Berlin. New York City's Younger, Cooler, More Bad Ass Cousin. I can't wait for you two to meet.

Location:  Berlin, Germany.  July 21st - 28th 

There is something really fucking cool happening in Berlin.  Over the past few days I've stayed at three hotels in two different neighborhoods and walked through even more than that.  Something happened to me in this city... I was... gasp.. interested.  

I was intrigued by the people, the style, where I would live if I moved here and what I would be doing.   You can feel the creative energy of this place walking down streets at night, keeping in time with the street performers.

If New York is savvy, employed, wealthy and quasi refined.... Berlin is a younger, hipper, broke as hell (seriously the city is in crazy debt), more free thinking, artistic and all around awesome sidekick.  A New Yorker dreams of making it.  A Berliner dreams of making something.  Copyright that.

Deep thoughts and durable seats. 

Deep thoughts and durable seats. 

We've all heard it - that in the last decade New York has gotten so expensive that the artists are literally leaving the city.  Art can't flourish because artists can't afford to live there.  I mean, that is some sad news.  Even Brooklyn boasts some of the city's most expensive zip codes now.  It's the G word - gentrification.  And sure, I'm a part of it.  But all that, my residence included, that hasn't happened to Berlin's art, club kid anything goes scene yet.  Sure, it might (I did start looking up jobs here).  There are, after all, neighborhoods that you would not have stepped in 10 years ago that today look like Chicago's shopping stretch on Armitage.  But, so much of the city is a stark and beautiful contrast to that.  And it is awesome.

Berlin's TV Tower.  Built by the GDR - German Democratic Republic - aka the Soviets.  You can rotate in a restaurant there now.

Berlin's TV Tower.  Built by the GDR - German Democratic Republic - aka the Soviets.  You can rotate in a restaurant there now.

Friedrichshain

My first neighborhood experience was called Friedrichshain in East Berlin.  Think of it as a Brooklyn's Brooklyn.  The East Village in 2000.  When you get off the U Bahn train at Warschauer, you are outside and have to walk up a few flights of stairs.  You walk over broken beer bottles and are surrounded by hair the color of every shade of the rainbow and a lot of people wearing whatever they damn well please and quite frankly, a lot of tights under shorts with combat boots.  

Finally on street level, you can swing a left and walk to a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall which, now known last the East Side Gallery, is a famous canvas for its art and the statements featured within.  Or, you can swing a right and walk past an amazing outdoor music venue / gallery / beer garden / street art mecca called Urban Spree which will lead you on your way to Boxhagener Platz, a place that feels like Tompkins Square Park and is lined with tattoo shops, stores and cafes.  

Image on the Berln Wall, at the East Side Gallery

Image on the Berln Wall, at the East Side Gallery

Cafes of Friedrichshain

Cafes of Friedrichshain

Who wouldn't want to live here?  Locals say that a room in a shared apartment will run you $300 a month.  An a place for you and you alone... $600.  Do the math.  You pay what percentage more a month?

Who wouldn't want to live here?  Locals say that a room in a shared apartment will run you $300 a month.  An a place for you and you alone... $600.  Do the math.  You pay what percentage more a month?

When you are walking around this neighborhood even if it is 11AM but especially if it is 5PM, the entire population appears to be holding a large bottle of beer and is walking or hanging out on the street.  

Urban Spree

Urban Spree

Berlin, being a cyclist's dream, means that girls with round, ironic sunglasses, purple hair and wearing blue tutus will bike by you (holding a beer) only then to stop and flop down on the sidewalk to listen to a street musicians.  In this neighborhood, Friedrichshain, one has limitless musical options it seems.  Rockers, strummers, beatboxers, rappers and DJs abound along Warschauer Street, which hovers over train tracks and links the two train stations, the S Bahn and the U Bahn.

Over the few days I was staying in that neighborhood, I was treated to:

1.  A man playing a modified didgeridoo.  He explained that his friend, a physicist, thought that the shape of a sax would work better.  He somehow then rapped via a messed with didgeridoo.  People went crazy.  Shirts came off to boogie better.

A rapper with a didgerisax

A rapper with a didgerisax

2.  A guy was layering beats via what looked like Abe Lincoln's coal stove.  It was a wood box and it looked to have a chimney.  He was playing the electric drums and even a trumpet.  Then someone who sounded like Sia hopped on the mic and began to sing.  It was phenomenal.

3.  A band covered the Bee Gees in an emo sort of way.  It worked.  But, they had no chairs or stands for their instruments so both the guy who was playing the keys and the dude with the snare drum had to sit on the ground.  #problems

I've never actually seen such a free reaction to music.  Whether wiggling or krumping, people just went with it.  Drug enhanced moves?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  In any event it was very awesome and to me, very uniquely Berlin.  

Time. To. Dance.  Glitter girls are all over East Berlin.

Time. To. Dance.  Glitter girls are all over East Berlin.

Leave The Louboutins At Home

Berlin is a different kind of fashion statement.  You'll see more people wearing a coat with tails with a pair of high top black-on-black chucks than you will see rocking a label.   And I love a good label.  I'll confidently choose the Chanel ballet flats, if able.  But honestly, you don't want those on your feet here.  In large, that is part of what makes this city so interesting.  What ARE people wearing is a question that you actually want to answer every day.  And, the answer is  phenomenally different than anything you are seeing in your supposedly "artfully curated" Instagram feed.

Case in point?  I'm sitting in the club room at the Soho House in Berlin.  A girl with purple and bleach blonde hair is rocking shiny pleather leggings, turquoise metallic boots, an asymmetrical gray sweater and black leather vest with thick ribbing on the shoulders.  Her hands have roses tattooed on them.   #boom.  I have a peach scarf on, leggings that (thank god) I packed and a denim top.  #minusboom.  See where I'm going with this?  Sometimes we think a certain kind of valuable sense of style comes from 5th Avenue.  Berlin is here to flip you a dispassionate middle finger for ever entertaining such dribble.

 Why Currywurst is not the worst, after all.

I love a good food tour in a foreign city.  What better way to introduce yourself to the culture you have more than likely just flown into?  On the beer and currywurst tour I learned a few things.  First, your wurst can come with skin or without.  Without means that a light egg coating surrounds it, a function of during the war when using any sort of casing was out of the question due to the supplies available.  Second, this is just a sausage in an awesome curry-esque sauce but tasting much more savory and worchestshire inspired than you favorite thai food.  Get some fries and dip them into mayonnaise while you eat this, and you'll be spot on.

IMG_6248.jpg

The gist of staying in the Mitte

The Mitte (mit-ah) is likely the area you would opt to stay in if you read a guide book.  And, if you do this, you are going to be able to run out and buy a t-shirt at Urban Outfitters if you need one.  But you can do that now.  So, what is the draw?  Sure, you can probably very quickly and easily get to some of the main sights of Berlin given Mitte's central location.  But, you can get anywhere in Berlin quickly and easily via the train and Berlin boasts some fascinating neighborhoods.  Friedrichshain,  Prenzlauberg.  Kreuzberg.  Neukolin.   

So, stay here or don't.  If you do?  For the love of god don't pick something sterile or worse, stupid. I did this for one night, at a hotel I had heard interesting design notes about and I grumbled my way through the entire experience, judging the other patrons- slash-old nerds.  Stay at the Soho House where the tourists aren't and where the hot Berliner working a top hat and pocket watch is.  And, as far as Friedrichshain is concerned, you want to be at the Michelberger.  Period.  

Brandenburg Gate.  Located in West Germany near the wall, it was an area for celebration when the wall came down in 1989.

Brandenburg Gate.  Located in West Germany near the wall, it was an area for celebration when the wall came down in 1989.

Jewish Memorial

Jewish Memorial

Let's call this a hipster's alternative Soho House.  Get here.  Michelberger Hotel.  Live music every night and jamming courtyard.

Let's call this a hipster's alternative Soho House.  Get here.  Michelberger Hotel.  Live music every night and jamming courtyard.

And last, a nod to history

I have no idea how much anyone really knows about the Cold War if they are my age and don't really remember their 90s history classes all that well.  I had some assumptions about its general temperature.  Coming here and learning more about the wall, the divide of East and West Berlin not to mention East and West Germany was amazing.  Again, it was a place where I found myself actually involved.  What is also interesting is how we've painted a picture of what it must have been like to live in the USSR in our minds.  Horrible, right?  Not necessarily.  When the wall came down, a lot of people had their happy lives ripped apart.  East Berlin commerce was essentially ruined, in favor for the West.  Some folks say that they would gladly go back to when life was more divided - speaking only in terms of wealth and the stability they felt then versus now.  

Interested?  I hope so.  I'd live here in a hot New York minute.  Faster than you can say pass the schnitzel.  

Yeah Berlin, you are.  Better than okay, I'd say.

Yeah Berlin, you are.  Better than okay, I'd say.




Why All You Turkeys Should Get To Turkey. Now.

Turkey:  July 3rd - July 12th, Bodrum, Turkbuku and Istanbul

Current Location:  Florence, Italy, July 12th - July 22nd

Turkey was, by far, one of my most favorite places that I have been while on my travels.  It could be because my wonderful friend Lindsay and I met up there after weeks on weeks of solo travel.  Or, it could be simply because Turkey is awesome.

Turkey is a place that has a similar flavor to a mash up of New York, Paris and Athens.  There are streets that look like Soho, buildings in Beyoglu that could transport you to St. Germain and then you are surrounded by amazing architecture and cultural landmarks, just like the Acropolis seems to sneak up on you in Greece.

What my friends and I often like to do is plan vacations that are "half and half."  Half culture - where you see something and learn something. But also, half veg time at the beach where you feel glam while napping, sipping and reading.   Turkey lets you do all of these things and do them beautifully.  What is especially cool is that Turkey also feels about 8 minutes from every New Yorker's radar, so act fast friends.  This is not yet the Amalfi coast (although it bears a resemblance) where you could remove a strappy sandal, throw it and hit 12 couples named Matt and Jen who live in Midtown.  Inspired yet?  Chop Chop.

Here are a hot list of Turkey highlights...

1)  The great blue is beautiful.  I say great blue because Bodrum is located where the Agean meets the Mediterranean Sea.  It is picturesque and the water is clear and crisp.  Bodrum what, you ask?  The Bodrum Peninsula.  How do you get to here if you want to go to there?  Fly into Istanbul (9 hours from NYC) and then connect on a 1 hour flight to Bodrum.  Poof, you are transported into a sea of white houses, dry mountains and blue Agean - slash - Mediterranean water.

Bodrum

Bodrum

2)  You can day trip into Greece.  Yes, this might not be the best time to venture to Greece.  In fact, many people we heard are coming to the Bodrum Peninsula instead of Greece because of the light similarities in look, feel and food.  But, if you desire you can hop a 20 minute ferry and go to Kos.  Or, you can go to Rhodes although I'm not sure what is happening there.  If you do venture to Greece no one (obviously) is taking your plastic card from Visa.  So, bring cash (which is another deterrent for some visitors).  I hear however that there is a peacock zoo in Kos.  How thrilling.

3)  The best hotel I've been to is here.  Turkbuku, on the Bodrum peninsula - but outside of Bodrum town is fabulous.  Fabulous!  People are writing that it is akin to Saint Tropez.  I don't know if I would go that far but if Koh Tao in Thailand felt like a twenty-something's playground, with a strip of restaurants and bars bordering a beach of fire dancers and $5 whiskey in a bucket, then this is a playground for the older set.  This playground involves a main drag along the Agean lined with sophisticated eateries and bars - think white couches with chandeliers on a jetty over the water next to a more homey option with blue checkered table clothes and low lighting.  Turkish wine flows, as does Raki (the mean brother of Uzo and honestly, Sambuca).     

Tired of cherries being so expensive?  Go to Turkey.  And, they're served on ice.

Tired of cherries being so expensive?  Go to Turkey.  And, they're served on ice.

There are all sorts of places to stay in Turkbuku but we went for it and booked a few nights at the very lovely and very well designed Macakizi.  (Match-a-kee-zee)  Trust, you want to be here. A reviewer once called it "enthusiastically expensive".   It might have been the remote controlled black out shades, the loungers perched on top of the sea or the stunning views.  It is really hard to say because every aspect is wonderful.  I'll draw comparisons for this hotel to The Blue Palace in Crete and the Santa Catarina in Amalfi.  Go now.  You'll love it. 

The Macakizi.  See the fire pit over the water?  See it?

The Macakizi.  See the fire pit over the water?  See it?

4)  Istanbul is incredible.  Old city and new are colliding in the most fantastical of ways.  The call to prayer fills the streets and the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are some of the most stunning architectural structures I've ever had the privilege to see.  (Note, these were built in the 6th century and are not piles of rocks, unlike what Siem Reap is boasting, built in the 9th century.  #justsaying)  Yet, you can hop on the tram that connects the city and feel far from these ancient sites but be in Beyoglu, an area that feels Soho-like with stellar rooftops and beautiful cocktails.  You can even stay at the two month old Soho House.  Bring your highest heel for that jaunt.

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Inside the Hagia Sophia

I call this our response to seeing a girl answer her phone in the Blue Mosque while it was still attached to the extended selfie stick.

I call this our response to seeing a girl answer her phone in the Blue Mosque while it was still attached to the extended selfie stick.

Windblown in front of the pretty in pink Hagia Sophia

Windblown in front of the pretty in pink Hagia Sophia

5)  The Grand Bazaar.  I.  Can't.  Say.  Enough.  This place is massive (over 5,000 shops) and was a hub for goods and trading since the late 1400s.  It is the (or one of the) world's largest shopping areas.  Now, taking this beast on alone can be a lot.  People are calling out to you and you see a wide array of the good along with the bad.  How are you to know, though, what is actually good?  Cue Istanbulite.com.  If you go, you need to call Eda - a wonderful, chill and fun Istanbulite who can be either your guide for the day or your Istanbul concierge.  

What's at the Bazaar, you ask?  Well!  Textiles like fabric for pillows, turkish towels, bathrobes, rugs both traditional and modern, pottery, faux luxury goods made of impeccable quality, jewelry, art, leather and fur (shhhh, this leather/fur designer is also who Balmain and Max Mara turn to each season but once that label is sewn in, zeros are added onto the price).  The Grand Bazaar was a journey I thought was going to take 2 hours.  It took seven.  It rocked.  Can't say enough about it and for Eda's guidance.  You will actually feel like an insider and beat the crowds.  

While discussing various kilim rugs, we sipped Turkish coffee then, when we got to the grounds we flipped the cup over and the shopkeeper read our fortunes from the groups.  They were... interesting.  Here's hoping they come true.

While discussing various kilim rugs, we sipped Turkish coffee then, when we got to the grounds we flipped the cup over and the shopkeeper read our fortunes from the groups.  They were... interesting.  Here's hoping they come true.

This!  This lovely item is intended for you to put your arm through it and then serve wine to your guests, over your shoulder.  

This!  This lovely item is intended for you to put your arm through it and then serve wine to your guests, over your shoulder.  

6)  Food.  Something I love to do in new places where I am unfamiliar with the culture is go on food tours.  It is a way for me to understand the city, language and what to order next time I am out to eat.  

Lamb intestine.  Apparently when served on bread this is the heading home from the club late night snack of choice. 

Lamb intestine.  Apparently when served on bread this is the heading home from the club late night snack of choice. 

This.  This was more challenging than the lamb intestine and is what everyone drinks.  It is like a salty liquid greek yogurt.  It is referred to as a milk drink. 

This.  This was more challenging than the lamb intestine and is what everyone drinks.  It is like a salty liquid greek yogurt.  It is referred to as a milk drink. 

Lindsay and I did a food tour in Istanbul which took us on a ferry over to the Asian side of the city (As half is in Europe, half in Asia and unlike some brassy tourist who said "she has been to Asia and doesn't need to go" please know it feels like the same city.  Not China.  Some people, I can't)  The tour was marvelous.  Cheese, olives, stuffed grape leaves, kabobs, hummus, eggplant dip, grilled fish and lamb on lamb.  All phenomenal.

7)  Street Mussels.  The best thing by far we ate nearly everywhere were Turkey's trusty street mussels.  Lindsay had magical memories about them from the last time she was here and they lived up to the dream.  And, sure, you might be nervous to eat fish from the side of the road.  But, go with it!  When made, the mussels are raw, stuffed with seasoned rice and then steamed.  They are drizzled with lemon and served up street side.  Costing roughly .40 a piece, you and a large gaggle of people will be standing around the mussel man, ordering one after another an loving life.

8)  The Friendliest people.  It is always jarring coming from New York when strangers are friendly and want to help you.  Help you!  What?  But, that is what is happening in this country.  Helpful, hospitable and happy.  When we left one hotel a member of the housekeeping staff came into our room and shook our hands to wish us well.  Water was even thrown after our taxi for good luck in hopes we would one day return.  I'd like to see you try this on the streets of lower Manhattan.  You'd get some choice words and probably the middle finger.  

Lindsay and I stumbled upon a jam night at this bar, Arsen Lupen.  Musicians were invited up and everyone just rocked out until someone announced that musicians would rotate.  What band, even a makeshift one lets a shoeless and very drunk ham sit on the stage and wiggle?  Friendly Turkish bands in bars, that is who. 

Lindsay and I stumbled upon a jam night at this bar, Arsen Lupen.  Musicians were invited up and everyone just rocked out until someone announced that musicians would rotate.  What band, even a makeshift one lets a shoeless and very drunk ham sit on the stage and wiggle?  Friendly Turkish bands in bars, that is who. 

And, that is it!  Turkey is a place that I would in an instant hop on a plane and return to.  We had big dreams for about 24 hours about going to Cappadocia so that we could ride in a hot air balloon and take in the vista, but that was not to be this trip.  Also, there were a lot of conversations regarding hitting the hamam.  But, that too was put on the back burner for a slew of reasons.

Next time.  Life is long  And I can't wait to see what else phenomenal Turkey has to offer.

More pics on the Turkey images tab.

 

Where My Blonde Ladies At?

Location:  Florence, Italy, July 12th - Present

So, when I am done with this I am going to start a very belated Turkey post!  As this has pretty much zero to do with my travels yet 100% to do with my everyday life.  

Blondies, this one is for you.

So, I'm not a big product endorser beyond the obvious miracle workers... the Tide-To-Go stick, the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, the YSL concealer pen.  But there is a product which is seriously saving my ass.

See, I'm a blonde haired lady.  For me, blonder is better.  I tried once to be a brunette and it was a very awkward six months.  But I, like many of you, need to regularly tend to my hair.  The eight week alarm goes off and I immediately feel that I look like the newest character on Orange Is The New Black and then I send some sort of note of desperation, usually claiming that I look homeless, to Katja, my hair stylist, savior and friend, in order to set up an appointment.  I like my hair to be on-point, as do most of you.   So... the idea of  letting it grow out?  Are you crazy?  Inconceivable.  Not on this watch.

But... I'm at 14 weeks of traveling.  I saw Katja the day prior I left for this charade.  I've looked up ways to get my hair done while I was in South East Asia and I've actually stopped blondes I've met or seen on the street.  And when I ask about their hair and getting it done in whatever Asian country I was in they grew very quiet, very wide-eyed and just shook their head.  The universal answer was NO, that under no circumstances was I to let anyone in Thailand or elsewhere touch my hair.  First, no one is blonde there.  Second, if they are, the texture and treatment of Asian hair vs. western is very different.  Try googling this.  Lots of horror stories.  Therefore, needless to say, I've listened to the wise (and frankly, very scary) strangers I've talked to and my roots aren't exactly the hue I would like them to be.

But.  Get ready for it, blondes.  There.  Is.  Blonde. Tinted.  Dry.  Shampoo.   You knew there was brunette dry shampoo, maybe.  But blonde?  And blonde that looks okay?  I am here to share the good word.  

This is a gift from Jesus.  He literally is in a lab coat up in heaven with his assistant Mary mixing some blonde concoction that now I can spray on my sad roots.  And guess what?   I can now SPRITZ my hair nearly back to the proper shade of blonde.  This is the most amazing thing of all time.  And, it's good for all blondes, it seems.  Spray a lot or a little depending on your hair color.  Is it as good as the real thing?  Of course not.  This powder is not bleach on a brush.  Yet, is it better than nothing?  For the love yes.  This is something I am very reliant on right now but I will gladly be reaching for it to keep feeling bright in between appointments.  

So, that's it.  My blonde babes, get thyself onto Amazon.  Batiste Light + Blonde Dry Shampoo.  Link below.  

Go with the blonde Batiste gods and may good hair be with you.

http://www.amazon.com/Batiste-Shampoo-Light-Blonde-Fluid/dp/B005D0WXPC  

Out of the Blue, It Would Appear That South East Asia Is Having A Real Big Summer.

You know that saying ... "wherever you go, there you are?"

Well, I would like to amend that.   It should be "wherever you go, there you are and also, there is Pepsi."

Two things have a stronghold on SEA culture and branding like I have never seen.  The first is 7 Eleven. Here, a 7 Eleven is a grocery store, liquor store, restaurant, landmark and local hang out.   They are everywhere.  Whoever brought 7 Eleven to Thailand and all of South East Asia is a very, very rich person.  

The second thing that has a tight grip on marketing and general brand presence is Pepsi.

This is humorous to me because in total, I - and so very many of my former work colleagues - have spent years of my life thinking about this brand.  I've thought about market penetration, building consumer affinity, consumer messaging and incentives, loyalty programs, the tone and beat of music used in brand advertisement, celebrity talent filters, brand filters, the exact PMS colors for the the red, white and Pepsi blue used in the brand marks, how someone holds a can as to not cover the text (three fingers vs two) and, I've even thought about the noise the can makes when you open it.

So, as I left the USA, pushing thoughts of work - past, present and future out of my mind - you can imagine my surprise when everywhere I went, there Pepsi was.  I couldn't believe it.  I wanted to yell out to people holding a Pepsi.  "Are you living for now?"  "How's your summer going?  Is it real?  Is it big?"

I laughed with every new street corner that was branded Pepsi because it. is. everywhere.  You couldn't have more brand visibility if you tried.  Big glossy ad placements abound but so does signage in smaller, rural locations.  So, below are a few of the highlights, proving that everywhere I've been (literally everywhere) every single person, village, and hillside stand seems to be, out of the blue, living for now and having a real big summer.  

It began simply enough, with product for sale... everywhere.

It began simply enough, with product for sale... everywhere.

But then entire restaurants were decorated in banners, using them as wall hangings and table cloths.

But then entire restaurants were decorated in banners, using them as wall hangings and table cloths.

When I went to the tunnels of Cu Chi outside of Ho Chi Minh there was a gift shop.  This was for sale.

When I went to the tunnels of Cu Chi outside of Ho Chi Minh there was a gift shop.  This was for sale.

I was looking down, reading and waiting for the BTS (elevated train) in Bangkok and then when the train arrived... I looked up.

I was looking down, reading and waiting for the BTS (elevated train) in Bangkok and then when the train arrived... I looked up.

I sailed down the Mekong River in Laos and passed small villages.

I sailed down the Mekong River in Laos and passed small villages.

I rode a tuk tuk through the countryside of Laos.

I rode a tuk tuk through the countryside of Laos.

I visited the Kuang Si waterfall and bear sanctuary outside of Luang Prabang.

I visited the Kuang Si waterfall and bear sanctuary outside of Luang Prabang.

I spent a few days in Hanoi.

I spent a few days in Hanoi.

And I also ventured to a famous grouping of rocks in Koh Samui.

And I also ventured to a famous grouping of rocks in Koh Samui.

And finally, after I climbed a few hundred steps for a wonderful vista in Luang Prabang, I decided to head to the night market.

And finally, after I climbed a few hundred steps for a wonderful vista in Luang Prabang, I decided to head to the night market.


Go Cody, It's Your Birthday.

Today is Cody's birthday!  Happy Birthday!

And, just like three days ago when it was Lindsay's, I'm going to try to write a beautiful sonnet about how I met Cody.  This is because I have no updates.  Except that some Australian dudes moved in next door to me on the beach.  They ignored my full name and quickly settled on calling me Ash.  Highlight.

In the last 12 hours, I've tried to get people to tell me their first memory of Cody.  Basically no one responded to me.  Lindsay is an exception to this but she didn't really respond, per se, she more of came out with it without requiring the question in the first place.  Sheila offered up some word fragments.  Ellen just a moment ago commented that she couldn't remember.  But what Ellen does remember is a story of Cody being so hungover once when she decided to shave her cat (which she does do) and the cat, Buddha, ended up traumatized and looked a bit jacked/unevenly groomed for the next few weeks.  Classic.

If this were five months ago, I wouldn't have responded to me either.  I would have scoffed at this blog.  Sometimes, I still do.  But don't hate the player, hate the game.  And quit your job, readers.  That is the lesson of all of this  Don't work.  Ever.  Write blog posts that 1.5 humans read.

Back to Cody. 

A Cody + Lindsay joint birthday celebration.  2010.  7B.  The winner of this picture is David.  Clearly.

A Cody + Lindsay joint birthday celebration.  2010.  7B.  The winner of this picture is David.  Clearly.

In broad strokes I'll say this.  15 years ago, nothing pointed to any of us being friends with Cody.  Let's take a look at the facts.

1.  We (Cody and I) did not grow up in the same state.  She grew up in Ohio.  For those friends who also grew up in Ohio (a solid but not a majority of the group) no one knew her or went to her school

2.  We attended colleges in different states and no one in our posse went to college with Cody

3.  We each moved to different cities upon graduating from college

4.  We don't work in the same field

Yet, here we are!

Large props go to Cody's BFF in high school, Stephanie, who was Emily's (aka Royal's) roommate in college.  And, Emily and I just so happened to have gone to college together, along with Lindsay and Teach.

But it isn't that easy.  The plot thickens.  

While Emily and I went to the same university, I didn't know her.  This is unfortunate because I think my college years would have been even more fabulous if I had.  Teachout only lightly knew Em (I believe) through two friends she had made in class.

So really we owe it to Stephanie, Emily and now Teachout for being friendly enough to befriend classmates.  And then we need to credit those friends, Brett and Monica, thinking so well of Teach that they would introduce her to their friend, this now being Emily.  And then we need to say thanks to Brett and Monica for continuing to like Teach once college was over so that when she finally moved moved to New York, they would invite her to hang out when Brett would visit from St. Louis and Monica would ask Teachout to play on a softball team with her.  All this hanging out ultimately would allow Teach to get to know Emily better, who had moved to New York after college and FINALLY Teach would stop hogging Royal and introduce her to the rest of us.  

"Happy 2004.  They're vintage."  2014 NYE, Charlottesville VA.

"Happy 2004.  They're vintage."  2014 NYE, Charlottesville VA.

This string of sentences/events acts as the precursor to getting the very exclusive invite to Emily's 2008/9 (?) St. Patrick's Day party at her Upper East Side apartment (which notably had a yard!)  And it is here, on St. Pats Day, where we finally would find Cody, having just moved from Chicago wearing a t-shirt and asymmetrical sweater.  Not much has changed.  She loves drapey, cozy sweaters to this day.

These are literally all the people who made this story happen.  From left to right:  Stephanie - Cody's HS BFF, Cody, Sheila, Lindsay, Em Royal (getting  married!), me, Monica, Alissa, and Teachout!)

These are literally all the people who made this story happen.  From left to right:  Stephanie - Cody's HS BFF, Cody, Sheila, Lindsay, Em Royal (getting  married!), me, Monica, Alissa, and Teachout!)

Whew!  Quite a few things had to line up for me to be writing this post.  And, so many things have happened since they have.   Let's recall a few.... 

I.  Cody graduated from The School of Aggressive Brunching.  

The first thing that occurred to Cody upon making our acquaintance was that she, unbeknownst to her, was enrolled In the school of aggressive brunching.  It's a very rigorous institution.  Cody realized that she was really in for something with our gang of thieves the first time she met us (Royal, Teach, Lindsay, Alissa and myself) for brunch.  She arrived to the Australian bar/eatery, The Sunburnt Cow with "returns" to do after brunch.  Ha!  Returns.  We quietly raised an eyebrow at these returns or exchanges or credits to Mandee that Cody needed to handle as the bloody marys were placed on the table.

A few notes about The Sunburnt Cow.  1). The bloody marys during brunch are unlimited as is beer, well drinks and mimosas  2). The drinks seemed to always arrive with a fruity shot on the side  3). The alcohol to horseradish ratio in the BMs wants to rip out your esophagus.  Cheers!

All of these things led Cody to arrive at a conclusion, pretty quickly I'd say, that we had also learned in the company of one another.  This conclusion being that when around a dining table with beverages and sitting along side this motley crew, there is no stopping the awesome time that will occur.  But, when that meal is brunch - you best not plan anything else for the rest of the day.

A more civilized brunch.  2014.  Chelsea, The Gallow Green.

A more civilized brunch.  2014.  Chelsea, The Gallow Green.

II.  In 2014, Cody was my date to the Conan hosted, MTV Movie Awards.  

Among my work colleagues and clients, I called Cody my "life friend."  Only now does this sound like we were in a committed long term relationship.  But I guess, basically, we were/are.  You look good girl.  ;)

III.  In.... 2012? we  celebrated Lindsay and Cody's birthdays at Medieval Times.  

A knight threw her a carnation.  Later that evening, she made a face.  

IV.   Cody has proven herself to be a consistent fan of campy, feel good folk music.

Over the years, Cody has tried to pass on the love for hootin annies to us.  With such passion did she get us into a circle one summer in the Hamptons, encouraging us to clap as she strummed the guitar and to also sing along, following her lead to the hit tune, Wagon Wheel.  She did try, she did.  But we are largely tone deaf and probably got distracted by a bowl of guacamole placed on the table, so this had a 57% success rate.

Lissa looks like she is fake-strumming.  And I'm sure she is.  But she likes it.

Lissa looks like she is fake-strumming.  And I'm sure she is.  But she likes it.

V.  Cody and Teachout once unearthed / stole / found / robbed from a man from historical novel these old timey glasses.  What is more than likely, is that they traveled back in time while wearing them.

Imagine if.  We were not friends.  And you idiots never found those old-timey glasses.  Life would not be the same. 

Imagine if.  We were not friends.  And you idiots never found those old-timey glasses.  Life would not be the same. 

VI.  Cody has expanded our wine knowledge + appreciation

Cody has introduced every last one of us to Virginia and specially Virginia wine country.  In 2013, we celebrated New Year's Eve with Cody and her lovely mother in Virginia wine country - on the vineyard and in their wine room!  Shameless plug coming--- 22 Brix is a wonderful tasting room in Charlottesville, Virginia if you head that way.  When you are there or hell, even if you are not (http://22brixwineroom.com), buy a case and high five yourself as you bring it home.  You are a winner and in your possession is some wonderful vino from a family run winery, Ankida Ridge.

VII.  Cody has shown us proper ping pong form.  

Arm bent yet without a care in the world, in a heated match against Alissa one St. Patrick's Day, at The Standard.

VIII.    Cody is crafty and loves Sam Cooke.  Ergo, we love (to eat) her crafts and listen to Sam Cooke while she makes them.

We've seen Cody's artistic talents in her work - she's an editor and is one of the craftiest in the group.  Cody pays special attention to details that make her home feel warm - smells of delicious (potentially organic, locally sourced) food, orange-red paint, a record player, twinkle lights and restored furniture.

IX.  Cody has spread the love of her signature cocktail

The ordering of this beverage always makes me laugh.  But, it is delicious.  Please find the below scenario.  

Cody:  I'm drinking martinis!  It's been a hell of a week!

Gang of idiot friends:  Whoo! Yeah!  Drink ten! Get it!  Chop chop!  You're falling behind already Rogowski and no one here likes losers or quitters!  Are you a quitter?

Cody, post rolling her eyes to her idiot friends, turns to the bartender:  Hello.  I would like a gin martini.  Do you have Brooklyn gin? (Bartender shakes his head)  No?  really?  Sigh.  Fine.  I would like a gin martini with fresh squeezed (at the word squeezed Cody actually mimes the act of squeezing with her hands) lemon juice.  Do you have that?  

Bartender:  Uh, yeah

Cody, still squeezing invisible lemons:  Fresh?  Fresh squeezed lemon juice?  Not from the bottle!

Bartender: Yes, fresh, got it

Cody:  Great.  One gin martini.  Shaken.  With fresh lemon juice.

Bartender raises a brow:  Is this a martini?

When Cody gets handed this martini she will always grab it with both hands, with one on the stem and one on the lip.  She will sip, close her eyes and upon opening them say "oh yeah."  She'll then offer everyone a taste of her famous drink that clearly tastes much better than anything else people are slugging down.

X  Cody is involved in a multi-year coffee house debate regarding extra dry cappuccinos.  Are they a thing.  Or aren't they.  

Cody remains convinced that an extra dry cappuccino is a thing.  (I've just googled it and some people are very much on her side.)  She'll order it, on occasion when she is feeling particularly cozy, bougie and like a coffee house writer.  Some places understand, some don't.  But she is committed to her beverage order.  Like the martini, when someone doesn't understand, she doesn't mime the squeezing of lemons - rather for the cappuccino, she discusses foam.  A wet cappuccino apparently has more creamy milk whereas a dry cappuccino has more frothed milk.  Sigh.  This is even complicated to write.

IN SUMMATION

No one else has more passion for beverages, cooking great food, weekly manicures, Brooklyn as a whole, making great television, head scarves, the retail giant Mandee and more love for their family than Cody.  It is what makes her a great friend to so many of us.  There is never a question that if you are feeling down or just lazy on a Saturday night that she'd love to have you over to drink wine, listen to a carefully selected Pandora radio station and talk around the kitchen table she has no doubt recently sanded and stained back to life.   

So happy birthday Cody, and here is to many more.

So beautiful.  Ian's wedding.  Drinking Irish Coffee.  Clearly, the after dinner drink required a pose. Moments before we invisible double dutched.

So beautiful.  Ian's wedding.  Drinking Irish Coffee.  Clearly, the after dinner drink required a pose. Moments before we invisible double dutched.

Happy Birthday, Lindsay Brennan.

Location:  Koh Tao, still.  Post originally written on June 23rd, posted June 24th

Today is Lindsay's birthday!  (Sort of, because it was yesterday, but work with me here)  And, because nothing is happening that is all that exciting in my world besides beach time and laziness and dive wound healing, I'm going to talk about her!  

My first memory of Lindsay was from wine tasting class my senior year in college.  That's right. You read that right.  How else did I (and most of those I hold dear) get so awesome?  Just like you however, my parents also took pause at this class upon seeing it on the tuition bill that semester.

Wasn't that crafty of my college?  Or really, maybe not.  In the same moment they are asking, really demanding money for the higher education of a child, my university made sure to note that the money was going to things like "Beginner Ice Skating" "The Laws of Branding" (that was legit)  and "Introduction To Wine Tasting."  Just in case you are wondering, my swizzle skating skills are on fleeeeeek.  My final consisted of a routine performed to the hit tune "I want to sex you up."  I believe one Jessie Erickson Folmar picked that song.  #NailedIt

In my defense, I completed my mandatory credits early and had a few to burn.  And burn them I did.  And, even though my gang of yahoos (Sarah, Kate and Meggie) showed up to wine tasting with a Kroger bought cheese plate (again, we on fleek)  the first two hours of this three hour weekly class were pure botany.  What soil, what temperature does x varietal in Chile grow in?   I couldn't really tell you now.  But!  Some people (cough Meggie cough) bailed out of actually writing the final paper at the end and opted to take wine tasting pass fail.  (I am cackling writing this. Pass fail!  Bah!)

 

EDITOR'S NOTE:  It turns out that we all basically took this class pass / fail and our friend Meggie actually fully dropped this class days before the final paper was due.  Per Hennings, it is because "she wanted to watch sex and the city" which if I remember correctly, she was downloading off of limewire.  #priorities  

In any case, Teach and Lindsay tended to sit behind myself and the aforementioned cheese loving cronies.   I remember Lindsay specifically because she looked super cool with long curly hair that had hot pink highlights in it.  I was not that cool.  Not by a long shot.  I had a full time biz-casual with gray new balance sneakers approach to life then.

Lindsay's birthday, 2013/2012, montauk style.  People raged.    Certain people did anyway, in the back.

Lindsay's birthday, 2013/2012, montauk style.  People raged.    Certain people did anyway, in the back.

Fast forward to graduation weekend....I ended up sitting on the floor of Lindsay's apartment,  where she notably lived with 13 other gals most of whom were my sorority sisters, including our future roomie Teachout.  Eating leftover meatballs that were part of an eight hour-old buffet at Stadium, Lindsay explained she had a job in Chicago and I noted I was from Chicago!  Kismet!  We exchanged numbers and then I, seriously rotund from too much beer and red because I decided the nights before graduation would be a good time to "try tanning", put her number into my phone.

West Hampton house rental... 2010??  We decided a fake laugh was the best way to take a picture... Because we ended up cackling with glee once the flash went off. 

West Hampton house rental... 2010??  We decided a fake laugh was the best way to take a picture... Because we ended up cackling with glee once the flash went off. 

But then... nothing.  I did go back to Chicago after graduation and got an odd job with House Beautiful Magazine in the suburbs at their makeover show house for 2004.  But I never called her.

I remember thinking about calling her, listening to Kaskade in my bedroom at my parent's house while drinking Yellow Tail Shiraz that I smuggled in and "hid" in my closet.  But clearly the wine failed to inspire me to do much about it, because Lindsay never got a phone call.

Fast forward three years.  Sarah (Teach) is visiting NYC (big props here to Teach who just called me one day saying she wanted to come visit and then it became a yearly thing) and she tells me that her former roommate, Lindsay, is in NYC too.  Lindsay at this time was basically living at the W Hotel and accruing Starwood points like a boss.

Brunch.  Summer 2014.  Chelsea, NYC. 

Brunch.  Summer 2014.  Chelsea, NYC. 

Cue an awesome weekend with Ellen and Ian that included margaritas, a vertical cooler packed with drinks in Central Park, rooftop sandwiches made by Chef Morgan and trying to steal a grocery cart from CVS.  We were unsuccessful in our theft, which was fine by me, as my studio was pretty well decorated in prints from Ikea anyway.  

Happy St Pats @ Em Royals 

Happy St Pats @ Em Royals 

And that's it.  Soon after that weekend, both of these ladies moved to NYC and we identified an apartment with bedrooms so small that we would have to pole vault onto our raised beds as the perfect place to live. 

Lindsay's birthday!  2014

Lindsay's birthday!  2014

Lindsay, Sarah and I have celebrated many birthdays, hosted masquerade parties, recession special parties, New Years Eve parties and many Christmas parties together.  We've moved twice together and Teach and I even got the opportunity to loudly voice our opinions to Lindsay and her realtor on where she should live in London.  At the end of a 13 apartment tour throughout London, where the realtor actually drove us around, we summarized our feelings:  "Not in the dump!  I saw those cats outside lurking!  Live in the one where you'll have a bathroom under the stairs like Harry Potter that kinda looks like Anthropologie's home section!  Yeah!!  That one!  Wait, that was the one with the cats?  Okay, fine, cats are cool I guess.  Yeah!"

The three amigos.  Very popular on the streets of New York.  Before going out we made grape mojitos in a large pot on our stove.  Just like the bespoke cocktails we paid $12 for the night before.  This was not the same.  We loved them.

The three amigos.  Very popular on the streets of New York.  Before going out we made grape mojitos in a large pot on our stove.  Just like the bespoke cocktails we paid $12 for the night before.  This was not the same.  We loved them.

Circa... 2010??  Unclear.  All I know is that this was at Satsko.

Circa... 2010??  Unclear.  All I know is that this was at Satsko.

We've debated bang choices, given almost every year a theme (see below, year of the creeper) discussed the inner workings of bad dates as well as the lure of a good pyramid scheme.  Those can be pretty tricky, you know.  I've even run after the birthday girl when thought she was Jason Bourne and on the lam one night in Santorini.  We'll save that story for another day.

Fondly referenced as the tannest we have ever been standing in front of the Acropolis.  

Fondly referenced as the tannest we have ever been standing in front of the Acropolis.  

It was the year of the creeper.  We met many.  I believe it began with "no friends frank." 

It was the year of the creeper.  We met many.  I believe it began with "no friends frank." 

And now, in 2015 we are all (basically) still in New York, having a grand ole time.  Some friends are still there, some have moved to another coast or to a suburb.  But last night people still gathered for Lindsay's birthday to wish her the very best.  Seeing as I slept through my plan to send them all champagne (just like a hot gentlemanly man would from the other side of the bar) with their gluten free cupcakes at the end of the meal,  I'm writing this post.  That more than likely, none of them will read.

Hope you ladies had a killer time drinking rose.  

And, most importantly, happy birthday LB.

Holler.  Someone is. 

Holler.  Someone is. 

Writing Is Hard, Volume II.

Location:  Koh Tao Thailand.  Where I think I've been since June 12th.  And before, that, I was in Koh Samui, from June 9th- June 12th.  

Date This Post Was Actually Written, Despite The Post Date:  June 20th

At the title of this little entry I can hear Sheila saying…”Back to this ole song and dance, are we Meade?”

We are Sheila.  We are friends.  Please excuse me for I’ve been lazy and negligent and it has been many, many days since my last blog post.

My excuse?  Well, we’ve already been over that writing is hard but really, I’ve been busy.  Let me rephrase.  I’ve been “busy”.  I am using the “ “ because this is not weeping at my desk, body rigid with fear as my hopes and dreams rest on the shoulders of a celebrity that I, despite substantial non-personal payment, have zero control of which is at direct odds with an investment of millions of dollars.  I have exceptional experience with that type of busy.  This is definitely not it.

This kind of busy requires only needing to set an alarm to make the 7AM morning dive boat.  I’ve been diving a bit, reading books I never thought I would have time to and thinking about going on hikes.  Please note, I’m still in the cerebral planning phase of these hikes.  I’ve acquired a map and asked a few questions about difficulty.  I’ve yet to pull the trigger.  But, I think it could happen soon.    Maybe.

Fact is, I don’t have to be anywhere until July 2nd.   It’s June 20th, when I'm writing this.  I’m like the character on SNL yelling that she is fifty while flinging a leg in the air.  That is how free this feels, with the added bonus that I am, in fact, not fiiiiiiiiifty.

So, I can choose to discover temples, go on a food tour or simply… do nothing.  Presently, I’m taking the path of least resistance.  And why not!?  It’s not like I have a job to get to. 

But, for the sake of continuity – weren’t you just in knots not being able to keep up with me  (I’m talking to the three of you who read this thing, BTW)  - below is a list of things I’ve accomplished since my last post, leaving Malaysia’s Lankayan Island:

1)   I went back to Kuala Lumpur.  I learned a lot on this return trip, which I will go into finer detail in a later post.  For now, I’ll say that I got a little crazy with the shopping in Central Market, after which I went on a food tour.  On the food tour, I found myself in a group of US and Australian government types living in KL (as the locals call it).  There was a lot of discourse about how KL looks Western but one doesn’t have to dig very deep to realize that yes, they are in SEA.   And of course, the government is fully corrupt.  More to come on KL.  But, I will say as a visitor, you can ignore these truths and focus on the fact that the surface wants you to feel you are in the Western world, that you should be shopping at Prada, indicated by the elite stores at every mall and that after you are dripping in designer duds, you should eat great food, get a bang trim, your nails polished and your laundry did.  I can say I did all of these things minus the designer dud drip.  Win some, lose some.

2)    I told myself to simmer the hell down.  You know, traveling like this creates a feeling that you need to go everywhere and see everything before you go home.  But, that’s impossible.  Have you seen a map??  So I told my thoughts about the Philippines, Malaysia’s Georgetown and Indonesia’s Java to sit down and simmer down.  So I did this because simply, I wanted to spend some fun loving time with a friend.  So, I went back to the Thai islands where I began a new adventure to meet Cabe.  Whoo!

3)   On Koh Samui, Cabe and I unintentionally found ourselves in Koh Samui's red light district.  It was not very subtle.

4) Back on Koh Tao, I was sleeping in the same beach hut I was living in in April.  Here, I got my deep diving specialization.  40 meters!  131 feet!  Glug!

Bye bye, Koh Samui!  In two hours, this ferry will be in Koh Tao.

Bye bye, Koh Samui!  In two hours, this ferry will be in Koh Tao.

4)   I then got my rescue diver certification.  What does this mean to you?  That I’ll save you, duh.   So, if you stop breathing I can give you mouth to mouth, mouth to nose or mouth to snorkel rescue breaths as I am dragging you from the ocean floor to the dive boat.  Then I can hoist you up a ladder by making my body into a chair (which quite frankly feels like a cross fit move) and there I am able to perform CPR, treat you for shock and tend to your wounds.  Boom.  You never knew (really, you never knew) I could keep you so safe. 

Everything I know about CPR, I learned from Annie here.  Still feel safe?

Everything I know about CPR, I learned from Annie here.  Still feel safe?

5)   I’ve boogied to non-English speaking lip singing ladies.  There is something about someone fake singing to a song that they can’t understand that is seriously hysterical.  Like, they are in the middle of all these patrons, right?  The focus is on them.  And yet, they don’t know the words of that Pussycat Dolls song from eight years ago.  Just to note, the internet, while spotty, can be found here in Koh Tao.

A side note.  About faux anatomy:  Here, at the Queen’s Cabaret in Koh Tao, I also watched a lady do high kicks and spins.  And by watched I mean developed man-like tunnel vision in respect to her new looking breasts.  And you know what?  They were a solid dance partner.  I mean that literally.  Not a jiggle, not a movement, not a rustle.  Those girls stayed PUT.  It was creepy.  If you put a woman on stage with a real bust line and told her to dance about, do ninja kicks and throw some jazz hands in the routine for good measure… things would be anything but cute.  But these ladies, these ladies are cute.  See below.  Cabe thought so too.

Hey girl, hey.

Hey girl, hey.

6)   I am embarrassed to admit it, but I read that complimentary book to the 50 Shades of Grey series.  It is called simply Grey and it is meant to be a book from Christian Grey’s POV when he meets Ana.  It’s horrendous.  Really it is just the first few chapters of 50 Shades with pronouns swapped.  I am less smart for reading it.  Don’t do it.  It just isn’t worth it.  Save yourself. 

7)   I’ve started to pretend that I work out, by doing 30 squats before I go to bed each night. 

8)   I majorly cut up my leg.  Diving and my fins are to blame for 20% of it.  Misjudging the walkway between my cottage and my neighbor’s, who was having a gathering, is to blame for the rest.  In any case, I bought some “Thai Neosporin” and I just realized this antibacterial cream is actually a steroid that web MD says can cause kidney problems and should be followed with strict doctor instructions.  Notably, I bought this in a moment where there were no words exchanged between me and a young Thai girl wearing curlers and listening to nelly Furtado.  She slid it down the counter.   I didn’t read the packaging.  Paid her.  Left.  And am now learning my lesson.  But seriously, isn’t Neosporin pretty universal?  I guess I have my answer.  That answer is no.

9)   I’ve discovered a laundry detergent that comes in solid, strip form.  Like a Listerine strip.  For a traveler, this is the most amazing invention.  It’s light, it won’t leak, I can carry a lot of it.  As a lady that takes particular delight in having clean belongings at all times, this is great.

So, that’s it.  That's all I have.  This is all that has occurred in two weeks or so since I last post.  A bit pitiful.  But, remember, I can give you mouth to nose CPR now.  That counts for something.  Right?

In Pictures : Lankayan Island

Location:  Lankayan Island, Malaysia June 1st - June 5th

Lankayan Island is a small island that you can walk around in ten minutes.  It sits in the Sulu Sea and is off the east coast of Borneo, nearly in the Philippines.  How did I even end up here? Well, after trekking through a forest a travel agent suggested taking a "break" and she showed me a picture of this island and its clear water and white sands.  Game over.  I had to come.  

The view approaching Lankayan Island, with visuals of the dive shop and the pavilion where all meals were served.  These were the only two structures besides your cabin you could go to on the island.

The view approaching Lankayan Island, with visuals of the dive shop and the pavilion where all meals were served.  These were the only two structures besides your cabin you could go to on the island.

About the Philippines - when I arrived people asked me if anyone back at home was worried about the pirates.  (Pirates?!)  Turns out that pirates from the Philippines have a pesky penchant for kidnapping people for ransom.  But, rest easy because the locals will tell you that the “victims” are treated very well and are “served very good food” as all the pirates want is money. 

I started to think… how much is the going rate for me?  As an American, everyone thinks you have one billion dollars sitting in the bank.  If I were to be kidnapped at what point would my family shrug, hear about the good food I’m eating in captivity, and think that in itself, was an experiential type of vacation.   

The bluest and clearest water I've seen

The bluest and clearest water I've seen

Sitting area off of the dining pavilion

Sitting area off of the dining pavilion

My office.

My office.

What I learned, while on Lankayan, is that it is BEYOND beautiful.  Fish literally pop up out of the water as they swim, like in The Little Mermaid as everyone sings about having twenty thing-em-ma-bobs.    It’s crazy.  The reefs are multicolored, the fish are tropical … I saw starfish that are blue and lilac.  Lilac! 

This is taken from above, out of the water.  Tells you how clear the water is!

This is taken from above, out of the water.  Tells you how clear the water is!

The path to the pier, where you arrive and to the dive shop, which is the hut at the end of the pathway.

The path to the pier, where you arrive and to the dive shop, which is the hut at the end of the pathway.

My five days passed with flying fish and soft sand, a hammock outside my bedroom door and diving the Sulu Sea twice a day.  Can’t hate that.  Can’t hate that at all.  Lankayan really is a diving resort and destination and while boasting beautiful reefs, the fish were not in full bloom, like they were in Koh Tao.  Even so, it was gorgeous.

My cabin and lounge area

My cabin and lounge area

Le cabin

Le cabin

Over fishing is an issue BUT on one dive I fell slightly behind, mainly because when diving I like to act like I am five and every so often I like to do summersaults in the water and feel the bubbles rush up around me.  What?!  :)  Doesn't everyone?  Well, upon doing one of those summersaults I was turning upright and a large, long fish with a fin on its back swims by.  Like 5 feet away by.  It was a white tip reef shark, at least four feet long.  The next day the same thing happened with a black reef shark.  All I can say is that I heard the Jaws music.  But, these guys don't want to eat you... which, while reassuring, does nothing to soothe the panic as they brush on by.

Dining area.  Not too shabby.

Dining area.  Not too shabby.

Full moon, dining area at dusk

Full moon, dining area at dusk

Overall, this was an amazing experience in Malaysia.  Naturally, there are many honeymooners and its a very international crowd (when I was it was a smattering of Italian, Swiss, Chinese, Australian, Eastern European).  Families were here renting large chalets/houses on the water and a lot of people came here to dive, which created a diving community of sorts.  I will say that while people called Lankayan a "five star" experience --- the star ratings in Malaysia are a bit off from the western world.  The water and location are amazing but know that in Malaysia in a location like this a five star rating is slightly more like glamping when it comes to the accommodations than it is The Four Seasons (open windows, mosquito net, very simplistic furnishing and a retro bath).  But would I go again?  Yeah!  I'd be delighted to throw a private party here, rent out every cabin for my friends and family and invite each of you.  Look out for your invitation in the mail.  

And how can you get here?  Well, you need to get yourself to Sandakan, a port town on the east side of Borneo.  Then, simply hop the 1.5 hour jetty (speed boat) that will take you to your cabin.  That doesn't sound complicated or out of the way at all, right?

Cabins, which go around only about a quarter of the island because the rest is kept undeveloped for the nesting turtles that live here.  You can watch turtles hatch and lay eggs frequently here.  

Cabins, which go around only about a quarter of the island because the rest is kept undeveloped for the nesting turtles that live here.  You can watch turtles hatch and lay eggs frequently here.  

Tan feet!

Tan feet!





You share 97% of this guy's DNA.

Location:  The Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia  May 30th - May 31st 

For two days my guide George and I cruised the Kinabatangan River.  Facts about orangutans revealed themselves.  Here they are!

1.     I live alone, so scram friends!  Sort of strange when nearly all other monkeys live in groups.  A baby might stay with mom for 9 or so years, but then off they go, never to be seen again.

Boo.

Boo.

Gotta go....

Gotta go....

2.  Where my nest at?  Orangutans make simple nests to nap (many throughout the day) and a more complex looking one that sort of looks like a bird’s nest at night.  They pull down branches and leaves to construct their nests and they never reuse a nest because they are always moving, searching for food.

 After all that fruit juice dripped down his face, he obviously was super tired.  So, he ripped some leaves down and put them under his back to soften that branch.  Then he curled up.  These little snoozes are in addition to getting about 8 hours of shut eye, just like you, every night.

 After all that fruit juice dripped down his face, he obviously was super tired.  So, he ripped some leaves down and put them under his back to soften that branch.  Then he curled up.  These little snoozes are in addition to getting about 8 hours of shut eye, just like you, every night.

3.     Don’t get it twisted, I’m an individual.  Unlike other animals (i.e., your cat whose notable marks include a spot on the tail) their faces look different from one another.  Sometimes they have big lips, small eyes, a narrow face, big cheeks, or a even, for all you hipster lovers out there, a beard. 

4.    My people can only be found in two places.  The rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are the only places you can currently find orangutans.  They are endangered because of the development of the rainforests, usually to make room for palm plantations.

Off to a new branch, for new food.

Off to a new branch, for new food.

5.    My name does not imply that my fur is orange. Orang in Malay means people and utan means forest.  They are quite literally a person of the forest.

6.     I am an ape.  Not a monkey.  How to distinguish one from the other?  Only monkeys have tails. 

No tail here.

No tail here.

Look at this guy!!!!  This is a Proboscis monkey - easily identifiable with his robust nose!

Look at this guy!!!!  This is a Proboscis monkey - easily identifiable with his robust nose!

This would be a pregnant female Proboscis monkey.  Whoa.  Slighter nose on the ladies.

This would be a pregnant female Proboscis monkey.  Whoa.  Slighter nose on the ladies.

7.   Spending time on the ground is for gorillas and humans.  Orangutans are arboreal, spend most of their times in trees and are rarely on the ground.

8.     I like big cheeks and I cannot lie.  If I’m a female that is.  Alpha males tend to have large cheeks, which develop as they age. 

The guide thought he was about 20 years old, which he determined by his size and his cheeks, that will only get bigger with time.

The guide thought he was about 20 years old, which he determined by his size and his cheeks, that will only get bigger with time.

9.     I live until I am about 50 years old.  And if I’m a female, I have about four children, one at a time approximately one every ten years.

Disclaimer:  I have stolen this picture from the world wide web.  I couldn't help myself.  Look.  At. It!

Disclaimer:  I have stolen this picture from the world wide web.  I couldn't help myself.  Look.  At. It!

10. If someone rescues me from living in someone’s home, like a pet, I go to an Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.  Here, orangutans learn what it is like to live in the wild before they are released again.  YOU can actually put your name on a waiting list to volunteer at one of these centers!  

A side note about an orangutan named Bev, proving how humanlike orangutans are.

So, Bev was found as a baby and taken in by a Malay family.  Treated as part pet / part child, Bev developed human behaviors.  When Bev was eventually seen and taken to a rehab center, she wouldn’t eat the fruit that orangutans normally consume.  She would certainly not go near the pile of it placed on the ground.  So, she waited.  And then finally someone got her a chair, table, fork and spoon and a plate of rice.  Bev then took a seat and ate her meal, with her utensils.  One year later however, Bev was eating fruit, climbing trees and back to her animal status, ultimately released in the Borneo jungles.

11.  I hate the water and getting wet.  What happens when I have to cross a river?  Well, there was one story shared about a mom and her young baby needing to cross a body of water.  So, she found a log, laid on it, on her stomach and placed her baby on her back.  Then she paddled using her hands.  Yeah!

Another stolen image.  There was a lot of talk about orangutans using branches to measure water depth.  Exhibit A.

Another stolen image.  There was a lot of talk about orangutans using branches to measure water depth.  Exhibit A.

12.  I will fight you.  So, apes are territorial, especially the alpha males.  If you get in one's zone, what happens?  Well, he likely will hit, bite and attack you (another orangutan, that is because if you are a human, they'll just hide from you and make noises.)  While the big guy below lost a few fingers in a fight (per my guide George) orangutans will usually reach for a tree, break off a stick and then just begin to hit each other with them.  Ninja moves.

Oh, buddy.

Oh, buddy.

13.  I wish I was 20lbs lighter.  Sigh, don't we all?!  Obesity is apparently a problem we share.

See how similar you are?!  You and this drooling, large, hairy boy who doesn't have a tail and really just wants to eat food and nap all day... in peace!?  It's amazing.  They can solve problems like crossing rivers and fling their enormous bodies through the air.  I do have a few questions about the obese orangutans though.  They can even join you at the dinner table and use cutlery, if you teach them.  The only thing they can't do is talk... yet.  

Where The Wild Things Are

The Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia May 28th - 30th

This.  Is.  Cool. 

I am sitting on my balcony overlooking a river and trees that are hundreds of years old in the middle of a rainforest that is older than the Amazon.  Apparently the climate shifts that wiped out dinosaurs and changed the world didn't have as great an impact here.  Who knew?  It is 130 million years old compared to the Amazon's 60 million years.  Dinosaurs, per the very wise and never inaccurate Wikipedia were alive between 230-65 million years ago.  

I’m in the Danum Valley of Sabah, Borneo. To get here I flew through airports that would probably make you raise an eyebrow.  Kota Kinabalu.  Lahad Datu.  Need a map visual?  Perhaps one that is questionably pixelated and poorly doctored in PowerPoint?  Me too.  From Lahad Datu we took a 4WD car into rough roads for 2.5 hours.

The luggage area at the Lahad Datu airport.

The luggage area at the Lahad Datu airport.

And now, for roughly the past 24 hours I’ve been trekking through damp rainforest looking for animals that roam free, as they are meant to.  This is not a zoo. This is protected land for orangutans, rhinos, spotted leopards, elephants, monkeys, gibbons and enormous lizards to bee bop through life.

Rainforest Lesson #1 – It does not always look like a Disney movie.

The largest lesson I’ve learned thus far is that a rain forest does not look like this:

It looks like this:

I don't know why I was expecting tropical plants and brightly colored flowers.  Maybe that is the Amazon.  The name means it, this place is a thick forest that has never been inhabited.  Trees that are so dense they sink in water, that offer wood to make your ebony dresser and piano keys... they are all here.  Hence, a pesky illegal logging problem....

I don't know why I was expecting tropical plants and brightly colored flowers.  Maybe that is the Amazon.  The name means it, this place is a thick forest that has never been inhabited.  Trees that are so dense they sink in water, that offer wood to make your ebony dresser and piano keys... they are all here.  Hence, a pesky illegal logging problem....

Rainforest Lesson #2 – Palm oil causes problems.

Palm plantations are a problem.  The Brits brought the palm oil industry to Borneo in the last century and since then, the rainforest has been ripped out and thousands of acres have been planted.  Turns out that this is just one of the fun factors impacting animals – as without a jungle they have no home.   Better regulations are now in place, but you can’t exactly grow back a rainforest as old as time.   I hear that Brunei has some of the world’s most protected forests because they have a natural source of oil.  So, Brunei hasn’t had to turn to palm oil for profit.  Lucky Sultan of Brunei.

Rainforest Lesson #3 – Leeches exist en mass. 

When I got here, one of the first questions I was asked was if I remembered to bring leech socks.  I am quite confident that my eyes grew wide and there was some sort of pause before I answered.   I did not remember to bring leech socks.  I didn’t even bring enough bobbi pins.  Or small packets of Tide.  So, leech socks certainly didn’ t make it in.  This means that I have acquired the poor mans leech socks while here which look like the stockings the Jolly Green Giant hangs at Christmas time.

Rainforest Lesson #4 – I’m inappropriately dressed.

There is a dress code here.  And it is not my purple Nikes, Lulu Lemon pants and Athleta pull over.  If you wear these things, you will look like an idiot.  You certainly will not look as if you are serious about things such as birding.  Somehow, carrying binoculars, wearing a headlamp, zip off pants and a hat with a chin strap is more desirable in this particular venue.  I embraced it and wore my hot pink dry pack meant for a dive boat proudly.  I don't think anyone would actually take me for a bird person anyway... do you?  My fellow trekkers only wished they had built in thumb holes in their shirts.

This is what everyone else looks like. 

This is what everyone else looks like. 

Rainforest Lesson #5 – Wild animals do not want to be found.  Shocker.

Hunting down animals is hard!  Turns out they (specifically orangutans) are scared of humans which makes your job of finding them and taking a snazzy picture is just a little bit complicated.  For example, this is the first orangutan I saw.  He emerged from his nap for a snack in the shadows and then crept away.

I see you!!

I see you!!

But, seeing animals up close or not, this is still ridiculously cool and this is coming from not the most outdoorsy person you ever met (I hear you all laughing, you know).  I’ve spent the last few days on 6 hour hikes, walking through the rain forest canopy and wondering how exactly I got here, to this swinging bridge, watching enormous birds soar over me and silver tail monkeys fling their bodies through trees.  

Home in Borneo.

Home in Borneo.

Backyard view

Backyard view

Tweet Tweet.

Tweet Tweet.

Spotted!

Spotted!

Just one of the many reassuring markers along the way.

Just one of the many reassuring markers along the way.

Next stop?  Another Sabah rainforest location to hopefully get closer to wildlife ... by boat!

When In Doubt, Create An Imaginary Friend.

Location:  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 26th – 27th

It is May 26th and it is dinner time.  I’ve switched hotels because the one booked was on my “low budget strategy” and I realized that unlike a beach hut in Thailand, this choice was really not in my best interest.  I felt like I was under a highway.  Which is because the hotel (notably with legit reviews on Trip Advisor) was basically under a highway.  There was peeling wallpaper.  Naked children ran through the halls.   Quadruple no.  Gotta go.  And, in the words of Erin... Good Day. One Uber ride (uber!) and Jetsetter search later – I arrived at the Shangri La Traders Hotel, with a fabulous view of the Petronas Twin Towers in the city center.  Visa, solving all of my problems, yet again. 

KL's Petronas Twin Towers.

KL's Petronas Twin Towers.

Sitting in the Sky Bar -  a destination recommended by the NY Times for its jazzy view - I realize that the Times has failed to mention that in addition to being the swimming pool for the hotel,  this prime city viewing area, like the rooftop at the Gansevoort in New York’s Meat Packing District, turns into a full out club at night.

Da Club.  The view, seen in the above picture, is a real win.

Da Club.  The view, seen in the above picture, is a real win.

So, it might be May 26th and it might be dinnertime but 50 Cent is currently very loudly celebrating the birthday of someone named “Shorty.”

I am watching adult couples turn their back on this club to block out the miniskirts that come out at night in this Muslim town.  Currently a grown man is leaning on one of the chairs belonging to my high top table.  Is this the start to a conversation, I wonder?  Pause.  Pause.  No, definitely not.  His intentions are now clear as he pulls out his selfie stick... he was just waiting for the right moment to capture the action behind him.  You should know that he gave a thumbs up to the camera.  

Overall, this scene in KL feels a bit like Vegas.  And because in Vegas, anything goes and it has been a long day, I go all in.   “I’ll have the bottle of the French rose… and the burger, please.”  (I am noodled OUT and am joyfully reading a description of a beef patty with avocado and pineapple.)  This is met by a pause and then the waiter leaves.  He comes back in about five minutes.  “Are you sure you want that, the rose,” he says?  “Why,” I ask.  “Because it is a bottle.  A very rare bottle.  And you are alone.” 

Sigh.

To be clear, it might be a rare bottle in Malaysia but I know this French wine and I know it because I consume it in the states.  Frequently.  For about $15. 

It could be because this is a Muslim country, it could be because the wine is a French import, it could be because I’m alone but who really knows.  Clearly, ordering this bottle of wine just doesn’t seem like the thing to do.  

The judgement is real and so I do what anyone would.  I lie.  And I make up an imaginary friend.  

“Oh, someone is meeting me,” I say.  “So, I suppose I’ll just have a glass of the Sancerre, and we can see if they are interested in rose.”  (WHAT?!)

The waiter nods, enthusiastically.  This seems to temper his feelings of a lady having access to four glasses of wine that she might drink (gasp) herself.

I'm just a girl just trying to get a (few) cocktails in this town and to that I have resorted to making up invisible friends.  I was in doubt and like a traumatized three year old, I created a buddy.  Isn’t that neat?  The jig eventually was up –  with the joke totally on me - when I let the Sky Lounge, alone and under the nose of my server.  Classy.  Real classy.  Not bizarre at all.

The next day I accomplished none of my plans to see KL, as the locals call it.  Not one market or one mosque was entered.  I did however get very acquainted with one of the many luxury malls that are all over the city.  The term mall evokes a sad suburban feeling, so instead please imagine large towers like in Vegas.  Malls here feel more like the Cosmopolitan, with seven levels housing everything from a Prada store, lovely cafés and a Sephora.  How could I not touch and stare at all the goods after seven weeks on the road?

I pondered goods like the below and spent a lot of time petting soft, leathery items at Miu Miu.

Yes.  I went into an H&M in Malaysia.  But, Sheila + Amanda - I had to post these.  These are meant for you.

Yes.  I went into an H&M in Malaysia.  But, Sheila + Amanda - I had to post these.  These are meant for you.

After a day of examining items I didn’t buy and eating an Italian feast with another skyline view in front of me, I wouldn’t say I “did KL.”  I more like coasted on its Westernized surface by googling things like "best restaurant in Kuala Lumpur" and then going there.  Not to worry though, post Borneo, I’ll be back to sample the diverse food and peer at the mosques while planning the next segment of my travels.

See you in June, KL.  I do hear your diversity, culture and Malay dining are fabulous, just like your H&M shoe section.

Miss Saigon

Location:  Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, May 23 – 26th

Disclaimer:  This posting is occurring in the jungle of Borneo, where I barely have internet.  Pictures just won't load.  So, this is without the usual imagery.  I tired of watching the load bar not move.  Check back at a later date :)

To Saigon I went!  I arrived and to spend a few hours getting myself oriented while waiting for Cabe to touch down, I went on a bit of a twirl about town and quickly realized that it was Saturday and just like any city on the weekend, Saigon likes to brunch. 

One brunch at a Parisian feeling café later, that served up eggs benny and a lovely glass of rose, I came to the understanding that District 1, out of Saigon’s 24 Districts was clearly not where any local people lived.

It is where retail giants like Chanel, Versace and Botega Venetta lived.  Who buys the latest Marcie Chloe bag in Saigon, I’m not entirely certain.  But, they are here and for sale if you want them – with a special goods tax that the government you owe.  Note: This is just one reason why people from Asia are buying in bulk on 5th Avenue.  These are not less expensive here.

Cabe, at long last, arrived in Saigon and after we both “were in the lobby” waiting for one another, we realized that no, we were not staying at the same hotel.  The Liberty Hotel actually has three locations in Saigon.  Nevertheless, we met up and opted to not hit Armageddon, the club recommended by my hotel where all the kiddos in sneakers were gathering.    Rather, we turned the corner and seeing that there were limited options, shrugged and went into one of the first establishments that crossed our path.  We found ourselves in a country western themed “club” playing dance music.  Avicii was blaring.  The waiter had on a vest with fringe.  There were maybe 7 people in the place and I could feel the bass rattle my ribs.  Who could ask for more?

Eventually, old age prevailed and we had to roll out.  The next two days were filled with taking in Saigon’s highlights.  Such highlights include:

1.     Independence Palace.  

Where the President of South Vietnam operated from during the war.  Ultimately a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gate, which made this location signify the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Where the President of South Vietnam operated from during the war.  Ultimately a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gate, which made this location signify the fall of Saigon in 1975.

2.     Notre Dame Cathedral + the Saigon Post Office.  Who knew?  Gustave Eiffel built other things than just that tower in Paris.

3.     The Rex Hotel.  Where reporters and the US seemed to hang out during the Vietnam war.  Your cocktail will cost $14, FYI.

4.     The Cu Chi Tunnels.  Lots of history here.

5.     The War Remnants Museum.  Gulp.  

SAIGON, IN SUMMARY

Good to be here, no need to go back.   Westernized, modern food is more prevalent here and street food culture is less visible than in Hanoi.  Like most of Vietnam, Saigon is changing and modernizing still – case in point, you can buy Christian Louboutin shoes next to a woman selling bananas out of baskets that are supported by a stick over her shoulders.  The sights tourists are supposed to see are about the war, so when visiting I would imagine you will have an acute feeling that the US did a bit of a number on Vietnam in the 70s.  We were here over Memorial Day, which was quite appropriate.  But, as you began to understand the impact of things like Agent Orange and the My Lai Massacre, it becomes challenging to keep up your tourist pace and vibrant personality. 

Cabe and I talked a bit that us visiting Vietnam is like our kids or even us touring through Iraq in forty years.  How strange would that be?  We / the US treat a country with aggression, force and prejudice and then a few decades later arrive as a tourist, wanting to be treated well and have feedback that it is still a “developing city” but oh, how far a USD gets you.  Well, no shit, right?  It was a country torn apart.  It’s entirely sobering.   And, if you think about any of it for too long – the B52 craters in Cu Chi, the fragging incidents in the army, the toxicity of some soil today where agent orange was sprayed at a level 100s of times higher than what was said to be safe – the facts become extraordinarily heavy, mind boggling and you don’t fully know what to do with them.

Miss Saigon.  Girl packs a punch.

"Writing Is Hard" - Amy Poehler

Location:  Hanoi / Halong Bay / Hoi An, Vietnam  May 14th - May 22nd 

Amy really did say it best in Yes Please.  Writing is hard, man!  It takes time!  It takes wit!  It is usually better when something exciting happens to you that you can jazz up and make fun of.

But what happens when it doesn't?  When it feels like nothing all that exciting is occuring to you?  Another day, another temple, another vista.  Burp.  Yawn.  You don't want to read about that.  Plus, that market is already pretty well satisfied by Kim Kardashian's Instagram feed.  You need intrigue!  And mystery!   And horrendously embarrassing situations that I magically weave my way out of.  Alas, I have none of that to offer you.  But, I can report that my feel are getting really tan.    Oh, and I'm starting to tire of noodles.

Tan feet and noodles however, are not what a good blog post is made of.   I've posted a few of these, sorry.  I know, you likely didn't make it to the end, fell asleep or had to watch another episode of Boy Meets World and ponder Topanga's hair.  But, at present, I need to fill in a few gaps before leaving for Saigon tomorrow.  So, to do that, I'm going to make a list, which along with some pictures you'll find below.  This should serve as a passing grade / summation of my time in Halong Bay + Hoi An.

Beyond the list however, let's all hold hands accross the vast world wide web and pray for really awesome happenings to occur in my last Vietnam stop where.... CABE JOINS ME!   Whoo!  I can feel you all rubbing your hot palms together.  A good tale must come out of this, right!?  Who knows what nightlife or lady boy debacles we will uncover!  The possibilities are actually endless.  Cheers to a good long weekend and providing you with something to giggle at when you return to your desk, pretending to do work on Tuesday morning. 

Okay.  Here goes.  The catch up listicle, which is actually a lie and more of a series of small paragraphs.  What can you do?  Remember, this could be about my tan feet.

1.  Halong Bay

Okay, so I went to HB for a few nights in between stops in Hanoi.  It was rad!  Do this if you can!  Lots of tour operators want to pick you up at your hotel, transport you for 3 or so hours and then drop you at a Junk Boat in Halong Bay.  HB is a Unesco world heritage site which means it is very pretty, filled with limestone islands, development is controlled and people care about debris and pollution.  Holler, people who care about debris and pollution.  Keep it up and teach Phuket something.

2.  Junk Boats, How You Get Around Halong Bay

When I think of the concept of Junk Boats, Sisqo's Thong Song plays in my head.  I don't know why.  I keep trying to make some sort of witty title out of the lyrics in order to write a blog post about this boat trip, but again, writing is hard, this is Sisqo we are talking about and I don't think anyone would pick up on the joke, including me.  So, feel the spirit of my intention in this paragraph.  As a note, Junk Boats are lovely!  And not at all junky.  They are not all created equal though, so choose wisely!  The staff on the boat wants to make meals with many courses for you, mine had an amazing AC which impressed me fully (and inspired a large tip) and the bathrooms attached to the rooms were legit.   (Full tour on images tab)

Sisquo.  A world leader and inspiration.  I actually had to edit this post so his name was spelled with a Q.  So, there's that.

Sisquo.  A world leader and inspiration.  I actually had to edit this post so his name was spelled with a Q.  So, there's that.

My boat, The Dragon Pearl 2, is with the raised sails.  There were 10 cabins on board with windows facing out.  Top floor was all loungers and the second floor, in the front, housed the outdoor dining area and bar.  

My boat, The Dragon Pearl 2, is with the raised sails.  There were 10 cabins on board with windows facing out.  Top floor was all loungers and the second floor, in the front, housed the outdoor dining area and bar.  

For roughly 3 days, 2 nights you sail at a very slow pace through Halong Bay, sit atop the boat in a lounger, think about life and if you are feeling up to it, kayak through the peaceful water.   You might even be asked by a charming thirty-year-old NYC couple that works in finance how you're going to explain the "gap" on your resume, having taken time off to travel.  You'll be so relaxed however you'll only succumb to 5 minutes of evil thoughts (as you are pretty sure "I went to South East Asia" is going to do it) before getting back to those limestone islands again.  Ahhhhh.....

Sigh.  A kayak selfie.  Guilty.

Sigh.  A kayak selfie.  Guilty.

3.  Fishing Village + Pearl Farm That One Visits While Sailing On The Junk

Two thumbs up.  Who knew where cultured pearls were actually made!  I never really had the motivation to imagine this before.  The fishing village also deserves props.  Why?  These houses are actually floating.  Some on styrofoam, others on blue barrels that, oh yes, the people of Unesco who care about debris and pollution are encouraging - because styrofoam breaks down after a handful of years.   One NYC woman who visited a few years back actually donated the electricity (via solar power) to the floating school which looks plucked out of an episode of Little House on The Prairie... err, bay. 

Oysters are in baskets attached to these buoys...

Oysters are in baskets attached to these buoys...

Me sees a pearl!

Me sees a pearl!

4.  Water Puppet Shows

I thought the same thing as you, likely.  Which was... "pass."   All I had in my head were the muppets (really just the grouchy ones that sit in the balcony) and the Sound of Music when it came to viewing a puppet show.  But, this is indeed a thing here in Vietnam and I went - slash - was told to go en route to the junk boat.  This appears to have been town entertainment back in the day.  And, each story is designed to depict village life.  The titles of these stories include such practical and scintillating things like "growing rice"  "catching fish" and "raising duck."  It is almost as good as the field scene in the first Twilight movie where Edward sparkles in the sun.

Raising Ducks.  So, how does this work?  Small humans are wearing waders and overalls behind that screen.  The puppets are on long sticks, and I would imagine the people controlling them are running from side to side moving them from one end of the "stage" to the other.

Raising Ducks.  So, how does this work?  Small humans are wearing waders and overalls behind that screen.  The puppets are on long sticks, and I would imagine the people controlling them are running from side to side moving them from one end of the "stage" to the other.

Growing Rice.

Growing Rice.

5.  Hoi An

Here is where I headed post Hanoi and Halong Bay... to the beach for my birthday.  Halong Bay is on the South China Sea and delightful.   Keep in mind this review and feeling of delight is coming from the fact that there are resorts (not mega) here and you spend most of your time laying flat and in the ocean or pool.  One could opt to live with a local person via a homestay.  At night, most people head into town where there is a distinct penchant for lanterns, markets that sell small dolls as well as a lot of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup.  The town was a fishing village at one point but has turned over to toursim.  Also a Unesco location, there are some lovely preserved buildings.

6.  Tailors, Tailors Everywhere

Everywhere!!!  This is what most people are doing here, in Hoi An.  They are going in with garments they want copied or talking to the seamstresses about designing something new.  Some have pictures from magazines, others go in cold.  In about 24 hours, you have something that is made to fit your body.  Most people advise on having another day for any fine tuning but Hoi An is very quickly churning out clothes.  I however was uninspired, my suitcase is too full (Cabe, want to help me with that upon your departure?!) and I am holding off on my tailoring requests until Saigon, should they come over me.   

7.  Banh Mi

Highlight, highlight alert!!!  In Hoi An I looked up on Trip Advisor best places to eat and people were raving about this dude!  Way off the main drag and without any colored lanterns or tailor shops, I located Phi's truck which was parked in front of his home.  You could actually eat your .75 USD sandy at a round table, in front of a fan, which was located basically in his living room.  It was wonderful.  The baguette, the pork, the mayo, the chili, the herbs, yes!  He was really happy I showed up and showed me all of the notes of praise from visitors.  "All the way from Chic-a-go, he said."  Yeah man, I know.  Me too :)  Everyone should go here.  

Phi's bed is between those bottles of water and the TV.

Phi's bed is between those bottles of water and the TV.

8.  One more things about Hanoi - Cooking Class!

I did a cooking class with Hanoi Cooking School and it too was a highlight!  I was, naturally, the only soul in the place but the chef and I went to the market together, talked about how to cook pig placenta and quail eggs with "baby bird inside" along with the various dishes that involve silk worms.   

Oh yeah.  Fresh meat.

Oh yeah.  Fresh meat.

Lots going on.  Live silk worms, front and center, the yellow.

Lots going on.  Live silk worms, front and center, the yellow.

That'd be some fresh placenta, on the right.  Intestines the middle.  Mmmmmm.

That'd be some fresh placenta, on the right.  Intestines the middle.  Mmmmmm.

We made a total of four dishes together and I learned a lot about the uses of a banana tree.  

This, friends, is a banana flower.  It grows on the tree.  Those white things are what will become the bananas you eat.  They are located in between each of the leaves of the flower, which are constructed like an artichoke.  Who knew!  

This, friends, is a banana flower.  It grows on the tree.  Those white things are what will become the bananas you eat.  They are located in between each of the leaves of the flower, which are constructed like an artichoke.  Who knew!  

This is a banana flower salad, for sale everywhere in Vietnam.  So, like an artichoke you peel those big red leaves of the flower back until you get to some fresh, pretty looking ones.  Take two, roll them, slice thinly - those are the sort of reddish pieces you see in this salad with pork, peanuts, a lime chili dressing and sprouts.

This is a banana flower salad, for sale everywhere in Vietnam.  So, like an artichoke you peel those big red leaves of the flower back until you get to some fresh, pretty looking ones.  Take two, roll them, slice thinly - those are the sort of reddish pieces you see in this salad with pork, peanuts, a lime chili dressing and sprouts.

Also, just a note on those quail eggs... I thought yeah, "baby bird inside," don't all eggs technically have a bird inside them?  The answer is no.  No they do not.  We bought a few because I clearly didn't understand what she was getting at and after she boiled them, peeled them, put some salt, pepper and lime juice on them - I popped one into my mouth.  It sort of burst.  I said... is that the yolk?  She nodded.  Then I popped another one.  Hmmmmm.  Then she took one and started to take it apart.  I can report that there is actually, in some of these "special" and tiny quail eggs a small bird with a beak (!!) inside.  And I ate them.  Only until she showed me the little guy.  Then I stopped.  The end.

9.  And Last, Weasel Coffee

Yeah, you read this right.  Here in Vietnam someone, long ago, decided that coffee from beans was just so-so.  What is better and has greater flavor is weasel coffee.  Coffee beans that are eaten by weasels on a farm, not digested and then pooped back out.  These beans are swooped up, fondly regarded for their rich and interesting flavors and are expensive.  What a way to start your day, with a squirrely step and all.

"Like A Real Asian"

Location:  Hanoi, Vietnam, May 15

"You're like a real Asian" said my guide, Hai, to me as we were touring.

I stared at him given the obvious... I am blonde, freckled, with a spotty tan and sweating to death.  Not white as snow, quiet, composed and covered.  Apparently, I had just whipped out my lady fan in the oppressive heat and opened it with dramatic flair and an audible zzzzzzzzip!  This impressed Hai and made him take note.  I, "like a real Asian" Ashley really should just pack up an go home.  Because on this day -  this hot, sweaty, crowded and pushy day in Hanoi -  I have achieved all I can.  I have won.

 

If New York Is The City That Never Sleeps, Hanoi Is The City That Never Stops.

Location:  Hanoi, Vietnam, May 14th - 19th

In Hanoi – there are similar vibes to New York.  It was such a welcome and familiar feeling after Siem Reap.  Upon arrival, I walked through a park that surrounded a lake and so many small moments reminded me of home.  Teens giggling and holding hands, older couples waltzing to Rod Stewart classics thanks to a '90s boom box.  I even took a seat to watch a closed eye, beanie wearing musician (who had also lit two candles for ambience) strum his sitar and children were placing small bills into his case.  Certainly, Hanoi is not New York and is very clearly in a foreign country that is still developing, but there was something wonderful about it.   I think after Siem Reap’s manufactured Pub Street it was refreshing to be placed in the middle of "real" life again.

BIKES RULE, DUDE

Here in Hanoi, everyone is moving fast.  As my food tour guide said --- if New York is the city that never sleeps, Hanoi is the city that never stops.  And that would be correct.

Motorbikes, like most of SEA, are everywhere.  If everyone had a car, you’d be sitting in traffic all day.   Pricey fuel is also more efficient with one.  Hai, an awesome 26 year old with a diamond stud and habit for Marlboros, was my guide for a day.  He told me that it is only when one is an older adult that people can usually afford to buy cars, if at all because they are so heavily taxed.  And, at that time they (the car buying adult) is so used to a motorbike, usually their children assert control over the car.  

Beat the bike and get on one :)  This gent flashing a peace sign drove me through the Old Quarter for 45 minutes for about $5.  Highlight.

Here, there are also no regulations about the number of people or children on a motorbike.  Everyone should wear a helmet, but police rarely stop you and if they do, the fine for not wearing a helmet is only a few dollars.  So, you are free to get your three kids on board and load up all of your goods.  It is insane how much stuff people can place on their bike.  I saw oversized mirrors roll by, four kegs of beer, industrial lightbulbs, at least 12 large boxes, and a handful of crates holding chickens - each loaded up onto individual bikes that more often than not, had a few people sitting there too.  I even saw small dogs who knew their boundaries, not to mention balance, sitting beneath their owner's feet on a bike.  

Worth noting is that women are usually fully covered while outside.  Arms, legs, face mask, hood. Everyone wants what they can't have or what is hard to have.  Here, it's pearly white skin.

HOW DID THE CHICKEN (ME) CROSS THE ROAD

The idea to cross the street in any Vietnamese City seems to be one that is not taken lightly.  I never saw anyone with headphones in – quite unlike the USA.  Headphones with music you see,  dull your senses.  You can’t jam to Beyonce and guarantee that you won’t be hit by moving traffic.  Street lights and signs are more of a sugguestion here, so it is up to you to ensure that you, well, live.

Step 1:  Desire to cross road

Step 2:  See if there is anyone else with the same need that you can quietly shadow

Step 3:  If you are unable to ghost someone, you need to identify a small opening in traffic.  You need about a four foot gap that can allow you to step in front of a car or motorbike, which would give them enough time to see you  

Step 4:  Begin to walk, slowly, with your hand out in front of you as if you are one of the Supremes singing Stop, In The Name of Love.

Step 5:  Keep a steady pace.  Don’t stop, don’t run.  Keep at your pace and people will simply “ move around you.”  It is a phenomenon.  But, this does means you will feel the heat of the pipes on the motorbikes as they nearly graze your arm.  Again, do not break into a run.  If you change your pace, you likely will be hit.

One note:  City busses do not veer course.  They will hit you.  Find gaps between motorbikes or cars.  I learned this the hard way and ran in the street.  It was a close call.

STREET CULTURE

Everything is happening in the streets in this town.  People are social and it is insanely hot, so life exists primarily outdoors.  Some people also appear to live in the back of their stores so for a bit of separation, it is best to sit outside.  If you are looking for lunch, a beer, a haircut, a cobbler to fix your sandal or better yet, a new pair of sandals- all of that can be found, you guessed it … in the street.

This is the cobbler. At least he has a fan.

This is the cobbler. At least he has a fan.

It is a shock really when you first arrive.  You're hungry, you're thirsty, you start a stroll, looking for a restaurant.  They exist, yes.... but not really.  Not like New York where there are a million options to sit and saddle up to the bar on every corner.  Here, there a million options... at your feet - on low stools and tables that are about 1 foot off the ground.

Let's talk beer!  In Hanoi's Old Quarter there is Beer Corner.  A place where Bia Hoi, local beer that is brewed and tapped daily is served and as a result, it doesn't require any preservatives.  A mug usually sets you back about 5 Vietnamese Dong, or, about .25.  Order a plate of peanuts and drink up.

Let's talk beer!  In Hanoi's Old Quarter there is Beer Corner.  A place where Bia Hoi, local beer that is brewed and tapped daily is served and as a result, it doesn't require any preservatives.  A mug usually sets you back about 5 Vietnamese Dong, or, about .25.  Order a plate of peanuts and drink up.

SHOPPING IN HANOI, WHEN YOU REALIZE VIETNAM MAKES EVERYTHING

Streets, as life would have it, are also organized in a similar fashion to your local Bed, Bath & Beyond.  A street, more often than not, holds a collection of vendors and stores that are all selling the same thing.  Even when I was on a food tour and asked my guide where we were she told me "Bun Cha Street... Lemon Tea Street... Dessert Street."  So, need a metal pole, no problem, that street exists.   Same with various sizes of lightbulbs.  Need one of those shelves that go around and above your toilet?  Lots of stores on a single street selling that too.  "North Face" pullovers with askew labels, mirrors, tubes for the pool and Disney towels, a collection of art vendors or jade bracelets sized for seven year old you ... these streets exist.  Vietnam actually does make everything.

Bead street.

Bead street.

Metal things street?

Metal things street?

OLD MEETS NEW

Where things aren’t in the streets in Hanoi is in the newer areas.  I stayed in the Old Quarter which felt like the Lower East Side had been given a dash of French architecture (lots of this in Hanoi, given the French rule from 1887 - 1954. 

There are other areas where you can find luxury shopping including Cartier, Hermes and Gucci.  Hai, my guide, spoke at length about how Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam and a city founded in 1010 was very proud of its history and culturally was slower to adopt Western brands or overt signs of modernization.  There is no McDonalds here yet.  The younger generations are taking on Western thinking, Hai explained, but at a rate and in a manner that is respectful to the family.  He will still hide his tattoos and his smoking at home.  He also noted that most people here save their money to buy a home, which is different than in Saigon where flash is valued and Western brands tend to move in first, before Hanoi.  

Vietnamese coffee is a serious matter here.  It is served with condensed milk and a bit of sugar and is amazing.  This coffee shop can be found by going through a silk shop, through someone's home and then up three flights.  This was the lake I walked around where the sitar player strummed.  It was easy, it was breezy.  

Vietnamese coffee is a serious matter here.  It is served with condensed milk and a bit of sugar and is amazing.  This coffee shop can be found by going through a silk shop, through someone's home and then up three flights.  This was the lake I walked around where the sitar player strummed.  It was easy, it was breezy.  

BROAD STROKES

I really enjoyed my time here.  It felt familiar in terms of the energy and the social nature of the people.  I was in awe of the reverence for “Father” Ho Chi Minh and what was told to me of his rule and his behavior.   He lived simply and in a manner that seemed to embody the idealism from which Communism was born but rarely has been seen in execution.   You actually can see Ho Chi Minh’s residences as well as his preserved body (!) in the political area of town.  People line up to pay their respects daily.  There are temples dedicated to Confucious, a value placed on education, and overall a delicate blend of old tradition meets modern thinking.  I liked it and would quickly go back. 

Flight VA 177

Location:  The Air.  Heading from Hanoi to Hoi An, May 19th

I know I need to address Hanoi - and I will.  But I just got off this flight and must share.  (All you, Teach!) Because it is too much.  And it happened.  Like two hours ago.  I have been left stunted, confused and frankly, grossed out.

Last minute selfie.

Last minute selfie.

Here are the facts.

1)  Flying in Asia is general mayhem.  

If you are about to fly in Asia - please imagine that I give you a hearty pat on the shoulder and wish you well.  Because unless you detach from your body or have had a few cocktails, you're gonna need some support.  On my most recent flight from Hanoi - there was actually a system (whoa!)   You were to sit in this waiting area until boarding, as they don't allow you to sit in front of where you actually board.  They seem to have created an area before the area.  When your flight is called, you are to enter through the door to access the boarding gates.  A woman checks your pass and then you go to your gate.  But, not seeing the woman for 10 minutes, people just barged through, busted past the "Do Not Enter" signs, as if there were no rules.  Oddly, no one seemed to care.  Good luck pulling that move at JFK.  Homies, you'll all end up in a room with no windows in under ten mins.  I'd imagine you might stay there a while.

2)  Everyone thinks they are on The Amazing Race

But, the very true and very real fact is that they aren't.  Because they are old.  And have suitcases like Mr. Bean / stolen from the set of Mad Men.  Most suitcases are thin, narrow and have two metal latches which you pop at the same time in order to open them.  What exactly does one keep in there?  It's like the Sex & The City episode where a man at jury duty just had a papaya in his official case.  I was body checked by a 90lb 80 year old woman who was not having my pace.  (I'm not exactly slow) A man actually rolled his suitcase over my sandaled feet because he wanted to get by me.  A toothy grin was his response to my "what are you doing."  (I am no longer playing nice although my voice is up a few octaves from where it should be, because I am trying)  One inch on an airplane is actually a mile.  I am actually surprised fights don't break out.  Rather, I'm surprised that I don't pick fights with small strangers on SEA flights.  There we go.  Is this altrusim?  I think so.  Finally!  I've achieved something.  Reminds me of the days I used to win Miss Congeniality awards.... no, this is not a lie.

3)  People are still confused about airplanes and where to sit

It is strange that this perplexes humans still?  Especially when there are signs that everyone can read, in a few languages?  And we are in a city, that is modern?  Tonight I went to my seat and found a row of three women who clearly didn't look at their assignments and took the "I'll just sit anywhere" approach.  Once we got the whole "which seat is yours" mimed discussion out of the way,  I realized that they were wearing hospital masks.  And then... I really looked at them.  They all had squinty eyes, which were purple, with dark bruises extending onto their face because their noses were wrapped and packed.  Seemingly these gals got a group discount on rhinoplasties.  Three friends on a jaunt to Hanoi to get their noses did.  

They didn't know what was going on and it might have been the pain meds or maybe not.  After they shuffled over and I took my seat... one vomited the entire time.   Most people pretended not to notice.  I hid in my scarf and read (deepest thanks to Collie for the White + Warren travel wrap and to Lindsay for selling the power of the kindle).  

4)  Planes are small and people will always attempt to stretch out in odd ways

Case in point, "pointer" as depicted below, kept grabbing the headrest in front of my face.  I couldn't get away and spent way too much time thinking about nail care.  

5)  SOMEONE ANSWERED THEIR PHONE DURING THE FLIGHT AND LEGIT HAD A CHAT.  A! FULL! ON! CHAT!  

It lasted a few minutes and was in Vietnamese.  I imagine it to have gone something like this.  "Hey girl, I'm just here, on this plane, no idea how I have service, but we are about to land.  I see lights.  I see a ferris wheel.  It is just so bright and I'm real excited.  Oh yeah, sorry, you are going to need to keep circling and wait for me because well, I'm not at the luggage carousal yet.  Rather, I'm looking at Danang with a birds eye view.  Right, did you hear me when I told you I was still FLYING on the plane?  OH you didn't catch that because I answered the phone and that isn't allowed by any government?  Yeah, holler.  No!!!! YOU'RE pretty.  Love ya.  TTYL."  

6)  No one really explained "the saftey rules."  "Buckle seat belt now" was about it.  Luckily, there is this guide that is found, you guessed it, in your seat pocket.   Effective moves can be found below.


When You Can't Love The One You're With.

Location:  Siem Reap, Cambodia, May 10th - 14th

I do not like Siem Reap.   And I have been here for four days.  A low hum that sounds like "get me out, get me out, get me out" fills all of my thoughts and experiences here.   The other day I was in a museum and I tuned out my guide to stare at a map, thinking of how to escape and where I could go.  But then I realized the map depicted ancient Cambodia.  And like someone who is held captive and for a small moment sees daylight only to have the curtains quickly pulled closed - I too found myself without hope and sitting in the dark.  

I just googled “I hate Siem Reap” and as it turns out, I am not alone.  

People use words like horrible, loathe and dump to describe this town just as fast as other people talk about the charming people, kids playing in the river and tuk tuk drivers who will give you a small narrative of the city as they drive. 

The river.  With the kids.  Mentioned above.

To align ourselves on exactly how I feel I’ll say this – I deeeeeply dislike Siem Reap.  I don’t enjoy the city, the sights, how I’m perceived and how I’m spoken to.   And, guess what!  I feel guilty about it.   The world does work in special ways.  I feel guilty about it all because I wish for something that Siem Reap cannot deliver.  This is a place that appears to have no control over what it is, how it behaves and what it can become.  And that... that is sad.

LET’S TALK CAMBODIA

Cambodia has had a hell of a time over the last forty years.  They are still trying to rebuild and become a modern city.   

This is just one example of a country's quest for modern plumbing.  A bum gun looks like a hose.  Assuming no one really needs a picture of that.

On quite a serious note, there are also few older people here because of the genocide that occurred under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) when communism was enforced and everyone was forced out of their homes and into the fields to go to work, as “equals.”   With the goal to create a “utopia,” the educated were murdered and many tried to disguise their former professions.  For four years everyone worked mainly as a farmer, in order to contribute to the “greater good” of the country and survived with very little.  Millions died.  Some from starvation or disease, others from torture but most from mass executions in locations that people call the killing fields.   I’ve been told that if you ask any Cambodian they will tell you, to the day, how long the Khmer Rouge was in control. 

Buddhist temple in Siem Reap.  Painted + bright, telling the story of Buddha, clearly different than previous temples seen in Laos and Thailand.  A lot of the temples are new as they were built post 1980.  The Khmer Rouge forced monks to take off their robes and work in the fields as well, to illustrate equality among men.

Landmines are still in the countryside from the war – when the Vietnamese eventually turned on Pol Pot and invaded.  After the war, the Vietnamese who were “liberating Cambodia” took over for about a decade which didn’t go that well and now there is a Prime Minister in power who represents The Cambodian People’s Party but many state that he works for Vietnamese interests and has used force to rig the elections that have occurred over the past thirty years.   

What’s even more mind blowing is the Prime Minister of Cambodia apparently was once a leader of the Khmer Rouge.  But, when the internal purges began before the Vietnam invasion, he fled to Vietnam and then joined the efforts to defeat Pol Pot’s regime.  Members of the Khmer Rouge are current politicos today.  That is like the German government employing many high ranking Nazi officials, only taking a select few to trial for war crimes. 

Huge swarms of people sit on the street outside the children’s hospital, waiting to see a doctor.  Electricity goes in and out.  The rumor is that a good living is making $150 USD a month but not many do.  White bony cows used for farming eat brown grass along the highway.  The police are apparently underpaid, so they are look for ways to scam you for a buck or resell the drugs they confiscate.  Rural families are not opposed to selling their children for money, in hopes to alleviate some of the despair. 

This is one hell of a shit show.

MY EXPERIENCE

I had a guide for two days who helped me navigate the city, provide some background about what is happening in Cambodia and show me some of the temples.  First, no one needs this.  Just rent a tuk tuk.  Second, we suffered through the language barrier and the repetition of facts but then came the not-so-subtle request for money.  The request for money is on everyone’s lips when they see you.  If you look Western in their eyes it means you are rich.  Kids run after you with post cards.  It takes a solid glare and forceful NO to get them to leave you alone.   Men with no legs (a result of stepping on a landmine in the countryside) shuffle up to you in a bar, on their hands.  Tuk tuk drivers call after you  "LAYYDEEE!  Laaaaayyydeeee!"  Drug offerings are whispered… "Cocaine?  Ice?”   (ICE!!!) 

My tuk tuk driver, Mr 007

You are regularly scammed.  Prices instantly triple on almost anything and not only do you need to dust off your sharp bargaining skills, you need to add a helping of aggression to them.  It isn’t about the money – a dollar means a lot more to the people here than it does to me --- but it is about things just feeling fair, just and… kind?  Perhaps nondiscriminatory?

But, when it comes to all of that – the scams, the begging, the heckling… can you blame the people of Siem Reap?  Can you be upset with your guide asking for a big tip (who knows what that even means though) as he tells you about how slow his business is, how he has three kids, that his wife died and oh, that “your hotel is very nice?”  

The thing – is that I believe him  - whether or not his facts are true.  I am very confident he needs money and that his life is one giant struggle.  When he tells me that he prays every day to Buddha that the US or the UN will send troops to stop the current government, are you supposed to mad or frustrated at him? 

But can I (and my tip) fix it?  The answer is no.  It is hard to work through the understanding about what is happening here and that the changes required are infinitely larger than you.  Money may be a short-term Band-Aid but it really just fuels the cycle and the perception of tourists.

You can smell the desperation and as I like to say – the illusion of movement in this town.  There might be new hotels for visitors and we are even told that many piles of rocks have been declared a UNESCO heritage site.  Note, these piles of rocks are lacking.   (I know, this is blasphemy to some ears.  And, to take it a step further I am actually going to say that I don't think it is worth a visit and would recommend going someplace else.)  At these sites, for the most part, there are no Buddha statues, or Lingas from when the temple was Hindu, there are no railings with carvings and the faces of demons that once lined a bridge are gone.  It is because people realized these could be sold for money so they came and cut them down.  This reflects everything  -  especially the acute need - that can be felt here in Siem Reap.   The emptiness of possibility is palpable and it exists prominently on the surface. 

Rocks.

Rocks.

Face rocks.

Rocks with a tree growing over them.

As I toured over the past few days and was peppered with details about kings in the 9th – 15th centuries I first started to think “I can’t care about any of this any more.”  And then I thought – this is all you have.  History about kings, wars, great palaces and greater deeds for the people.  Today, I don’t know if "the people" can imagine any of that.  I don’t know what you dream about as a child here... is it the 9th century when things were good?  It doesn’t seem like most have a way out, they just have the survival skills that have prompted this post.

One bridge leading to Angkor Wat still has it's "faces."  Some are original and some aren't but at least they are there and not beheaded.  The right side has demons and left, gods.

One bridge leading to Angkor Wat still has it's "faces."  Some are original and some aren't but at least they are there and not beheaded.  The right side has demons and left, gods.

Rocks.  Where I believe a 10th century king's ashes are buried.

Rocks.  Where I believe a 10th century king's ashes are buried.

IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER, THE THINGS I THINK ABOUT AS I WALK THROUGH SIEM REAP

1.     I fucking hate this place

2.     Why aren’t there side walks and why is the dirt yellow

3.     STOP YELLING "LAYDEEE, HEY LAYDEEE" AT ME

4.     What side of my body is my purse on?  Good, it is facing away from the street so it can’t be grabbed by a motorbike which will undoubtedly drag me like some of the crazy blogs I have read

5.     So hot.  Is it only 105?

6.     That person has no toes.

7.     Why all the dried fish stalls. 

8.     You can bbq snake and crocodile at this restaurant?  Oh.

9.     Is my scoop neck dress too low?  Is that why people are looking at me?  Where is my cardigan?  Yes, put it on, it’s only 102 outside.

10. You want to charge me what?  Excuse me?

11. You won’t take this dollar bill because there is a small 2mm tear in the corner?  All bills have to be pristine?  Would you like to be paid today?

12. If I had to fight, what elbow could make a greater impact

13. When do I leave.

14. It is so hot.

15.  That child is cute.  Wait, that child is following me.  Wait, that child is running after me yelling LAYYYYDEEE holding post cards.  Man....

LASTLY, A CAVEAT

I realize my opinion on Siem Reap is a pointed one.   It, however, is just that - my opinion after having spent a handful of days in one singular town.  I am sure there is a great deal of beauty in this country to explore and enjoy.  (fingers crossed)  So, come to Cambodia or not – the decision is yours and if you do end up here I hope you enjoy, heckle like the best of them and take in the views of Angkor Wat at sunrise.  That was cool.

Angkor Wat at about 5:45AM.  Worth the early morning call time.  

Angkor Wat at about 5:45AM.  Worth the early morning call time.  

Let's Get You Ready For Cash Cab.

Location:  Luang Prabang, Laos, May 6th - 10th 

If you are reading this post and don't know what Cash Cab is, we need to change this immediately. 

It is only the best game show, shot and hosted from a taxi cab that is actually not real, or so we have heard.  The show would have you think that random people get into NYC taxis and then answer trivia questions for, you guessed it, cash.  But, the rumor is that the show is fully cast through Craigs List.  Which only makes it more awesome.  Why wouldn't you want to "maybe make $100" and possibly "be on TV"and then "meet a guy" on the streets of New York?  Sounds like a win-win.  Put your taser in your purse and let's roll.

Really though, it doesn't matter.  What does matter and what you need to know is that Cash Cab - (hosted by the very awesome Ben Bailey and who I have also seen cameo on Law & Order SVU) - makes me realize each and every time, that my general world knowledge is pretty low, especially if Sarah "I like history" Teachout is sitting next to me.  

So, let's get at it.  A nod to bears and then, ten or so things that maybe you didn't know about elephants.

CHAPTER 1:  BEARS

In Luang Prabang, I had the chance to go to a Free The Bears outpost.  My socks flew right off.  What I thought was just going to be a small zoo of bears was a rescue mission of bears who were being held captive.  Most were held captive because of humans trying to remove BILE from their GALL BLADDERS.  

It is apparently common in Traditional Asian medicine.  This bear sanctuary rescues the bears and after some rehabilitation, places them back into their forest care.  You can see that they are having a pretty rad time - mainly because someone donated them hammocks.

YOU can even buy them a hammock to show your support!  YOU can be just like Santa!  Grow a beard and flaunt your favor for red clothes.  http://www.freethebears.org.au/web/Projects/Laos/

CHAPTER 2:  ELEPHANTS

I mentioned previously that I went to an elephant camp for a day - it was astounding.  Oddly organized at times but honestly, when else would you get the chance to give an elephant a bath in a river?  I do believe, the answer is never.  

1.     They can swim!  (Likely, you knew this) They move all of their legs and up goes their trunk like a snorkel.  Also, when they go into the water, they like to submerge themselves to cool off.  So they sit, like Spot the dog.  No one warned us of that.

2.     They eat about 300lbs of food a day and it’s a combo of grass, corn, leaves, fruit.

This gal was a baby, 3 years old.

3.     Assuming you are not hunting down elephants in the wild, those that you will see in this life have probably been trained to attack if you approach their left side.  Keep it tight and keep it right.  

4.     When you feed them things, like bananas, they use their trunk to grab one after the other in rapid succession.  They actually don’t even seem to chew the bananas.  It is sort of like you at the movies with those peanut M&Ms… eating so rapidly that that your jaw feels tight after two hours of Taken 2. 

5.     Elephants can live to be 90 years old

6.     They are the only mammal that can’t jump.  That would hurt.  

7.     When hot they suck water into their trunk and then spray it on themselves, like a personal mister.  

8.     Elephants hug!  They wrap their trunks together.  Awww, man.

9.     They are just like you on a Friday night with a chick flick.  They cry!  They are sensitive! They can also express play and compassion.  When a baby elephant cries, the entire family will go to touch and caress it.  They also have greeting ceremonies when someone from their herd returns after being away for a while.  

10.  A herd is led by the matriarch and the herd tends to stick together.  Where are the men?  Adult males tend to “wander on their own.”  Of course they do.  Of course.

And a bonus one that if you’ve ridden an elephant, you know – they have coarse needle looking hair that stands straight up and rather hurts!

Top of the head...

Top of the head...

A Story About Opposites. Or, Perhaps Inspiration For Those Who Are Under 25, Invincible & Named Peter Pan

Location:  Luang Prabang, Laos, May 5th -10th 

Luang Prabang is special. 

You've arrived!  Here is where your slow boat will pull up and let you off, to ascend the stairs to Luang Prabang. See where the dark stairs turn to light?  This is how high the river rises during the rainy season.

Luang Prabang is situated along the Mekong and it feels like a place where you could live, run a bar and eat a lot of steamed fish with dill that is cooked in a banana leaf.  There are palm trees and buildings with wooden shutters, people painting along the river like Paris and countless cafes to sit down, relax and watch the fishermen or scooters move on by.

Most people really love this town.  I’ve only read one review from a travel blogger who was deeply bothered by it, saying that it felt like Disney World.  I think she thought that in Laos if you weren’t fully surrounded by poverty and dusty roads that you weren’t having an authentic experience.   That is still here but it is less visible.  This writer actually loved Van Vieng which is a place in Laos where you run around in your bathing suit (a no no here at large in this country) and where you can buy narctotics off restaurant menus before you go tubing down a river that may or may not kill you.  Seriously, people have died. 

Yes, you too could start tubing with these people at 11AM.

If you did, you would run into trustworthy, father figure types like this man.  

You would also write on your body with what appears to be a jumbo sized crayon, drink out of a bucket and make friends, like these people

Even with people ending their lives in this river, it is still open and sometimes it is so low that really you just hit a bunch of rocks along the way, get a ton of bruises, drink bucket size portions of whiskey and then act like you are George of the jungle and swing on a rope into the aforementioned river that has no water in it.  See how this could be risky?  I didn't go because A) I'm not 20 years old and B) I'm traveling alone and C) I think I would have just been acting like Grandma Yetta from The Nanny, yelling at everyone while wearing large shades and some sort of dramatic caftan with beadwork.  

But, if you do decide to  go, because you are looking to get your extreme rage on, make sure you do yourself a favor and look up United Healthcare's policy on airlifting from Van Vieng.  For real.  And, please let me know so that I can follow along on Instagram, so I can make fun of you and post your picture on this gem of a web destination.

Note dudes jumping off platforms and carrot top with his low riding trunks, whose back has been painted with I LOVE.  I bet he does.  I just bet he does.

Lao Hill Tribes. Let's Discuss.

Location:  The Mekong River, Laos, May 4th - 5th

This is a fascinating and also very sad topic in South East Asia.   This post will reflect that.  No sweating stories here.

In Laos, the hill tribes are divided primarily into three large groups that pertain to where on “the hill” – low, medium or high – one lives.  These tribes have been subject to a lot of grave human rights issues over the years.   

Note, this is my understanding of what has occurred, specifically to the Hmong people.  If I'm wrong, please tell me and, apologies.  This is what I've learned and been told during my time in Laos.

It is called "The Secret War" or the Lao Civil War, one where the CIA recruited Lao Hmong people to help fight the Northern Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.  Two years after the US withdrawal from South Vietnam, Laos was overthrown by communist troops and the Hmong were targets of retaliation, eventually accused of helping the CIA by the Lao government.  The Hmong people were declared enemies and in the 70s, a quiet genocide reportedly began to take place.  It was then that the Hmong began to trek across the Mekong to Thailand and this marked a mass exodus of the Hmong from Laos.   

Years post war, the mistreatment of the government did not subside, according to reports.  The Hmong people to this day continue to look to leave Laos.  The US accepted a large number of refugees as recently as 2003.  Then, in 2009 the New York Times reported that Thailand was going to forcibly “return” all of the Hmong people to Laos.  It has been an issue the United Nations and US have been dealing with and it speaks to Laos’ incredible history of conflict, unfortunate racism and civil war.

NY Times Article, Thailand Begins Repatriation of Hmong to Laos, 2009:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/28/world/asia/28hmong.html?_r=0

NBC News, Thousands Still Risk Torture For Helping US in Vietnam War, 2014:  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/thousands-still-risk-torture-helping-u-s-vietnam-war-n181436

PBS Summary of Events:  http://www.pbs.org/splithorn/story1.html

NBC News Summary Regarding Hmong Vet Rights:  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/hmong-vietnam-war-vets-fight-full-military-burials-n246051

I intend to read more about this because like the Cambodian genocide in the 70s – this is not the stuff that one likely recalls or even had the opportunity to read in their history books.  It is deeply unbelievable yet unbelievably true that these war crimes and racist acts continue to happen to this day. 

_________________________    (this is a visual breather)  __________________________

So, what does a Hill Tribe Village look like?  Well, not all villages are Hmong and not all live in fear and reflect what the links above illustrate.  So, in that case, what is actually happening there?

The ones that I went to were notable in that they had well water and electricity.   Obviously, many do not. 

The children were happy (and shy), the adults worked as farmers and in one town, a woman with a baby strapped to her back made whiskey from rice. 

Whiskey Making

So, everyone kept telling me to come try the rice whiskey at the distillery.  I looked.  I looked and then we stopped.  Someone handed me that glass with blue something on it.  THIS IS THE DISTILLERY.  Welcome.  And good luck to you.  The whiskey runs from the pot, heated by coals, into that bottle that has a banana leaf as a funnel.  The overflow goes into that pink pitcher.  Take that, liver.  Take that.

So, everyone kept telling me to come try the rice whiskey at the distillery.  I looked.  I looked and then we stopped.  Someone handed me that glass with blue something on it.  THIS IS THE DISTILLERY.  Welcome.  And good luck to you.  The whiskey runs from the pot, heated by coals, into that bottle that has a banana leaf as a funnel.  The overflow goes into that pink pitcher.  Take that, liver.  Take that.

Where.  Is.  Waldo.

There were general stores, rice fileds that only produce one crop a year, grumpy looking cows and sturdy looking water buffalo.   Some villages have more skills than farming.  Such was the case with one, where women were accomplished weavers. 

This woman said that her home had three looms in it.  The shiny multicolored scarf in the middle took her over one week to make.  Those cost more.  Her grandmother, mother and her weave in their home to sell in town.

This man had a large basket out front, that he uses to carry crops or fish in.  He holds the basket (flat on one side that rests at his back, round on the other) by a strap that goes around his forehead -- see the tan line?  If interested, he would have sold the basket to us.

It was eye opening, sometimes saddening and the most excellent reminder of all that we have and how we think we “need” things but really, we don’t.   

How much we have.  Our wants might be many, but in large, they are small.

More pictures on the images tab.