November 2002 Archives


Today is Thanksgiving, at least in some parts of the world. It is a little strange to be in a different country during the holiday this year. Since Thanksgiving is on a different day every year, I probably wouldn't have even thought about it if I hadn't been reminded by my friends and family in the US.

I always liked Thanksgiving. Part of the reason was because of the big turkey with stuffing and green beans and cranberry sauce and pecan pie. (My mouth is now watering.) And of course it is always nice to be surrounded by the people who are most important to you. But the reason I like it the most is because you get a chance to think about all the good things in your life.

So today I am especially thankful of what a lucky person I am. I am thankful for my loving and supportive family and friends. I am thankful I have always had the freedom to make my own choices in my adult life. Not all of my choices were good ones nor have they all worked out the way I wanted them to, but they have been mine and I am thankful for them.

I am also thankful that I am FINALLY finished posting the best of my pics from my trip to Laos. That task only took me five weeks to accomplish. Hopefully I can catch up on Sydney and Vietnam sooner than that.

Oh, and if you are reading this on my website, then I am of course have to say thanks for stopping by :)


Now I think I know where all of the motorcycles were going. At least I know that there are a LOT of things happening in Saigon on any given night. On Sunday night we joined our Pop Star friend for more concerts. By the time the night was over, we had gone to 4 concerts and a fashion show. Each place we visited was full of people. I must say I am very impressed with the energy and the nightlife and the lifestyle of Saigon.

But now I am back home safely to Bangkok. I would have loved to have stayed longer in Saigon. In fact, I am scheming how to get back and where I should go when I do. Now, I feel much like I did when I first visited Thailand. I was so overwhelmed with the different sights and sounds and culture that I didn't really have a chance to process what I was seeing. It makes me feel a little sad and unfulfilled and unsatisfied when I leave, and so I immediately start trying to figure a way to get back as soon as possible.

Saigon Impressions


Ever since I arrived in Saigon I have tried to figure out how to describe it. It is certainly different than any place I have ever been. So far my travels in SE Asia have taken me to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. All three places share many features of their cultures but Vietnam is a completely different animal.

There is a certain energy here -- on the same level as Bangkok, but somehow very different. The city is literally awake 24 hours a day. The other night I just happened to be awake at 4 AM (heh) and the streets were full of old men jogging, young people on motorcycles dressed up for a night on the town, women wearing the traditional triangle straw hats and carrying baskets of food to the market. The market was alive as well with everyone having a job to do: arranging eggs in pyramid piles, lining up sleeping (yet still alive, for now) chickens, chopping up big slabs of pork, setting out fruits and vegetables.

The noise is deafening all day every day, although after three days I have started to not notice it as much. There is always loud music playing or people shouting or dogs barking or sometimes it's just the steady river of motorcycles filling the wide tree-lined French-designed avenues.

And then there are the horns. It seems that the traffic laws require you to blow your horn at least once a minute. Definitely every time you come to an intersection you have to honk, as well as every time you turn a corner, every time you come up behind someone, and every time someone is coming towards you. Considering the streets are packed, you are therefore honking ALL THE TIME.

All of this action and yet I am setting a record for "Least Number of Pictures Taken on a Trip". I have been here three days and I have taken about five pictures. Saigon isn't the most picturesque place, at least not in the postcard sense. The beauty is in the friendly smiles; it is in a block of shophouses all selling pho noodles and all having the exact same sign out front; it is in a line of 50 boy-girl couples snuggling on their motorcycles on the sidewalk next to the park; it is in a young girl reaching into a plastic bag she has been carrying and pulling out a chicken by its feet; it is a grandmother on the back of a motorcycle with the calmest carefree face even as her grandson in front weaves in and out of the traffic.

Speaking of the traffic, Todd and I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out where all of the motorcycles are going. We still have no idea.

Pop Star


The rain was pouring down on our car as we pulled through the gates of the WaterPark. The boy sitting in the backseat next to me looked up through the rain and up through the soaking wet faces smiling at him to see his own face five times life-size hanging from the gates.

The car came to a stop and we stepped out into the pouring rain. A few minutes later, the boy addressed his fans from the covered stage and launched into an upbeat Vietnamese love song.

Some of his fans were smart enough to bring huge tarps which they were now huddled under. Another few had umbrellas. But the majority of them were just standing there unprotected, yet all were smiling.

On the third song he asked (in Vietnamese) who would like to join him on the stage for a sing-along. Immediately, hands of boys and girls aged 5-20 shot into the air waving frantically, their faces eager to be picked. He chose 6 representing all ages and sexes, brought them to the stage, gave them all microphones, and led them in song.

But it was the second number that was closest to true magic. As he began, he walked down the steps in front of the stage into the rain and into the crowd. He worked his way through the wet kids as he sang, shaking hands and accepting a bouquet of roses from a young girl. At one point a boy gave him his red umbrella.

From our vantage point behind the stage we couldn't see the singer, but we could see the falling rain, the bright white spotlight focused on a glowing red umbrella sheltering the Pop Star, and the crowd of completely drenched youngsters looking up at him with wonder and love.

Motorcycles of Saigon

Todd and I arrived in Saigon safely yesterday afternoon. After being mildly scammed by the taxi drivers at the airport (they all refused to use their meters) we found a hotel in the "backpacker" part of town. I was expecting this area (called Pham Ngo Lao) to be similar to Bangkok's Khao San Road with more white faces than locals, but luckily there is just a sprinkling of foreigners here.

What there is a lot of, is motorcycles. I've never seen anything like it. The steets are clogged with them. Boys, girls, the old, and the young are all driving helmetless through the streets of Saigon. Waiting on the side of the road for safe passage across the street is futile. You just have to start walking and hope that the moto drivers are wise enough to swerve around you.

After checking into our guest house, we hit the streets. Our first stop was a restaurant/bar that was full of white faces (Oh, so THIS is where they have been hiding!). We ate dinner and drank Saigon Beer, then headed to a dance club, where we sweated profusely in an unbelieveably hot and crowded un-airconditioned disco.

The next stop was an upscale restaurant/bar called Vassco's. I think this place is what the owners of the Ana Madera restaurant in San Francisco were TRYING to do. It was in a beautiful French Colonial style building surrounded by huge palm trees and other tropical plants.

We were supposed to meet Todd's roomate's sister and friend at Vassco's. Apparently, they are very well known in the Vietnamese entertainment industry -- she is a supermodel and the friend is a pop singer. In any case, they weren't there (or, as we later found out, we just didn't recognize them) so we headed to the famous Apocolypse Now bar. At this bar, a local we had been chatting with casually mentioned the famous people where were in attendance that night, and it turned out to be our friends!

We quickly decided to head someplace more quiet, so they took us to a small Vietnamese restaurant full of locals. We sat outside on the sidewalk on tiny plastic stools and gorged on noodle soup, BBQ chicken wings and legs, fried chicken feet, and vegetables. Delicious!

First Lao Pics

I have just uploaded the first set of pics from my trip to Laos last month. I haven't had time to get to the ones from Luang Prabang (which, in my opinion are the best ones) so I will do those when I get back from Vietnam next week.

You can view them in the Pictures of Vientiane, Laos Photo Album.

Loy Kratong


Under a the 11th Full Moon last night, the Thai people celebrated Loy Kratong, or the end of the Rainy Season, by floating small boats with lit candles in the river. This, by the way, is the same festival that Rupert and I experienced in Lao a month ago watching long-boat races on the Mekong. I don't know why there is a month descrepancy though.

This time, Rupert, Todd and I did our part by joining thousands of people at the Taskin Bridge (Sapan Taskin). We didn't fight our way through the crowd to buy a candle boat, but we watched from the bridge as people took a ferry out to the middle of the river and floated their candles from there.

Friends in Bangkok


I have done a bad job of keeping this journal up-to-date lately, haven't I? The week or so I have missed is a record, I think. I still need to get pics up from Laos and Sydney. Bad Stuart! Bad!

But really, nothing terribly exciting has been going on lately. I have been spending most of my time shopping and eating and going out with my friends who have been visiting from San Francisco. This week Richard, Michael, Manop, Gary, Rupert, and Todd have all been here. We have had a lot of fun at the weekend markets and the malls and the clubs.

The only exciting thing I can think of is that I might go with Todd to Vietnam in a few days. I applied for my Visa yesterday and basically have a month to use it. Perhaps tomorrow I will buy the ticket and be on my way in a few days. From what I have read, visiting Saigon will be a real adventure. Definitely more difficult than practically-American Sydney or even Bangkok. Stay tuned.

Halloween in Nonthaburi


The Thai people, always looking for an excuse for a party, have picked up the American holiday of Halloween. The students in my class last night (Halloween night) were all excited about going to Silom Road to celebrate.

I, however, decided to skip the crowds at Silom and instead took the river boat up to Nonthaburi to visit my friend Tiw (of Swatting Butterflies fame) and see how they celebrate Halloween in the burbs.

Of course no trip to Nontanburi is complete without speding time in the Hair Salon, so I asked Tiw to give me a Swim Meet Haircut. "Short," I told him. "Very short." He looked at me with disbelief, but did as I requested. You'll see the results when I post pictures from Sydney next week.

After the haircut we grabbed a bite to eat (Chicken Fried Rice) from a street vendor, and headed to the local disco. As with the case all over Thailand, the club was full of small high tables where everyone dances with their friends next to the table as either the house band plays Thai and American pop songs or the DJ spins dance music. The bar was decorated with scary masks and other Halloween type stuff hanging from the ceiling, and the band members, DJs, and cocktail servers all had on face paint of scars, blood, spiderwebs, etc. It was quite surreal to watch a guy with Darth Maul facepaint, a black turtleneck and black leather pants sing a sappy Thai love song.

So that was my Halloween. My friend Mag braved the crowds at Silom and said that it was packed with costume wearing partiers. Maybe next year I will check it out.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2002 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2002 is the previous archive.

December 2002 is the next archive.

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