities in the world enough? How can we evolve? When will this cycle of violence end?

I have hundreds of these rhetorical questions swarming around my brain like bees on a hive. It makes it really difficult to focus.

I'm sure these bike rides will give me more time to think.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Experience in Vietnam Part 2

Here is another piece from my journal. Please let me know what you guys would like to learn/know about the culture/people/history or any questions I can ask the locals. I've learned a lot thus far.

Today Pops and I took a journey outside of Ho Chi Minh City into the Mekong(sp??) Delta. We awoke about three hours into the work day (6AM) and ate a stale, musty buffett breakfast. I could really go for a Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity from Denny's right about now lol.

We got picked up by a driver (I'm so observant eh?) and a local tour guide. Our guide was a decent looking dude about 27 years old. He had the Minh goatee thing going on and informed us on much of the history and sentiment about the War against America. It's strange hearing it from their point of view.

A couple of highlights from our conversation: He can't afford a motor bike (practically everyone including dogs has one) so he says he can't get a girl. "Well, I can get you know ugly, but not want one you know."
Pops says, " You mean the scooter or the girl?"
He replied: "The girl." I was laughing hysterically. He was stone faced. lol

He explained that Vietnam has over 100 Universities and that there is mandatory military service (2 years). He said the illiteracy rate is 9% which I thought was low. Only 20% of the country is considered poor he said. And over 25% are considered rich. The rest I believe are in between. It must be a long day for these amazing deductions.

The van ride was 2.5 hours one way, but we stopped on the way to visit a beautiful villa with the most sensational landscaping I have ever seen. There were stone walkways adjacent to Bamboo shoots which complimented the Banana trees. There were thirty feet tall canopy ceilings, with stalks fluttering off the sides in the breeze. It was lush, green everywhere. Rich redwood tables and plants cut into shapes. Looked like Origami for bushes.

We pickep up some bona fide Vietnamese cuisine (oreos and M&Ms). What can I say, I have a sweet tooth.

When we arrived at the Delta (a freshwater tributary to the ocean) we boarded a fourty foot boat cruised by the peasants. There were only four of us on the boat including our guide, oarman, Pops and myself. The boat had room for 8 more, so we really got a VIP tour.
The water is a rich brown and very polluted. Men wash their clothes and hair in it while kids play ten feet away. Bamboo shoots up through the current. Hycanith is comparable to seaweed in San Diego. And it's everywhere.

Our first stop was a tour of candy making. This stuff is really cool. They make caramel taffy with with coconut. They make rice paper with coconut. They make coconut coconut. We tried everything including snake oil.

Yep, snake oil. Our guide says its for "Sexual Power." Pops was chicken sh@#. I asked for seconds. It tastes like Vodka in case you were wondering. And yes I still have an erection.

Our next stop was lunch. Hey, we're Americans after all. And this was a wonderful experience. As we walked in between local huts and back alleys, we arrive at a tourist restaurant with a python in its cage. I'm talking about the snake. This thing was humongous. At least 15 feet. And thick, it must've just eaten a local a few days ago.

I ate a fish (head intact) and a shrimp (with eyes looking up at me). They brought us cut pineapple, rice, vegetable soup, pork chops and spring rolls. I'm sure you assume I'm turning into Oprah, but rest assured, I'm still white.

After lunch we boarded the boat and saw the floating market. Pretty much people fishing and selling stuff on boats in the water. When we got off the boat we we're in a fisher's market. However, this one was far from ordinary. There were eels, gutted fish, watersnakes, live pigs squealing. It was actually quite disturbing.

Before we drove back into town we stopped at a cage in some random isolated square by the water and saw a bear. Have no idea why it was there. It just was. It was a beautiful brown bear with black lips and pink paws. He was stretching out above his head and snarled at me. I snarled back. He won.

On our way back to the city it rained. It poured. And motorists still ride their scooters. They're getting completely soaked and splashed by the passing cars. You can hardly see and motorists are honking constantly. But they don't stop. We saw a few accidents on the way back, but if you want to make an omelet you gotta break some eggs right?

Does that analogy even work right there?

Finally we got back to our hotel and decided to try and sneak into the pool in the nicest hotel in town. I'm an expert at these types of activities. Unfortuantely we got caught this time and I played ignorant. For me playing ignorant means blaming my dad. We left and walked back home.

And now pops is waiting for me to get off this computer so we can go eat dinner and see a live theater show in Vietnamese.
The fun never stops.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Experience in Vietnam

Here is a piece from my journal about my trip. This is the third day of travel. Let me here your feedback!!

Day Three - Today is the first "real day" in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). And we (pops and I) wasted no time exploring. After eating a wonderful buffet breakfast with tourists from across the globe, it was time to see Vietnam.

I should've brought my ear plugs.

From the lobby of the htoel to five steps onto the sidewalk, the trasition is from Pleasantville to Amityville. Well, not exactly. Pops and I are bombarded by the sound of vehicle horns that are as commonplace as chopsticks. But oddly, those sounds aren't the irritating ones.

Tha annoying part are the incessant propositions, "You no walk, we take you," or "Need shoe shine? - No money issss ok." You can't walk fifteen feet in this country without a sales pitch. I feel like I'm in 24 Hour Fitness.

But pops and I aren't deterred. We're used to saying no - we live in Geroge Bush's America. Walking through the city streets bulging eyes and my hand over my pocket is a once in a lifetime experience.

Our first stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral no more than 1 mile from our hotel. Think a poor man's Vatican. A really poor man's. And then we encountered our first fiercest obstacle yet - crossing the street. In Saigon motorists have the right of way. And the left of way. We have to dash frantically to avoid getting nailed by a passing motorist. They will hit you.

Twenty minutes later we maneuvered across the intersection. My blood pressure is rising.

Then we traveled to the Presidential or Reunification Palace. In other words - where they hate America. Well, not anymore really. But it's clear by the tone of the exhibits that we were about as welcome in Vietnam in the 60's as the emergance of syphillis.

We later traveled to lunch at the most authentic spot we could find. The place Bill Clinton ate at. I got some grilled chicken, vegetables, rice, fritters, a pineapple shake and a coke. But the truth is, the portions are so small here I could've called that Appetizer.

The afternoon was spent walking around the city and visiting Ho Chi Minh Museum. This guy makes money seem unpopular. Aferward we went shopping. I got an amazing white v-cut t-shirt with an asian design. A boutique-esqe look. For $7.50. I'm serious. The price of everything here is minimal. I'm gonna find some cheap sunglasses tommorrow.

Finally pops and I got a proposition we couldn't resist. A 75 minute authentic massage. For $10. We arranged to go back later that night and walked back to the hotel to rest up. On the way a local boy asked if I wanted my shoes shined.
No thanks.
He pressed on.
No thank you.
He insisted.
I have no money.
And then he began to scrub my shoe with a toothbrush. Less than thirty seconds later one local fought off another for my other shoe. I tried to walk, but the men bunny hopped with me as I walked refusing to cease the scrubbing. Finally I gave in.

After he was finished I offered him a 1000 dong bill. He was disgusted. We don't know the conversion rate that well and apparently that was equivalent to about 16 cents. I still feel guilty. My shoes will never be jaded anymore.

I then snuck into the Ritz (practically) across the street to use the pool and weight room. How American am I?

The massage last night was amazing. She used oils, scents, rocks, jaws of steel (her hands), and her feet on my body. Pops had the same thing done next to me. He was in pain and farting. I was laughing. It was hilarious. He's sore this morning and I'm ready for round two.

Late last night we ate at a German/Vietnames place and sipped bitter beer while eating cold rice and awkwardly flavored pork.

Can't wait for tommorrow.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

In Vietnam

FYI!!! For all my readers - I sincerely appreciate your time reading this blog and keeping me engaged. I will be AWOL in Vietnam with limited internet access for the next three weeks. I will be taking a journal with me and hope to post a little while I'm there if possible. If not, I will surely write about my trip upon my arrival back in the States.

Here's hoping Hillary will have dropped out of the race and the Phoenix Suns will learn how to win a game.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Darth Federer - Where Art Thou?

The man in all black has been losing lately. Which is a bit concerning because he doesn't lose that much. He loses about as much as Britney Spears closes her legs.

But losing to Andy Murray in the first round?? After losing to Joke-avic in the Australian? I have nothing against Djokovic actually, but I prefer Nadal. I don't want Nadal to lose his number 2 ranking but alas, it's inevitable.

Reason to be concerned for Darth? I think so.

Federer hasn't yet broken Sampras' record and it's surely not a shoe in. He should break it. But there are so many excellent tennis players, that Federer needs to once again take his game to another level. Maybe he needs to meet up again with his buddy Tiger to remember what it's like to win every time he competes.

If he doesn't he will lose his ranking atop the rest of the world. For good.

Randy Moss Finally Signs

Apparently the Patriots backed off of their earlier request to attempt to beat their opponents without players next season. They reversed their strategy by signing Randy Moss to a 3 year $27 Million contract. So at least they'll have Tom Brady, Moss and Welker.

Even though they decided to lose just about everyone else with significant impacts last season.

I don't like the Patriots. I don't like the way they run the score up. I don't like how they cheated to win games. I don't like that they crumbled under pressure. But I do like that they lost (the Super Bowl).

It's been an interesting off-season thus far for the NFL. Brady Quinn wants to actually play. The San Diego Chargers decided to maintain borderline greatness by losing Turner. And Terrell Owens has yet to berate anyone. Yet.

I'm surely going to miss SportsCenter.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Not So Peaceful Protest

Today my pops turned 60. He looks fantastic though. He arrived in San Diego yesterday night to prepare for our trip to Vietnam (more on this later). My pops is a pacifist and religiously attends a peace vigil in Colorado every Friday afternoon.

Since I'm a part of one here in La Mesa, I invited him and my sister to join me at our usual intersection. And the reception was pretty great. Most people wave and honk. Some give us the finger. But I would say approx. 70% are supportive. Come to think of it, that's about what the anti-war sentiment is nationwide.

Anyway today was an eventful birthday for the spry 60 year-old in attendence.

I often attempt to coax people into honking and explain that it's ok to honk and support peace. Sometimes I'm succesful. Other times, not so much.

And the story goes like this: An older man in a Corvette drives by and gives me the finger. Unfortunately for him, the light turns red before he can drive through the intersection, so I approach his vehicle for some civil discourse.
Me: Come on sir, can I get one honk for peace?
Him: F@#$ you a@#hole.
Me: Does that mean you're not gonna honk? (I smile)
Him: You're a piece of s@#$.

Oddly, at this point the car next to him enters the intersection (as the light remains red). The driver I'm having such a pleasant conversation with begins to honk. So I bend down and start laughing.

Me: See, I guess we got you to honk after all.
Rager: Go f@#$ yourself.

I laughed and told him thanks for being an attentive driver. Here's where things get a little nutty. As I turned to face the coming vehicles, apparently he makes a quick right turn and parks his car on the side of the road illegaly. Unbeknowenst to me he is steaming and headed my direction. As I turn to head back towards the light he's six inches from my face.

Looney Tunes: What did you just say to me? (He screams)
Me: I said thanks for being an attentive driver.
(Five second pause and stammer)
Looney Tunes: You're a f@#$ing d@#$.
Me: Ok.

As I walk to proceed up the sidewalk he uses the side of his body to bump me into the street.

Bad move. Really bad move.

Pops comes running over to defend his flesh and blood. Sidenote: At a peace rally, the last thing you want to do is get into a physical confrontation with anyone. Pops saw me get knocked to the street and got right in this guys face. The guy grabbed Pops' Obama sign and shoves my Dad and ripped it the sign in three pieces. So my Dad physically restrains this guy by pushing him aside. And then my sister gets involved.

She steps in between the two of them and the lunatic grabs my sister and shoves her. Not a good move. Meanwhile there are witnesses and one peace supporter starts taking snapshots.

Eventually two squad cars pull up and a cop begins interviewing anyone who speaks English. Thankfully the man who took the photos had clear shots of the altercation and license plate number.

Needless to say, both my sister and I are pressing charges and this guy will be arrested. A court date will be arraigned later this month.

So pops had an eventful birthday. And I acted with self-restraint. And this man will be arrested (by the way he drove a Corvette).

Don't mess with peace.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Roommate Drama is Over!!!!!!

Two days ago I moved into a new place. The old place was nice. I had my own bathroom, my own room, a nice living room with a decent size TV. I had HBO On Demand (which I highly recommend), a spacious kitchen, a community hot tub and pool, and full-functioning appliances.

All sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it was all good, until I had issues with the roommate. Yes, the roommate. And by no means did I ever think I would be devoid of roommate problems. As a rule of thumb there's generally only room for one perfect person per pad (say that five times fast). Therefore, I'm always the victim of the not-so-perfect roommate moods and drama.

I will spare you with some of the details, but share some of the highlights.

Case One: A promise. Being a military guy, this guy was a man of his word. He would say, what good is a man if he can't honor and stand by his words with conviction? I found it a tad shortsided, but admirable nonetheless.

Well, it would've been if he lived up to his mantra.

On numerous occasions he promised to voice a problem when it erupts and not hold a grudge or hold on to any problems he felt between us. As a confrontational person (I mean that in a nice way) I preferred it this way. So did he.

Apparently his word would prove faulty.

On three separate occasions I was a recipient of passive aggresive notes. You know, those hand written lame ass notes. Three. Now to use the excuse, 'you weren't there to tell' doesn't hold up. Wait until your roommate returns. If being a man of your word is important, then at a minimum stand by that statement.

Case Two: Mood Swings. Wow. This guy would talk for hours some days and not even look at me the next day. And in between would entail sleeping and that's it. Case in point - after I had enough and his attitude forced me to leave, we had a long talk and decided to keep things cordial. So I politely left a note for him to text me so we could meet and discuss the deposit the next morning. Easy enough. No committments, just a text at a time convenient for him. Apparently this college grad was asked too much.

He ignored my note and so I wasted three hours waiting for him to return to his apartment so I could receive the money he promised. I got the money. He didn't say one word to me. I said, "What's up?" And he reached in his pocket, pulled out his wallet and handed me the cash.

I ran out of there faster than Romney in the primary.

Case Three: Hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is something I can't stomach. This guy had the audacity to tell me I was messy. Ya, I'm not Mr. Congeniality. But this guy had to be the dirtiest roommate I have ever had. He left cookies out, pans, dishes, drinks, lotions, water cases, condoms. Ok, not condoms. But seriously, this guy was so messy that I spent hours cleaning up after him.

And he almost threw me out of the place one month for not 'helping around the pad.'


This would be like God slapping Gandhi in the face for being too violent.

And here's my final rant point. Before I stash this memory in the back of my brain and hope to never relinquish it to the light of day again.

Stop projecting and hating yourself. It's pathetic. Possibly stop eating whole batches of cookies at one sitting and attempt to take care of yourself. Stop working at a place you despise. Don't serve in the military if you hate it and say that you're fighting for old white men and oil. Well, maybe don't go back. Go AWOL. I don't care what you do but get some self-respect.

And by the way, sleeping in the living room is extremely annoying and gross.

Get a life.

Socks with Sandals

There comes a time in a man's life (every morning) where he needs to come to a major decision. And that is - dressing himself. This can be quite problematic.

Example One: Dude playing tennis in sandals. Now on the outest, this looks bad enough. But no, this guy doesn't just wear sandals. Nope. He has to wear socks with them too. And not some cool aqua-resistent socks. Not black or grey socks. This guy wears high white socks a la Steve Urkel.

Come to think of it, Urkel would have more style sense than to play tennis like that. To top it off this guy is a doctor. A doctor, as in he knows about stuff. Glad he's not practicing on me.

Example Two: Dropping earrings on the tennis court. Now if you're a girl, most times I won't mind. I may even pick them up for you. But if you're a guy, this is weird. I'm all about gay rights and equality, but at least try and keep the feminine products inside your bag.
Today, this guy doesn't drop one earring. He drops two. Different ones! Within about 30 seconds of one another.

Gay, straight, bi or tri, I don't care so long as you keep those things out of my sight. Earrings belong on the ear, or on my dresser next to my bed. Either way, keep them off the court.

Example Three: Short shorts in spin class. Don't do it. It's unnatractive. Unless you have pretty, thin, shiny, strong legs, don't do it. And I include myself as not fitting into that category. Which is why you won't see my ass hanging out of my shorts in spin.
My biceps, well that's another story.