Pho-get that, time keeps on slipping, and something of a cul de sac…

The Wandering Nerd May 1st, 2008

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Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s been a while, but other things have come up. Quite literally in some cases, and before you get your dirty little minds all a twitter, it was some Pho I had in Saigon. *shiver* I hate regurgitating - physically I mean, comedically I only have like 5 funnies so they just have to be re-used - but yet again I’m putting the flush before the fill, so let’s begin again…

So after the cheerful, lighthearted and breezy tour of Phonm Penh, we headed on into Vietnam towards Saigon or as those crazy kids are calling it now a days, Ho Chi Minh City. Apparently that Ho Chi Minh guy is a pretty big name over here. Kinda’ like Justin Timberlake and Dick Cheney all rolled into one.

I had very little interaction with Saigon, mainly due to a rather explosive case of food poisoning. After a long bus ride - and a surprisingly easy border crossing - we grabbed a hotel and some lunch. Which struck back on me later that afternoon. As I said in the earlier posts regarding Tim’s culturing and nurturing of stomach weasels, I find gastrointestinal distress funny only when it doesn’t involve my gatros, intestines or my ‘nals’ for that matter. I was not amused. More to the issue at hand I was not mobile. So the intended and typical wandering around of the city didn’t occur. We walked through the old market and some park downtown, but didn’t get to far afield. I was so out of it I even forgot my camera, leaving Tim to take some snaps. Which presented it’s own problem later. Wait for it.

Probably the most convenient method for traveling around Vietnam are the Open Bus tickets. You spend between $20 and $60 USD and you get a ticket book of slips which allow you to hop on and hop off these tour buses at various places throughout Vietnam. The more you pay, the more stop off points. As to the buses themselves, we splurged a bit and spent that extra $3 USD for the ’sleeper’ buses. That’s right, we’re high rollers, lap of luxury. I did not have high hopes for these ’sleeper’ things. They turned out to actually be quite comfy. It’s a normal style touring bus, but with all of the seats ripped out and three rows of double bunked mini barcaloungers lining the sides and middle of the bus with two walkways. The only downside is the width, which isn’t designed for the western frame. I’m not a big guy, well, I’m not a small guy either, but I’d say I’m pretty normal sized when it comes to the western male. So when my shoulders are touching both sides of the bunk, it feels a bit claustrophobic.

The eight hour bus trip from Saigon to Nha Trang blossomed into 12 hours and by that point, we were both going well stir crazy, and thanks to my stomach issues, I hadn’t really consumed much in the way of food for well over 36 hours. We found a little hotel and walked directly across the street to the “Why Not Bar & Restaurant” figuring….it was the nearest eating establishment that was open. I braved a bit of spaghetti putanesca and even a “Why Not Bucket” figuring…it was the most cost effective drink on the menu and it had limes in it which helps to stave off the scurvy. Some of you may question the intelligence of eating spaghetti when there is the very real and projective possibility that one will see it again. Here is where I delve into some rather unpleasant imagery, so feel free to skip the next paragraph.

As I mentioned initially I hate to throw up, it’s almost a psychosis - yes, perhaps one of many, now shut up I’m talking. Even when I know, know, that it will make me feel better I still fight it. It’s that whole having your body rebel against your intent thing. I’m not talking something simple like a sneeze, having a leg fall asleep then being forced to walk like some village drunkard wearing a tattoo gun sock for a few minutes, or even letting a sizable stinky go around your lover and - in lieu of having a blanket to pull over their unsuspecting head - being forced to immediately come up with some reason to take them quickly to the next room, block, or city for the duration of the cloudkill. Oh, no, that’s normal, and sometimes fun depending on my current turpitude level. Throwing up, on the other end, is an act of willful rebellion by my innards that I simply cannot abide, like Cheney and the faces of any member of his hunting party. Now, if I am going to give in to my digestive system pushing the panic button, I prefer it to be on my own terms as much as I can. As it is, I got lucky with the Pho - which is essentially the national dish of Vietnam, it’s noodle soup with accouterments. I feel, if I’m forced into the position of violently purging my internal valve system in the opposite direction in which it’s meant to flow, there should be something in it for me. So if I do have to go all bile-geyser, I personally find it much more fulfilling to do so after having consumed a decent amount of noodles or pasta of the spaghetti style. Stay with me if you’ve come this far. For that instant when all the bells, whistles and klaxons go off in your brain saying, “WHOA SHIT! THIS IS BAD, THIS IS SO BAD!!!” and everything goes all sickly pink and peach colored, and the spaghetti emerges again from whence it’s been banished, and the walls of the room echo with the defeaning hollow roar of something that just shouldn’t be… In that moment, with the spaghetti, and the horrible growling, I like to pretend I’m Cthulu, just released from some Stygian abyss. Some people want a cold rag on their head, I want to be one of the Great Old Ones. I know, it’s hard to believe I’m single.

For those who skipped the last paragraph, and those that wish you had, let’s continue. The ‘bucket’, consisting of something about the size of half of a peanut butter jar really got up on top of me and was doing it’s best to nail my eyelids shut by the time I was even halfway through it. So I called it an early night and crashed leaving Tim to ‘play a few games of pool and then be crashing too.’ I read a bit, watched a bit of Vietnamese television - which basically consisted of these two pop starlet looking Vietnamese girls screaming at the camera in unison and joyfully fell into a slumber until very late in the night, so late in fact, it’s more appropriate to say early in the morning when I was awoken by a…well, by Tim.

I’ve given it some thought and I’m not going to go into anything more about this story, or the following day. At least I’m not going to go into on here, he may talk about it on Versive. Not my story, but for my part I got to pay back some karmic debt and for Tim’s part, well I think he earned up some karmic credit, or his ‘uppance’ had come. The points that are necessary to the continuation of my narrative are this. He no longer has his wallet, nor his camera. So I’m forced into being all Daddy Warbucks for the time being, which is kinda’ happening at a time when I’m ill equipped to fund this whole travel thing for two. /me eyes the “Buy Me a Coffee” link somewhat meaningfully…there, on the right…no, below the “Have you seen this” and above the poll…

More importantly however, the loss of the camera means the loss of any of the photos from Saigon. Yeah, I’m distraught as well. So in lieu of any photos from Saigon:

Here are some pictures of Tarsiers.

i won’t believe in heaven and hell.
no saints, no sinners, no devil as well.
no pearly gates, no thorny crown.
you’re always letting us humans down.

Quiet and powerful, I neither want nor need a tuk-tuk and more limbo

The Wandering Nerd April 26th, 2008

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First, and quickly, I want to drop upon you the general street level gallery of that which is Phonm Penh. I know there aren’t a lot of photos this time, but between you and me, it’s kinda’ boring here and something of a heavy atmosphere and I’m not just talking the heat. The tuk-tuk guys are starting to get to me and I’m really close to thrashing the next bloody sod who tries to sell me drugs as I’m walking down the street. Ladies and germs, Phonm Penh:

I mentioned earlier in one of the Siam Reap posts that I was going to be covering the Khmer Rouge in more detail when I reached Phnom Penh. Well, here I am and here’s when the coverage happens. This is some really heavy stuff and after a day spent going through all of the historical sites I’m not in much of a comical mood, i.e. minimal in the way of jokes on this one, and fair warning there are some gruesome images in the galleries. View at your own risk.

While I don’t want this post to be any sort of history lesson, I do want to briefly recap the situation that allowed all of this to occur. Ancient Cambodia existed with the same malleable border lines of the other countries in SE Asia during the time. Various kingdoms rose and fell, as power shifted so to would control of the lands. Thailand and Cambodia have always had an uneasy relationship with the Thais sacking Angkor as late as 1432. Which caused the Cambodians to move their capital - formerly Angkor - to what is now Phnom Penh. Throughout most of the 19th Century the Thais and Vietnamese continued encroaching into Cambodia until - ironically - the French stepped in and helped defend the countries autonomy. That was the theory anyway. The French occupation, or ‘protectorate’ was set up more as a monitoring and diplomatic point to envoy into the kingdom of Vietnam.

After WWII the French granted independence to the then King Norodom Sihanouk, who ruled successfully until 1970 when his increasingly repressive and erratic policies irked essentially everyone else in the government inciting the military to overthrow him. He then fled to Bejing, remember that.

During this time a well known ‘police action’ was taking place just over the border. The Vietnam Conflict was getting fully into swing and drew Cambodia along with it. The wacky US decided that carpet bombing sites that maybe possibly could have been communist bases in Cambodia. Then, upon the military coup that saw Sihanouk fleeing to China, the south Vietnamese and American troops entered Cambodia to root out the enemy insurgents - sound familiar? Unsurprisingly, attacking an ‘enemy’ on his own ground with the intent to miraculously discern who was really your friend and who wanted to slide a nice sharp piece of tempered steel betwixt the third and fourth rib on the left side of your body turned out to be quite difficult. It turns out ‘insurgents’ don’t like to advertise so much. They like playing sneaky thief with dagger. So this pushed the populace farther against the new ‘invaders’ and the actual real insurgents had plenty of time to fall back into the interior of Cambodia.

Fast forward a couple of years to The Paris Peace Accords which led to a complete cease-fire and an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. Troops from Vietnam. After the intense fighting in Cambodia, the rebels - Khmer Rouge, or The Red Khmer, finally marched into Phnom Penh on April 17th, 1975 and claimed that the US - that’s us - were going to bomb the city. Remember our ousted king who fled to China, while there he was ‘asked’ to back these communist rebels, which greatly bolstered their support and credibility. Next they called for an immediate evacuation to the countryside leaving only a skeleton number of people in the city. Many left with just the clothes on their back fearing the imminent ‘airstrike.’ The ploy worked, the fear engendered by what the Cambodians had already seen of the war in Vietnam, the ‘War on Communism’ if you will, led them out. The intent, however, was not their safety.

Pol Pot, and the Khmer Rouge perpetrated a sublime coup, they intended to turn Cambodia into a Maoist agrarian society where everyone was equal - well everyone except the rulers, y’know how it goes.

For the next four years or so, the Khmer regime instituted mass genocide on it’s own people. Numbers range up into the millions of people dead through systematic torture and exterminations or to disease and malnutrition. These were intellectuals, doctors, teachers, philosophers, anyone who was educated, to the point where wearing glasses target you as a ‘parasite’ and marked you for death. Speaking out against the regime, or even being suspected of harboring ill-will to the collective would also seen you taken away in the night, often with your entire family, never to be seen again.

Finally, and again in a strange irony, the Vietnamese stepped in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer continued waging guerrilla warfare through the 1980s and in 1991 a peace accord was reached. While the bloodshed was ended the political turmoil continued on through until 1998 when Khmer Rouge faced mass defections and Pol Pot finally died - after being under house arrest for a goodly long time.

For giggles let’s look at that timeline. U.S. invades Iraq…er, Cambodia - in addition to its original and stated goal of engaging Afghani…er Vietnam - in early 1970. We did this to stop the spread of terro…damnit, I mean Communism. Twenty one years later peace is finally brought to the region. What is that about those who don’t remember the past being condemned to repeat it?

I’m off my soapbox, though the place we’re going now isn’t as pleasant. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge numerous extermination camps were set up to rid the country of the ‘parasites.’ The most visited of these Killing Fields is Choeung Ek, about 14km outside of Phnom Penh. It’s almost an idyllic setting. Lush green surroundings, there’s a quiet creek running behind the area, and in the distance you can hear children laughing and playing from some nearby school. Assuming you don’t read any of the signs, don’t look at the giant pagoda with the glass columned center full of human skulls, or notice any of the bones still lying around, you may not realize you’re surrounded by over a hundred mass graves. 17,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge here, many women and children. To save bullets the would bludgeon them to death or use plastic bags to suffocate them.

One of the signs even reads - ‘Here was the place where chemical substances such as D.D.T…etc. was kept. Executioners scattered these substances over dead bodies of the victims at once after execution. This action had two purposes: firstly to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies which could potentially raise suspicion among people working near by the killing fields and secondly was to kill off victims who were buried alive.’

The Killing Fields were the final stop for anyone even suspected of being a dissenting voice. The true horrors were reserved for the ‘Security Offices.’ Torture chambers would be a more apt term. The former site of ‘S-21’ was set up in 1976 and was one of the most secret entities of the Khmer Rouge. Its charter was to detain, interrogate and exterminate any anti-Khmer elements…that’s people that is.

In 1962 this was a high school called “Ponhea Yat” by 1970 it was renamed “Tuol Sleng which means poisonous hill to keep those who bear guilt [to Angkar]… They turned a FRACKING SCHOOL into a torture chamber. It is a full on school, like many others I’ve seen around Cambodia. You can easily imagine children running through the courtyard, and then you look around at the barbed wire, or step into the bare classrooms with iron beds and the photos of a victim lying in that very room and realize, with dawning revulsion, what cruel acts humanity is capable of. Photos are displayed throughout the museum of the ‘inmates’. Everyone is represented, old, young, male, female, there are great grandparents, mothers holding infants, and children. Speaking of children…

By 1976 the KR employed a large staff, almost 2000 persons, responsible for S-S1, divided into four units. In each of the four units were sever sub-units composed of male and female children aged 10 to 15 years. Inevitably these sub-units became the most brutal and cruel of the staff. In the nature vs. nurture debate, this lands squarely on the nurture side.

There are a number of torture devices still on display, along with gruesome artistic representations of how they would have been used. Anyone who thinks torture is an acceptable human endeavor in any circumstance should tour through here, it will sway opinions.

Lastly there is an photographic exhibit dedicated to the staff of S-21 showing them as they were then, as they are now and what, in their own words, they feel happened then. I must admit it does beg an interesting moral thought exercise. Would I be able to kill someone if my life depended on it? Would I be able to torture them? Would you, if your life depended on it? What about if your families lives also depended on it? Tough eh?

<no music today, sometimes silence is the only appropriate soundtrack>

Can I jump it, nerdness returns and ‘hitting the pool’?

The Wandering Nerd April 19th, 2008

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Angkor Miscellaneous - Day 3

There was a taming of the weasels - it’s like taming a shrew, only not quite so literary - Tim was ready, if not rearing to go and we set off once again to the Angkor complex of temples.

Cleverly, I sorted out my camera issues and now have much better photos of a number of the places I’ve been previously. As my excursions yesterday served as an advanced scouting for the days tour I was ready to hit the good stuff again.

First on the agenda, I had to go back to Ta Prohm. I’m really enamored with the place. It’s the kind of place I could spend days just climbing around exploring all of the nooks and crannies.

After that we moved on to Pre Rup, it’s the one with the Elephants guarding the corners. It’s also where I continued the pattern of seeing what I could jump, a lot of caffeine was involved, don’t ask.

We hit the following temples in this order East Mebon, Ta Som, Preah Khan, Baphuon, Bayon and finally, once again back to Angkor Wat for a few more - better - sunset photos. You really can’t go by the place without stopping in there. I certainly couldn’t without stopping in and saying to myself, “That’s definitely a wat.”

I really can’t add much verbally to what the images produce visually, so I’ll let them do their thing.

I’ve spent a bit of time nerding out here in Siam Reap, I’ve fixed the slideshow on the sidebar, it should be back up and working now and found some new photo display plugins. For the most part they are just eye candy, but there’s nothing wrong with that sometimes. Sadly they are pretty intensive and are going to require some changes. What this means is the number of posts on one page is going down to one. So you people that can’t keep up are going to get to learn all about how the archive function works. The page is taking way too long to load and I’m terribly impatient when it comes to technology. Also, if you’re on a slow connection or dial up, this should help. This may be tempered by the intensiveness of the plugin. We’ll see, or rather, you’ll see and then let me know yeah?

I’m not really sure which one I like overall so I’m going to let you guys be the judges.

So here are the three options:

Classic WN Stylin’ NextGEN Gallery -

You know it, you love it, it’s been with us since the beginning

The new SmoothGallery -

Just look how smooth that is…it’s like something really smooth…

The new TiltViewer -

It’s new! It’s Flash! It’s all tilty! (oh, and right click anywhere around those images and ‘Go to fullscreen…’)

So I lied a little bit, the TiltViewer kinda’ get’s me a little bit hot…a little veclempt over the elegance of it. I must give mad props to Boris Glumpler and Alex Rabe for coming up with the interface from NextGen Gallery to the TiltViewer. I’ve emailed back and fort a few times with Alex over some minor bugs in NGGallery and he’s always been spot on about getting them fixed. In trying to get TiltViewer working I found the documentation on Boris’ site and subsequently found out he’s a world traveler as well. Funny how that works, so check out Boris’ site: Travel Junkie

As to the different galleries, I am curious to what everyone thinks/how they performe so hit up the poll there on the right. I’ll leave it up for a bit and make a final decision in the next week or so. Enjoy the galleries, play with them, break them, break your computers, break dance, just go all nutty, paint up the town, paint each other up! …woah…so much…caffeine…

i like the way you, put your hands up in the air,
i like the way you, shake your hair,
i like the way you, like to touch

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