Altered Egos, Rampant Id|
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
Some call me Priscilla DePrimo's LiveJournal:
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|Wednesday, September 26th, 2007|
|Banned, Humiliated, Exiled, Yet Still Peeping
Let's start with a dose of surrealism.
"I'm impressed because hong kong is the culmination of my world little bits of longing and aspiration floating and greeting me whichever way i turn... the sleek glass of the towers and the grit of unwashed tenements smelling of piss and curry...
...the most affluent money-bomb population in china looking across the harbor to tsim sha tsui -- all that mess of darkness and turban a modern spike of steel looming over that babel of languages blessing and curse beyond the darkness of skin...
...central is mammoth, more mammoth than that globe of kowloon even and my head spins in the crowds but i dance in them anyway as in the tubes of a giant organism traipsing its intestines tapping its axioms jetting its veins blood tear semen ducts...
... exchange stalls. A carnival of humanity wild as i wait for the lift up to the 16th floor to look out my window on nathan road the mysterious faces small under the nighttime lights there, clutching bags and timing the clicks of their heels with the beating of my heart. Beautiful lines of night faces illuminated as if in a theater, opening night of a failed production, weary comedy stretching the faces into wide eyes and smiles. The buildings glow pink and green flophouses 20 stories tall a jagged cubist glow full of matisse dreams and soft opium men gently turning yellow in sleep.
A drama of real beauties i've always known."
Mined from my paper journal, those were my first impressions of Hong Kong written on my first day here. It only got more surreal from there, with black-eyed facelift trannies parading by day and people burning photocopied portraits of dead people by night. So yeah... i kinda fell for the place.
I now live in suburban Shanghai, which is great in that it solved the problem of the pee smell all over chungking mansions in kowloon, and bad because i suddenly have a scheduled life to live all over again. Mixed bag of a place, but whatever, i'll take it. On my days off i go downtown and surround myself with deco and smokes and jazz and whatever other forms of pleasant mayhem i can suss out... coming back home a couple of days later with a few extra wrinkles around the eyes and a few years no doubt shaved off my life. Sometimes i go out to tiny villages on the outskirts of shanghai, all sagging plaster buildings ancient and crowding narrow stone laneways. Canals crossed by humped moon bridges and tea houses selling dumplings or stinky tofu (i'm serious, that's actually what it's called) with their leaves. Places that will disappear as shanghai spreads further and further into the paddies with its skycrapers and luxury lofts. Maybe 5 years. Maybe a month. Who knows, but the writing's on the wall for places like that.
My boss works as a lawyer for the Communist Party, and one of the perks of knowing someone in that situation is that you get to ride in a zipped police car and go like 150 km/h on a downtown freeway when on official business. Maybe my boss assumes foriegners are too stupid to catch a bus, i dunno... but i DO know that stepping out a police car without cuffs is a great feeling, especially when you're actually on time for something.
But my boss had to send me all the way back to HK for a residence permit because whatever connections he does have in Beijing have all but dried up. Maybe he's on his way out. Maybe there's going to be a soviet-style (ok, or chinese-style) Show Trial to get rid of him. Maybe i'll have to testify... what would i say? I've only seen the guy twice. My other boss, a downtown socialite, sent me packing to HK with a shopping list that includes 30 (fucking THIRTY) fashion magazines. I'm not going to mention that part at the trial, even though the mags are so fucking heavy they're KILLING ME. Ugh. Maybe i can talk about the medical test i had to go through to work in china (all expats have to do it, it's not just me)... two solid hours of medical tests examining everything from your brainwaves to your buttcheeks, all amounting to an big excuse to humiliate naked foreigners. Little do they know that it was kinda fun walking around a hospital naked, and cause for celebration that they found nothing wrong with me (as in, REALLY fucking surprised considering the past year). I quote: "Any person suffering from [a] mental disorder, leprosy, AIDS, venereal diseases, contagious tuberculosis or other such infectious diseases shall not be permitted to enter China." They're keeping out the fun people, and not only that... they only made ONE grammar mistake. Brilliant fuckers they are.
Goddamn i need a smoke, goin all incoherent and shit... i'll write about shanghai from shanghai.
Oh yeah, a blogsite that is actually NOT banned on the mainland:http://comtefabu.expat-blog.net/
If you wanna see if your fav sites are blocked in china, check out:http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org/
And above all, try to catch your neighbors in their underwear. Peace out, bitches.
(4 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|I'm, Like, Being Totally Oppressed
LJ is banned in china, so this will most likely be a dying journal for as long as i'm on the mainland. Maybe i'll move to blogspot or somewhere else, but i'm not sure which sites are on the blacklist and which aren't. Hrm.
On the bright side: Shanghai is shit-hot and it fucking loves me.
Oy, i may have to think of something appropriate to post tomorrow.
(1 lesbian assassin | kill the queen?)
|Wednesday, August 29th, 2007|
|Farewell Frenchman O
Today began automatically better than yesterday because not only did i find proper tea in the market (and a far-flung market it is), but i also went shopping for books and found a Rohinton Mistry novel i've been looking for for about 3 months... the book is titled A Fine Balance and anyone even remotely interested in India should pick it up, or at least just say they read it. With tea and lit in the mix, i now declare myself fit for tomorrow's long-haul train ride.
I'm still an anxious wreck of emotions though, being pulled into Shanghai by an obligation while being pulled everywhere else all at once by whimsy. For the past 3 days i've been engaged in a lovely platonic fling with Frenchman O, which essentially amounts to obscene amounts of coffee, boozing, dinner for two, walks along the harborfront and other pleasantries. We've been combing the streets for funky galleries and alternative spaces, and we've found some amazing shit... namely the Most Bitchin Photo Exhibit, Like, EVER! as well as the allegedly bitchin retrospective on the past 4 decades of chinese art, which was a very surprising bust. Anyway, the photo exhibit was organized by a gallery that has a branch in paris and virtually every other kickass locale the world and had to do with photos of the new york 'underground' arts scene in the 60s through the 80s. Lots of debbie harry, lou reed, the ramones, patti smith, and then divine got into the mix with some very racy portraits. Personal favs included photos by Leee Black Childers and Gerard Malanga. They even played a track off of her album Maid In England, which busted my bubble that i was the only person in the civilized world to actually own the album and listen to it regularly. Anyway, tonight O left for Paris and i'll eat alone once again, just as confused as ever.
I'd like to say that what i need is clarity, but then again i have to ask myself: just when has clarity had ANY bearing whatsoever on my so-called decision making skills? In any case, things won't make sense until i settle down into a routine and that realization has actually made the confusion even more difficult to bear. I guess it's a late-mid-twenties self-critical crisis... always second-guessing myself because i know i could be doing something way more interesting and exciting. Something that involves landing in Aden in an old frigate or jumping railcars in siberia in the name of research. Everyone teaches english and i think if i continue with it, my life is going to become dull from it in no time flat. I meeting people with horror stories...
There's a flipside though, as with everything i guess. Today was really my last day in Hong Kong and i found myself surrounded by beautiful things, people, sensations, you name it... i suppose if you wanna be simple about it you could say today was a good day. The sunlight illuminated the glass of the skyscrapers and threw linear glares and rectangular rainbows on the streets, the weather cooperated fabulously with no smog or rain, i had wonderful coffee and discovered the work of surrealist fashion designer Victoria Chu. In one of the galleries i caught a reflection of myself in the glass of one of the installations... i looked so young framed there, where none of the lines or anxieties of my travels or habits could be seen. It made me laugh and wish i had a top hat for some reason. I dunno, just everything about today made me feel ready to hop on the train to shanghai, to jump into another new life and see where it all goes at least one more time. As of right now i'm absolutely starving but i can't bring myself to leave the building... i can't bear to eat alone again.
I don't think i would be in what spirits i'm in had i not met Frenchman O (that's what i actually call him, i know -- LAME) but the beauty of it was that he was the first person i've met on my travels who understands that brevity doesn't have to equate to sleazy flings. It's like transience with class, and i believe in men once more.
We'll see how long it lasts.
(2 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Monday, August 27th, 2007|
Well, shit. It's official: i'm boarding a train thursday afternoon, 21 hours afterwhich i will magically pop up in shanghai. That trainride is the end of my travels and when i walk out of the station someone will be there to escort me to an apartment with a writing desk full of worries and responsibilities stuffed in the drawers. I'm having a panic attack, but it's normal and expected.
For the past 10 months i've scooted across india, nepal, thailand, laos, cambodia, vietnam and southern china. How many thousands of miles i've gone by plane, boat, train, bus, car, foot and donkeycart i can't even say... but it's all history the second i step on that platform. On some days i woke up, looked out the window and decided i couldn't be bothered to leave town for another week. On other days i woke up and decided to cross the entire goddamn country immediately. Starting on saturday i will wake up and decide to go to work... hence anxiety.
Maybe i'll cultivate crocus and orchids on the balcony. Familiarize myself with calligraphy or pick up that beat up old Urdu book i have and get back to work. Maybe i'll put those mandarin grammar books to use. Buy a fake persian rug and a shisha pipe and a tea set and not move for the entire weekend. What if i run off to beijing to see some funky gallery, or get fanciful and decide that proper sichuanese food can be had only in sichuan... clear across china? I guess i'm not in the right frame of mind for working; hong kong has totally dazzled me and i'm ready to take on the rest of china.
I'm also having anxiety attacks because the most bitchin exhibition of the fucking CENTURY is being held in hong kong RIGHT NOW... and i have no idea how to get there. No metro access. No communter rail access. Maybe a bus, though no one seems to know. Anyway, it's a look at chinese art since mao and has some AMAZING artists contributing to it. One of my newfound favs, Zhang Xiaogang, has some stuff hanging there. My god, just typing anything about the exhibit makes me have to cut this short for a smoke break.
I also have to admit i'm bitchy -- i ran out of tea and can't find anything better than tourist-grade shit in Hong Kong. DAYS of SCOURING for decent oolong and pu-erh has made me very very BITTER. Even the jasmine teas... you can't really go wrong with that... ugh, i won't even get started on jasmine teas here.
(kill the queen?)
|Sunday, August 26th, 2007|
|Focusing on luck and happiness
I said goodbye to L for like the 3rd time over the past year and a half... we keep bumping into each other, in khartoum, in huizhou, in hong kong. We ambled around kowloon watching all the people burning bins of hell money for the dead at night, leaving food for the ghosts of ancestors (and maybe the homeless as well)... the streetsweepers looking like gargoyles with black umbrella hats clearing the ash blowing in from down the block.... a carnival of a makeshift temple, with every deity having its own booth trimmed in blinking lights and colored paper, rows of burning incense sticks puffing away. It was like a dream, a place that was so surreal there was no room for logic any longer.
I walked L back to her hotel and walked aimlessly for hours in the sidestreets thinking of where i can go from here. Maybe i should jump back to the americans, get a flight to santiago or buenos aires. Maybe i should double back through pakistan en route to africa.
Having no incense, i burned a cigarette and hoped for the best.
(kill the queen?)
Yeah, so i lead a life of espionage, and that takes a few sacrifices. Not like i'm complaining, but when the boss man has me scouting Triads with a purse that has NOTHING to do with the rest of my dominant patterns I get a little nervous. Maybe it's common.
So i told him, i said, "Look bitch, I'm in a mood. I need cigarettes, coffee-preferably-latte, a new bag, a random bathroom encounter and time to think -- in that order. This is fucking ridi-"
I stormed out without even bothering to finish, just barged right through the front doors into the cafe across the street. It was when I realized how badly cross-dressed I was in public, and again without smokes to compensate, that I began to think about crawling back to the office.
(2 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Saturday, August 25th, 2007|
|Hong Kong Circumstance
Within a few hours of entering china, the bus pulled into a rest area for a toilet break. The smokers lined up outside the building and decided lungs come before bladder, and with that we added a few extra plumes of blue to the sky. I've noticed and done quite a few lovely things because i'm a smoker, as one of the advantages of addiction is that you can push yourself to do pretty much anything for just one more puff (or shot or whatever) while you have the chance. It has all sorts of applications, but relevant to this story is not only being able to hold massive quantities of urine but also to puff and amble around noticing things around you. There was a trashcan nearby with a picture of a stick figure throwing a white dot into the outline of a garbage bin... under the incomprehensible chinese characters there was a funky translation in english: "Protect CircumStance, Start With Me." I take it that means slightly more than "Don't Fucking Litter."
I never intended on coming to Hong Kong at all; it was just a freak circumstance that i ended up here... namely a typhoon. In one of those wierd ways people cross paths all over tha goddamn place, i ended up staying in a small town in southern china with someone i met in khartoum. She talked nonstop about an area called fujian province, which is famous for its tea among other things, but say no more -- tea is a passion much like nicotene and odd writing materials. So i set off for fujian on the east coast thinking i could renew my tourist visa there... in the comfort of an old colonial mansion on one of the islands near xiamen. It was a beautiful place full of winding lanes up the hillsides and old british and japanese architecture from the turn of the century... old consulates and villas, seaside sculpture parks, etc. I won't go into all the beauties of the place, but i will say it was an absolutely ideal place to spend a few days while waiting for the authorities to grant me another month on my visa. A scene straight from the Glory Days... tea with sailors on a boat, berries and fruits with coffee in the dining room of a mansion, and manners everywhich way you turn. Midway through the visa process though, we found out that a typhoon was headed straight for the province. Ferry services were cut and anyone who chose to stay on the island (uh, me) was stranded and had to ride out whatever came. Needless to say, the govt offices closed and i ran out of time on the visa. The day after the storm i boarded a bus for hong kong, the only place aside from macau where i'm technically in china and technically not. It's a hazy situation, and it's usually the hazy situations that save my ass... if for no other reason, it's because of this that hong kong rocks. And rocks hard.
It was like arriving in new york for the first time... all those towering buildings lit up at night, the view of the harbor, the throngs of people in the streets from every corner of the world. I felt like i finally Arrived Somewhere, and i still feel that way even as i prepare to leave for china again. For me, there are two Hong Kongs: the hong kong of everyone's imagination with the skyline, the international businessmen in fine suits, Sir Donald Tsang in his trademark bowtie, the hong kong from all those jackie chan movies... and then across the harbor is the Kowloon area which is the reality of hong kong. Rows of tenements -- some being torn down for flashy condo towers and shopping malls -- full of unemployed africans, indians selling fake watches by day and hashish by night, noodle and kebab stands, shops full of fake or pirated goods... in short it's a big 3rd world dumphouse of brown skins and saris and turbans and robes blowing around their bodies in the wind. People waiting to make it big across the harbor, and what a view across that harbor! It's like watching the bustle of manhattan from your shitty new jersey shoebox, but whatever... to be honest i prefer the down-and-out madness of kowloon over the glam of hong kong central.
I've been renting a room in one of the kowloon tenement buildings... it's a tiny place even for one person, but right next door is a family of nigerians (4 of them) cramped into a room barely big enough for two beds. It's my first look into the lives of real immigrants... i say real because i move around a lot, but i never settle down. I'm not an immigrant. I'm not an expat. I'm a bum. These people have all their hopes pinned on hong kong, and with no cash to fly back home should something go wrong, it's all or nothing. They're doing ok... there's enough food at least and they can pay their rent, but they've been here for a year and a half and it's not getting any easier. They came chasing what people see across the harbor -- famous images of hong kong -- and found that a kowloon slum is the best they'll get. It's a crushing place.
Sometimes i go down to the pier to take a look at the skyline across the water, which at night glows in blues and pinks and greens and yellows from all the neon over there. The black of the water takes on the colors of the buildings, and it's like all that hong kong light is bleeding into its harbor. Surreal, man. I sit there and think about everything in front of me, the grandness of it all, and then what lies behind me in the tenement and the grandness of it as well. Of the romance of both sides, the allure of both sides and how what lies in between is black water with bloody colors in the crests of its waves. I've never seen any place spell itself out so starkly before. Staring across i also think of china to my back and its promises and realities, its romance and allure... and then the entire harbor becomes this one big CircumStance a la trashcan china, and there i am in the middle of it protecting what i can.
I snagged a teaching gig near shanghai and i'm headed up there this coming thursday. It better not suck.
I wish i had time to tell all the stories (the CircumStances) that have happened over the past few weeks... i guess they'll have to remain on paper for now. Anyway, tally ho it's time for tea before tea.
(kill the queen?)
You were on a street in Hanoi. You had not been offered heroin by 10 am, which is a great omen in a morning of coffee and cigarettes. You wish you had a hat that glows. Maybe tomorrow, kid.
(kill the queen?)
|Monday, August 20th, 2007|
Alas, I live.
Stranded on an island in fujian province, i survived my first typhoon.
I'm now living in a shithole tenement in hong kong, a building i share with half the expat population of calcutta and nairobi.
I've been informed by the calcuttans (calcutters sounds nastier and i like it) that Hey Baby is in theaters in india now, which means it came out on dvd in china like a month ago. ALL THIS AND NO CALLBACKS???
So now i officially need two things: a tailor and an agent.
Maybe a job, too.
(kill the queen?)
|Wednesday, July 18th, 2007|
Wandering around Hanoi, there are always beautiful ladies selling baskets of fruit in the dappled sunlight and gangs of people sitting curbside with cups of coffee in their hands. Conical hats pop up in the crowds doing their afternoon shopping. Some people are even smiling, and it's scenes like this -- with the throngs of women in ao dais and slippers, the smell of the flower markets, the macho boys with delicate hairstyles on their motorbikes and fabulous coffee on every corner -- that make me so glad i ended up here, even if it's just a pit stop on the way to someplace else. It's like a small flash of serenity that vanishes at the blink of an eye, leaving only the exhaust fumes and cat calls and general rudeness behind. Turn the next corner and there it is again for a few more seconds... another corner has to be turned and another and another. I spend my time chasing tableaux. It's a time-consuming effort, but i'm obsessive.
I've been thinking about a lot of people lately, mainly people i've randomly bumped into on my way... they're sending messages and emails en masse and out of nowhere. Some of these people i haven't heard from in well over a year or sometimes more, but it's a message i got from K that shocked me... like a missive from another world. And it was another world: budapest 2005, snow on the ground, music pouring from the old habsburg conservatory and cigarettes and literature and parties and galleries and strangers and everything under ice. It was a perfect harmony; it was a tableau i've never seen anyplace else.
K is special because when we met he was about 18 and very unsure of what he was doing with his life... very passionate and anxious... it turns out that he's also a fan of the one-way ticket experience and made himself into an expat lodged in buenos aires for now. Here's a part of the message (you dirty voyeurs):
"I do remember that chance meeting in budapest when I sat with you and my cousin Petrus in a sheltered garden bower and talked with you about the great beyond with candles and cigarettes and frigid air. I am a little surprised you remember me, but not too surprised, because I remember you too, and something specifically you said. That when you feel all pent up inside and your mind is chaotic and moving a million feet per second that you turn to art and artistic creation and let all the energy flow through and into this like a great release. Like a great cycle then life seems to be. Ever since then in times of mental struggle I have thought to turn to art to ease my soul, but I find that I lack the confidence required to even start. I find solace then in knowing that you and others have that great ability, and so I know that art is not dead. Some day perhaps, farwhen, I might finally connect my creative energies and some artistic materials to blaze away and create something truly beautiful, but...."
It was a snapshot of a part of my life spent in the company of novelists, unemployed circus performers, painters and winos... most of whom would later leave their countries in the hope they'd find something more striking somewhere else. I guess that's why i left too, in a way... that's also why i never stopped leaving. There's always something more striking just down the road, and i've spent the last couple of years chasing the glitter and acquiring a host of issues along the way (mental struggle as K calls it).
It's changed me. I tend to wander around and get lost constantly (and preferably), i have no direction whatsoever, i take daydreams more seriously than personal advice, i can't be bothered with organizing anything, and there's incredible tension when i do settle down (or try to, in the case of saigon). All i care about are images and sensations, and in my experience those are richest when found along the way, randomly as i turn a corner or step off a train. Little unexpected discoveries, and they're everywhere but where you're headed.
(kill the queen?)
|Tuesday, July 17th, 2007|
It's time to steam ahead. We're talkin warp speed in hot pants.
After spending several uneventful days in Hanoi avoiding scams and taking verbal abuse from various authorities as gracefully as possible, i've decided that i honor of bastille day i can no longer allow my days to suck. That whole thing went down the tubes the minute i entered vietnam and i now have three weeks worth of sucky days to make up for, so it's time for something wild, something random, or at least something thrilling.
My birthday is the day before bastille day, and this year i turned 26 sitting on a lakeside bench in Hanoi with a cheap bottle of red to drink, half a pack of cigarettes to smoke, and about half the hanoi hustler population to shoo away. It made me think of how tame vietnam really is, how boring it is at times and how frustrating it is at times. It's a package of a country and i don't think i've ever seen anything quite as pathetic as far as travel experiences are concerned. I broke out of Saigon because i thought the rest of the country would be amazing... as it turns out, i was wrong. My opinion only.
I woke up the morning of bastille day, took a shower and broke out the big guns: i recently had an entire wardrobe tailored to perfection in Hoi An; it's the wardrobe of an assassin. It's been a while since i've danced in traffic... which to be clear isn't literal dancing so much as agility and swiftness and just being dramatic... and it felt lovely to do it again. Not thrilling, just lovely. Like strawberry shortcake and freckled faces in the springtime. The entire day was dedicated to wandering and wondering and just MOVING... i felt like my old self again tipping my hat to old ladies and bowing to young men, plucking flowers and 'planning' my next move (daydreaming) in smoke-filled coffeehouses. I feel alive again and capable of anything again.
So.... with that in mind, i'm off to Bloody Fucking China on Friday! There's a good sista from the past living in the Hong Kong area, so i'm going to shimmy on over there in a roundabout way to have tea with her, among other things. More of a consultation really. It's going to be an overland gig and it's going to fucking ROCK. Whisky and poker on the night trains. New obscenities to learn from coal miners. New cigarettes to try. And a new worry that the food i'm eating might actually be made of cardboard (watch the news) and then a new relief that at least cardboard is better than rats. I don't want to really see anything in China aside from its people... no great wall, no forbidden city, no crazy Shanghai vertical madness. If it gets in my way, fine. But there's no destination -- i'm only now realizing that this post was supposed to be about having no destination... maybe tomorrow -- and there really can't be a destination. Not now.
That will have to wait until the next post... sorry guys. :(
(2 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Thursday, June 28th, 2007|
I guess i'll have to make something clear from the last post: it was a product of a string of horrible days that put a fatalistic light on everything. No heroin involved. The depression i slipped into after leaving cambodia, a virtually non-existent diet and the lack of sleep took a physical toll... so much so that people thought i was an addict and related to me in strange ways.
Today however is a much brighter day and even though i still look like something that crawled out of a cabrini green gutter, i'm managing to crawl out of my funk and embrace everything by the roots. A brief aside: there's a company of malaysian sailors on shore leave in Saigon and they prowl the streets at night in spiffy white uniforms... they're everywhere and i think they've taken to following random strangers around to see where they go. I'm staying down a side alley (though i don't sleep IN the alley, just so that's clear) no one in their right mind would randomly venture into at night. They once turned into the alley right after me, which REALLY freaked me out. Anyway, I'm in an internet cafe / international call center and one of the malaysian sailors on the phone is sobbing his heart out in his cubicle. Now that my spiffy-no-longer malaysian assistant has set the mood, this is going to be a long story... deep breath and dive.
I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning and took a bus to a town in the Mekong delta thinking it would be fab to drift down the river in a boat, picking flowers along the way and watching the fish jump in the water. The river is as wide as a lake down there and has all these wonderful little canals lined with coconut palm and flowering trees... but it's no pristine wilderness. Every inch of available land is used to cultivate fruits or rice, and every inch of non-available land usually has a house floating on it. Still, it was nice to get away from all the buzz in Saigon and row around the water while munching on mangosteen and dragonfruit and all sorts of fruit i can't even pronounce much less spell. We sailed for hours down the canals that carve up the delta into thousands of islands... up one canal, down the other. Every now and again the... shit, i don't even know what to call him... the guy who rows the boat... captain?... so every now and again the captain would pull us to shore where we could stock up on essentials for the next hour. Fruit and coconut moonshine mainly, and the coconut hooch is DIVINE, but sometimes we'd go for something more practical like lunch or to check out that broad washing clothes near the water (i guess the captain had enough moonshine by this point). It was a lazy day spent floating.
He dropped me off at the docks of a sprawling modern town, which is one of the major towns in the delta i suppose and one where i could catch a bus back to Saigon. Giant wooden fishing boats painted in vivid primary colors were docked in rows with the crews unloading their catch. Little kids ran around selling tiny wilted flowers... maybe they used to be chrysanthemums, but it's hard to tell... at ridiculous prices. I bought 3 yellow ones considering i plucked the shit out of the ones i had earlier in the boat. Not seeing any buses around, i thought i might splurge on a moto and set about looking for someone who wouldn't totally rip me off in the deal. I asked around and one guy said the reason the price is so high is that it's rush hour on the way to Ho... i mean, really, doesn't it have MORE to do with the fact that i'm going to be ripped off no matter what? Whatever, i decided to wait until after the afternoon rush was over to proceed back home and took my place by the wharf with a cigarette and wilted flowers. The giant fishing boats came and went in front of me, some docked, some set out again for another catch before sunset and i wondered how close i was to the South China Sea. I asked.
Two minutes later I was on the back of a moto flying down the highway at such a speed it felt more like we were escaping with loot rather than going to a lazy beach town. We arrived as the sun was setting behind the palms and I sat on the beach and waited, in much the same way i waited at the docks: with a lit fag and a handful of flowers. There were thunderstorms offshore and the water looked purple under all those clouds and was flecked with orange from the sun behind me. The horizon was scanned for answers.
Exactly 2 years ago today i boarded a plane in new orleans and woke up in london determined to start a life abroad. I was pluckier then, maybe a little more confident because i was so naive and everything seemed so tangible. Even intangible things became cues through the tangible: i left the US because of the horizon on the Gulf of Mexico, a handful of paintings, a random sculpture, and a dead poet. Today i'm exhausted and wondering where all those things have gone.
It was an anniversary of sorts, and i'm glad it involved a beach. I looked out across the sea... my own country is on the other side of it and the world, but the US felt so close like a big island hiding just beyond the horizon. I threw the flowers into the surf and told the driver i was ready to head back to Saigon, with the whole event lasting only 10 minutes.
Before I left the US i had no idea where i'd end up -- maybe Seoul, maybe Berlin, maybe Cairo... not a clue. I remember feeling torn over everything, but now it's beyond being torn; it has more to do with being ripped apart. My indecisiveness is violent. But what i realized on the beach was that i can't stay in vietnam, that it doesn't feel right and that i honestly can't picture myself staying here for an extended period of time. I've been grappling with the Syrian Issue over the past few days... Damascus in sept. About 12 hours later, the Syrian Issue turned into the Yemeni Concern... Aden in oct. Within the next twenty four hours i seriously considered moving to Cairo, Rabat, Beirut(!?), Jeddah KSA, Sharjah UAE and Tripoli. Jakarta briefly made the list for some reason.
I need to go back to Khartoum.
(2 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Tuesday, June 26th, 2007|
There are days i want to write on here some tiny inadequate message revealing small parts of all the changes taking place around me, but then i think better of myself and agree that there are no words for it. Everything is changing and at such a pace that i feel listless sometimes, like i'm floating and none of it is real, but it washes over me anyway. My hands are tied for the first time in a long time, and having them tied has oddly enough unblocked all the wonderful oddities floating about in my head -- i feel empowered in a way and once again picked up the pen to finish the novel i started a year ago, photo ideas come by the box every 5 minutes, and then there's work on dramas and short stories and poems and so much shit it makes my head spin.
I stopped traveling 5 days ago, suffered withdrawls and delusions and have since learned to relish withdrawls and delusions.
Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
And yeah, as it turns out, that's all i know and all i have.
Enough. The facts: I'm staying put in Saigon. I'm blocking urges to move to syria... it would take months to get there and i would arrive penniless. I haven't had more than 3 hrs sleep a night in the past week and i'm a total mess. People ask if i'm a heroin addict. I ask if they have some for sale. Last night i had my pockets picked by a drag queen. She made off with 30 cents. I feel bad because that's not enough to buy a gash. I have a job interview on friday... it's a good job and they're going to request that i not shoot heroin in the faculty washrooms.
Sorry this is so scatterbrained. There were some major decisions this morning and i'm reeling.
(4 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Thursday, June 21st, 2007|
|Sunrise Over Phnom Penh and Aftermath In Saigon
It was sunrise over Phnom Penh when i hired two young boys in a longtail boat to row out in the lake and collect a handful of lotus blossoms for the journey to the border. The water was silver and ringed by shacks covered with rusted tin, and i sat on the dock with a cup of coffee watching the boat move slowly through the floating vegetation under the rising sun. My eyes were puffy from another sleepless night apologizing to Ali, apologizing to myself, and wondering when the day will come when all the apologies will come to an end. Until then i'll have to keep wearing dark glasses to conceal whatever traces are left behind from the decision to pack up and leave once again.
The dock rocked as the boys climbed out of the boat with the blossoms, all pink and white and delicate framing their smiles from below. I tipped them a dollar and went to collect my bag for the bus.
The border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam is revealing: the Cambodian station being an architectural feat in itself modeled partly from Angkor and partly from slightly more contemporary (the past 500 years) Khmer architecture. It's a synthesis of Angkor Wat and the Royal Palace in Phnom Pehn, glittering with yellow and red cermamic tiles and dragons. Across the line, the Vietnamese station is a concrete monstrosity more at home in Minsk than a sleepy border in Asia. It looks like a factory. For entry visas.
A plucky Vietnamese lady named Ling was on the bus headed to Saigon and kept warning me about local ladies there. "They say 'love-you love-you', but no love-you, you know? Yeah. Lady-friend want money. Yep. Careful, very careful you must be because... because some people very bad. Yep." I asked if boyfriends were the same, but she didn't really get where i was going with that, so she mentioned she didn't have a boyfriend. I have to say that Ling is one of the most beautiful women i've ever seen and she sparkles in every way, and with that in mind i gave her a lotus blossom. I think (?) she understood that i don't want to be her boyfriend, but the gestures involved in communicating that were so complicated that even i'm not so sure i'm not her boyfriend. Maybe i am, who knows? Anyway, she liked the flower.
As for the lotus blossoms, there's a palace in Saigon that was surrounded by tanks in 1975, and photos of those tanks in front of that particular palace marked the beginning of independence for Vietnam. It was unified, finally and at such a cost that hardly ended with the final days of the war. It continued with re-education camps and interrogations and secret police and persecutions. The flowers were for those people taken away when those tanks rolled past the palace gates... the first people imprisoned in a newly-freed country. I didn't find the palace until after dark when i found it closed, so i chucked the blossoms over the fence and wondered how weird it would look to see someone throwing flowers over fences in the dark. Is that suspicious?
This morning i walked around the city for a bit and ended up at the palace. Someone had taken the flowers away earlier in the morning; i imagined it's like looking for a person only to find him or her taken away, but that's a bit much. In any case, it was symbolic and went well with my cigarette. There's a park (a PARK, you hear me? GREEN! QUIET!) across from the palace that seemed an ideal place to sit and think and read the morning paper. I bought a newspaper from Manila and took a bench under the trees to read and smoke in solitude. No one coming up to me offering me narcotics or a wild time, so one asking 'where you from', no one expecting me to acknowledge them back. There was only one problem and it's a grave one: morning with morning paper with cigarette and NO coffee. Ugh, unforgiveable. So i tucked my paper under my arm and set off for a cafe, excited that i would be able to try Vietnamese coffee for the first time and compare it to the divine beans of Laos and Ethiopia.
I'll include a special note here that Saigon is already a mad place for me. Pure chaos, but a chaos that can be managed or at least enjoyed if you know how to dance. So far this morning i've been offered heroin 4 times, a 'lady' twice, a 'boy' once, and a guided tour of the mekong with complimentary blowjob just about everytime i turn around (i've taken to asking if the overpriced tours include a free blowjob, and the answer is always yes). Just crossing the street is a major adventure that can make your heart stop. Traffic doesn't stop on any of the streets, and as far as Ling is concerned there are 4,000,000 people on motorbikes clogging the streets at rush hours. Four million people to dodge. The trick is just to walk into the street slowly, allowing the motos to see you and move around you... your job is to avoid being hit by the cars which will NOT move for you or even slow down. It's a dance.
So yeah. I set off to find an acceptable cafe. A place with a terrace. And oleander. Maybe a potted hibiscus in the corner with photographs on the walls. I'm anal about cafes, and it gets extreme when the newspaper is involved. I crossed several streets -- expertly, i might add -- with motorbikes zipping around me as i tip-toed around the cars, shaking my hip one way to avoid the side mirror of a taxi and moving a foot ever so slightly out of the path of someone's tires. I take pleasure in it, having become very skilled at such things in Cambodia. I was crossing one street though and out of the corner of my eye i could see a motorbike FLYING down the street to beat the rush of traffic about to cut off her path. I slowed in the middle of the street to allow her space to zoom by, but a truck ran smack into the back of her bike, sending her FLYING smack into ME. Luckily she was a tad fat (and therefore soft), but we were airborne for a few seconds and landed SMACK! on the pavement. I felt sort of crushed, you know, innards i mean... but when i looked up i saw she was holding her head. There wasn't any blood, and as i looked around there were about 20 or 30 Vietnamese crowded around with pieces of her moto scattered all around us. Her shoes flew off her feet. I helped her up and then gathered the shoes while other people picked up parts of her bike. She strapped on her missing parts to the somehow still-functional bike with a cord, slipped her shoes back on and drove out once more into traffic. I was stunned and STILL WITHOUT COFFEE.
I consider that to be my first official traffic accident in Vietnam. The tragedy is that right down the street i found a suitable cafe, but after choosing the perfect chair with perfect lighting and after lighting a fag and getting over the 'wow' of it all, i realized i left my Manila newspaper in the street among the splinters of her plastic fender nobody thought to collect.
The moral of the story is that i should have just bought some heroin earlier in the day and gone back to my room to cook it down. Yep.
(6 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Tuesday, June 19th, 2007|
|From the People of Cambodia
The Foreign Correspondents Club was amazing... the martinis alone could drive me into fits of melodramatic praise, not to mention the presence of actual diplomats at their suave best surrounding us, the diplomatic imposters. Candlelight and violin. Silks. Velvet drapes. It was a different world once you walked through the double doors, one with a pleasant absence of hawkers and traffic noise and a world that's been largely lost to concrete and mass culture. It's soothing to know something like this survives somewhere.
I broke the news yet again that i'm leaving for Vietnam soon and that all this can't go on forever, especially since these goings-on are very VERY recent. I had an entire monologue planned out and intended to deliver it in full without allowing interruptions or questions. About my tendency to abandon everything and run for the nearest border or airport AND my tendency not to say goodbye before doing so AND how i don't really know what i'm chasing... that chasing is an end in itself AND that we need to stop acting like we have an actual relationship AND how he would be better off with someone a tad more dedicated than i am AND how at this point i could really REALLY go for another martini.
The monologue delivered, i hailed the waiter for another martini, a double and dirtier than the last and in the meantime waited for everything i said to sink in. Subliminal message: IT'S OVER. He thought about it for a bit. Looked at the cieling, at the vase of flowers on the table, the cutlery and then stood up from his chair. I thought, 'Ok, i guess he got the point... but maybe that was too pointy. Was i too pointy? Because i needed to be pointy but not too pointy...' It was like an episode of seinfeld raging in my head.
He got up and asked if i wanted to dance. I said something that roughly translates to "Huh?" So we danced and he explained very softly that he doesn't intend to stick around Cambo much longer either, that leaving is something he understands as something essential, and that he's not insulted i'm going without him. At least i'm trying to say goodbye in my own way. I asked where we was going to go... he's talked about Bangkok and Hong Kong and Oran, Algeria where he's from... but nothing definite. "Paris, only Paris." I laughed... what if you get stuck in St-Brieuc?
We talked in hushed tones as we strolled down the riverfront promenade in front of the palace after dinner. About France and the people we know there, about being elite here and nobodies there. In Cambo we're elite, wealthy beyond belief by local standards, university-educated, foreigners but the right kind of foreigners. Is it worth it to give all that up to move to Paris? He asked about the West and i was floored... he's never been and knows it only from the random westerners he meets in Phnom Penh. How could he not know? What DOESN'T he know? What the fuck is going on? 'It's full of strange things and even stranger people,' I said. That's all you need to know.
The river was a wide black slick that caught the moonlight in its ripples and current; it was like a moving nothingness full of invisible living things we'd never know about. The promenade is a swank riverside walkway of brick and tile, lined with ornate lamps, flowerbeds and rows of every flag in the world... there were flags we could not identify and like the fish under the black water, the people of such places remain invisible and unknowable. It made us giggle to think of things like this. We picked flowers from the manicured beds and gave them to each other as gifts 'from the People of Transdniestr' or 'from the People of Kurdistan'. Invisible people with no flag in Phnom Penh for the king of Cambodia to look at from his balcony across the street.
He walked me home and at the gate gave me a crushed yellow flower he'd been hiding in his pocket. It was from the People of Algeria. I gave him a peck on the cheek (such the prude) as a gift from the People of America and went up to my room to bawl and wail the rest of the night.
Today is my last day in Cambodia and I'm a total mess because of it. There's an incredible sweetness in the people here that, let's face it, is surprising given what the country has been through (and still going through). I look back on my time spent here and every day seems like a gift from the People of Cambodia... the days of frustration leading to days of total zen leading to days of horror leading to days of bliss and forgetfulness and remembrance and sorrow and joy. I feel all of them today. Tomorrow there's a bus bound for Saigon and I'm buying flowers for the event.
There's a reason, but that will be revealed soon enough.
(3 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Monday, June 18th, 2007|
There's a town in the south of Cambodia that has to be one of the most charming places in the entire country... an old colonial riverport that even now boasts a quiet grace, quietness and grace being rarities here. Days in Kampot were blissful, slow, uneventful, and most of all -- PEACEFUL.
I met up with a young french couple at an extremely inauthentic but acceptable-nonetheless sri lankan cafe along the Kampot riverfront, and we mellowed over coffee and breakfast curries before planning a lunch excursion to an island out in the gulf of thailand. Within an hour of leaving the cafe we found ourselves on a boat bound for Rabbit Island, a tiny strip of sand and coconut palms within sight of the mainland. The water was a green stretch of sea with mountaintops visible in the distance and formidable curtains of rain obscuring patches of the horizon as it fell; our little wooden boat didn't do so well on the waves but had the advantage of keeping afloat even when entirely filled with water, which didn't take long as wave after wave washed over the sides of the boat. It just slowed us down.
We were soaked by the time we made landfall on Rabbit Island and more than a little worried about how we would return to the mainland docks if the afternoon storms caught us off guard. But we had pineapples and coconuts and ham and baguettes and cheese and several packs of smokes. We had a small package of ganja and plenty of rolling papers. In our hammocks we lazed above the small crashing waves, lowering our feet into the new foam to see who could catch a crab with his toes. We soon forgot all about the boat and for a time we forgot about returning at all, what with the sun illuminating the distant storms and no one around except for a gang of naked toddlers and their grandmother (who was disturbingly capable with a machete, cutting open coconuts like it was some flashback from her days as a pirate). The green water. The breeze and birds. It was a paradise.
That evening back on the mainland we climbed to a hillside restaurant and watched the sun set in red streaks over the gulf and its islands and mountains, sipping wine before having an IMMACULATE fish dinner that really knocked the shit out of my usual diet of sticky rice and crickets. It was nice to lose myself in laughter in such good company, though it was alarming that i haven't done that in such a long time... making the next few days spent with the frenchies precious and bittersweet. It's not often you meet people you can relate to and lose yourself with... sometimes it's not often you meet people at all.
The next morning we went out to an abandoned colonial getaway that in its day must have been something like monte carlo. The road there is probably the worst road i've ever traveled on... i have bruises on my arms and back from being thrown about the back of the truck when we'd hit a pot hole at full speed. Still, the road led us through a jungle-scape with immense palms and soaring trees straight out of the jurassic while monkeys and brightly-colored birds darted in the road ahead of us. The jungle opened after several excruciating hours of bumps and crumbling villas could be seen clinging to the escarpment overlooking the sea. The old casino looks more like a palace that would have had lavish soirees than a place filled with cards ands roulette, whereas the old church... what remains of it... is covered in australian and danish grafitti. It was obviously a place for the elite, and in light of everything i've seen in cambodia it's a haunting place where the chipped scrollwork and shattered windows reveals a world of excess long before Year Zero and its years of scarcity.
The frenchies left for phnom penh a day before i did, and now that i'm back in the capital i can't seem to find them. I feel alone. I've been running around the city all day in an absolute FRENZY as i made last minute preparations for vietnam. I woke up in Kampot this morning and freaked: my cambo visa expires in 2 days and i have NO visa for vietnam, meaning i may well end up in bangkok instead (which is splendid anyway), NO idea about how i'm getting to the border, and i haven't heard from jackie in saigon in FOREVER. My theory is that, fabulous as she is, she most likely had yet another motorcycle accident and with that in mind i jumped on the back of a moto... backpack and all... and headed straight for the vietnamese embassy the minute i arrived back in phnom penh.
I'll get my visa in time unless they find something interesting in my passport or background (oh, nervous chuckles) and it looks like i'll make it after all. Today i ran around town tying up loose ends, went shopping, and made a dinner date with algiers in the process of explaining as rapidly as i could that i'm leaving and he shouldn't settle for a person with issues anyway.
We're going to the Foreign Correspondents Club for drinks after... to relive the bygone glory days when diplomats were suave and journalists were skilled. We're going as diplomats (hence the shopping)... representatives of our respective colonies. It's like halloween only it never ends.
This keyboard is electrocuting me.
I'm fucking serious. I have to go.
(9 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Tuesday, June 12th, 2007|
|Eloquent People Are Fucking Hot
Well even though last night was semi-disasterous, i still managed to have something of a good time. I went home and remade myself into a gorgeously male frenchman (we decided to go as frenchmen)... which involved actually shaving and wearing clean clothes, having a fresh alain delon dangling from my lips and that certain swagger from the hip that lets 'em know you've got some potent shit in that flask. Algiers met me at the gates of the cinema, but we were stopped at the top of the stairs... the guard dog explained in precise, thorough and IMPECCABLE language (i really dig these accents and what-not) that since i wasn't a member of the organization that ran the cinema (in this case, the french center) that i had no chance of entering.
'Can i buy a ticket... a card... anything?'
Maryse will remember that when i tried to go and see her in montparnasse, the clerk at the front desk also used the term 'impossible' when forbidding me to go anywhere near the elevator.
The guard dog then launched into a ridiculously lengthy monologue of exactly why it was impossible and began apologizing for any misfortune arising from my being stupid enough to think i could enter without someone's permission (i read in between the lines a bit). He was actually very nice about it considering he could have just told me to fuck off... and he did tell me to fuck off, just in a very eloquent and disarming way. I like that.
So anyway, algiers and i went out for dinner and then coffee and then drinks. I think i feel threatened by him in some way... he's younger than i am, and this is the first time i've ever been with someone younger. He's young, but not incompetent or too idealistic as far as i can tell, and at this point i really can't tell... but i like his languages, i like how he expresses himself, i like his perspective on himself and even me and i like that he's a person of many perspectives, none of them conventional or predictable.
I'm going to the beach in an hour to breathe, think things over. Do i belong in Phnom Penh? Do i belong in Cambodia at all? I'll sit on the beach, think about it for a couple of days and arrive at nothing... i'll be in Saigon in a week and that's where pieces will start falling. That's where decisions will be made with either a cloudy mind or a clear one... but right now things are getting cloudier by the minute.
(2 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Kinky Bathroom Scene and Impending Naga Saga
I was supposed to spend the past few days at a beach not too far from here, but of course something came up to prevent any chance of seaside margaritas and fried crickets... a cut on my leg became quickly and severely infected -- within a matter of hours -- and had me worrying about tetanus for days. I had pains in my calf that got worse and worse, eventually making it so difficult to walk that i had to drag myself across the floor to the bathroom by skidding over the tiles on a cloth doormat. I took a tuk-tuk to the nearest pharmacy yesterday morning after deciding that i couldn't pretend it was just going to go away 'eventually' like i usually do. The driver pratically parked the whole damn tuk-tuk IN the pharmacy since i couldn't walk. How nice of him. Anyway, i was there for hydrogen peroxide and industrial strength bandages, telling the pharmacist what was needed from the comfort of my now-indoor tuk-tuk bench. I rolled out with a bottle of iodine thinking the pharmacist was the cruellest sonofabitch on the planet. I had the driver stop by a liquor store on the way back and i returned home with a beautifully large bottle of mister walker and a horribly potent bottle of iodine.
I had it all worked out: crawl up the stairs, have a nice one-to-one with walker, and then go in the bathroom with a rag in my mouth to muffle the screams. If it got too bad, i reasoned, i could stick my foot under the faucet or in the toilet to rinse off the iodine. Everything proceeded as planned and all the precautions usually taken for 19th century amputations were observed... swig from the bottle, puff from the cigarette, swig from the bottle, puff from the cigarette... repeat until cigarette is finished.
I wish i had a picture of me in the bathroom in the aftermath of all this... me on the floor with a half empty bottle of walker and a small bottle of iodine at my side, rag stuffed in my mouth, trying to find a way to flush the toilet quickly in case i needed a rush of water on the lower leg. I tensed up and applied the iodine, immediately flushing the toilet out of reflex... but nothing happened. I thought, 'am i too shitfaced to feel anything?' Maybe. I put more iodine on the wound, enough so that it ran down my leg in a wet coppery line. Nothing. No screams, no pain, no neighbors thinking there's a murder in progress down at jamison's place. I could vaguely read on the bottle that what i had wasn't pure iodine... it was specially formulated not to make people scream. I almost cried. I'm SUCH a pussy.
So today, to pamper myself in light of all the psychological trauma of yesterday's bathroom scene, i decided i'd spend all day lurking around the palace. The iodine-whatever works quite well and i can walk again... it looks like i just turned 5 tricks in a row when i walk, but hey i'm not complaining. The palace is a magnificent place, in one of the few quiet areas of phnom penh surrounded by tall trees (shade!) and surrounded by endless ornamental gardens manicured to perfection, it's where you can chill out next to a solid gold life-size buddha and stare at thousands upon thousands of diamonds glittering from every corner... floors made of pure silver... gems shafted into every available bit of wallspace. Like versailles on crack. Anyway, en route to the palace i stumbled upon the french cultural center. It's a big leafy AIR-CONDITIONED compound and every inch of the place just screams, 'ARTFAGS WELCOME-ARTFAGS WELCOME-ARTFAGS WELCOME.' So i went in.
There were black and white photographs taken from trains in cambodia... i've seen the same things in color with my own eyes, but it looks so foreign in black and white. Anyway, to avoid going on and on about the orgasmic qualities of black and white, i'll just say they were amazing photos. Walls of em. The couch was an artistic creation of bamboo shaped to form a naga... divine serpent, guardian of heaven in khmer folklore. The library was stocked with malreaux and verlaine and artbooks of all persuasions. I sat on the naga (which i am SO stealing when i get a place of my own) and began to read a magazine on how fabulous it would have been if segolene had won the presidency. I agree only because she's hot. Anyway, as i'm reading two young men joined me on the naga and we began to chat a bit. Both are uni students who spend their free time at the center, one from algeria and the other from senegal. Their accents are amusing... the guy from senegal has very hard T's and unusually drawn-out O's and Ou's while the algerian has very hissy H's. Dunno what the deal is with mr dakar, but algiers has an arabic accent and it's fucking SEXY.
Algiers and i made a date for tonight coming straight outta the 8th grade... we're going to see a movie. Something german apparently... i forget the title.
I walked out of the french center in a daze and paused to light a cigarette on the sidewalk while moto and tuk-tuk drivers offered me rides one after the other, as motorcycles sped by and schoolgirls in pressed white blouses and navy blue dresses giggled and as dust coated my from head to foot once again. The flame touched the end of the cig and i thought, 'wait, did that just happen?' That just by chance and sitting on a mythical creature of a couch that i just bumped into a guy who can quote rimbaud (my fav) and actually understands what i mean when i ask how he feels being in the 'colonies?' Who knows which empire i'm referring to when i say The Empire? Like it's still there?
I walked down the street and straight past the palace... i'll go some other time, because today i've got all the grandeur i need. I'm charmed.
(8 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Saturday, June 9th, 2007|
|Year Zero -- A Glimpse
Sorry for the multitude of photos, but like hell i'm using a cut for this.
I've read books on the Khmer Rouge before... about Pol Pot and the destruction of a country once upon a time and not very long ago. About mass starvation, mass murder, institutional paranoia, institutional anomy. The elimination of culture.
It was Year Zero and everyone had to go. Madness.
Today all the nightmares in those books came alive as i wandered the corridors of S-21, Pol Pot's secret prison for political dissidents back in the 70s. In the four years the Khmer Rouge was in power 20,000 people passed through S-21... in the process they were interrogated, tortured, and made to confess to crimes against a regime that needed enemies more than anything else.
Only seven people walked out of S-21 alive.
Even the guards that worked at the prison, some of them responsible for carrying out torture, weren't safe and ended up being betrayed and imprisoned/tortured themselves. It's a mini-auschwitz but infinitely more chilling than auschwitz could ever be. An estimated 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 Cambodians, roughly a third of the population, disappeared under Pol Pot in just 4 years.
Before the Khmer Rouge came to power, the building that housed S-21 was actually a school... the courtyard is spacious and shaded by coconut, banana and frangipani. The floors are tiled in cheerful yellow and white patterns... and i think that became one of the most powerful things about the place. The floors were always the same, whether it was under a rusty metal bedframe with chains, or near a wall with a row of manacles, maybe near a barred window cobwebbed with barbed wire, or under a row of mugshots of the prisoners before they were tortured or executed. And those mugshots...
fucking hell... as a secret prison they couldn't have possibly known what was going to be done to them there yet in some of the faces seem horrified. It's like they knew they weren't going to live. Some faces are defiant, some ambivalent and some even cheerful... old young man woman... the only thing they share is that they were all killed.
There's a place about 15 km out of town that served as the main execution center for people coming from S-21 and elsewhere... when the moto drivers offer to take you to a place called the 'killing fields,' this is the place they have in mind. They've excavated many of the graves... i'm not sure how many thousands of corpses they found, but if the shelves of skulls are any indication, i'd say they've been busy little people. The excavated graves are just open pits quite close together with little dirt paths linking them together. Old pieces of fabric litter the ground half-buried like little flags in the dirt. Human teeth are common finds when strolling and there's a jar where you can deposit any remains you come across while visiting. Looking at the shreds of fabric littering the paths i realized i wasn't just walking on torn pieces of shirts and scarves... there were bits of bone stamped into the pathway. Ribs. Femurs. Pieces of skull.
(7 lesbian assassins | kill the queen?)
|Thursday, June 7th, 2007|
|Exhaust Fumes, Rotten Fruit, Mass Murder... but is it a home?
Never-ending expanses of rice paddies dotted with the odd coconut palm eventually gave way to row upon row of small wooden shacks sporting signs like "Cambodian People's Party" and "Angkor Beer." The curved roof struts of several wats could be seen popping up in the distance and gave the impression that every roof in town was made of snakes and dragons... the trash alongside the road got deeper and deeper and the crowds denser and more frantic the further we went. Traffic came to a standstill and i looked out of the bus window to see a solid line of immobile cars running the length of the main boulevard while moto drivers jammed their bikes into every available niche between the larger vehicles. Eventually even they had to stop. With the traffic frozen, i noticed the pedestrians. We were near a market and people pushed through the narrow lanes separating the fruit stalls with giant bags full of clothes or tires or pineapples; other ladies walked around hawking fried grasshoppers laid out in a platter balanced on their heads. I laid back in my seat and thought, "Motherfucking SHIT! I have to walk through THIS with a pack on my back?!"
In my paper journal i described the journey as entering a living being, meeting its parasites and pustules along the way.
I stepped off the bus and into Phnom Penh. It smelled like exhaust fumes and rotten fruit. It's a place i've heard so much about from people bumming around SE Asia, and its name has taken on a near-mythical ring over the past month. Stories of depravity, muggings, sex slavery, poverty... but upside perks like ganja being a common pizza topping and being able to actually strike up conversations on the street (english and other languages are more common here than elsewhere) tended to be standard raves. Phnom Penh has a pulse to it that not many other places have and just walking down a street reveals so many things about modern cambodia... monks in orange robes walking past a row of $5 brothels, a gun stall in a sidewalk food market, tuk-tuk drivers offering to take you to a place called the killing fields for "cheap-cheap". I'll run with congogirl and describe it as 'fascinating'... see previous post comments for details. It's chaotic, dirty, dusty, noisy, trashy, slutty, depraved and desperate. Goddammit, it feels like home!
Some streets remind me of Bombay.
Turn the corner and you'll find Bangkok.
Take a left and you'll be in Madras.
Go straight and there's Bucharest.
Turn around and take in a bit of Khartoum.
A brilliant place, fucking brilliant place! Thinking it was a saturday night however, last night i hired a moto to take me to the riverfront (at last reunited with my missing mekong)... i had plans to spend my weekend in the bars seeing what kinds of people show up and to keep myself in a lovely haze for a couple of days. What kinds of people live here? I've seen francophone africans... no idea exactly where they're from, i've seen geriatric germans i believe to be on an epic whoring expedition, and then there was the italian troll daddy i met last night who may have forever killed my idea that having a sugar daddy would be a good thing. In other words my so-far Phnom Penh expat scene is populated with suave people, slutty people, and repulsive people. Standard. In any case, i honestly can't wait until the weekend so the j-walker-fest officially begins tonight and will probably continue with minor interruptions for the next several days. Tomorrow i delve into traces of genocide.
I'm going to need a drink for a long time.
(kill the queen?)