Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 04:32:44 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald
Subject: phnom penh
I've been here in Phnom Penh a day or two longer than planned, because my stomach rebelled. Montezuma's Revenge, Delhi Belly, or whatever it is you're supposed to call it in Indochina. Have spent a day in bed and a couple days more not doing very much. The guest house terrace is very relaxing, and frankly, there isn't a lot in Phnom Penh to distract me. In a strange way, it's been like being at the beach, with TV and movies instead of swimming and scenery. The guest house has a pretty decent collection of pirate movies on VCD, including _Harry Potter_.
After the Killing Fields and a couple of temples (which aren't as interesting as the ones in Bangkok), you kind of run out of sights in Phnom Penh, except for the novelty stuff that you can only do because Cambodia is such a screwed-up country. For example, there's a famous shooting range where you can buy time with a full-automatic AK-47s or M-16s, or if you have $200 to spare, take a shot with a rocket launcher. Or there's the Phnom Penh specialty, "happy pizza", which comes garnished with a herb not normally thought of as edible. (Reports are unclear on whether you still get the munchies.)
Date: Sun, 9 Dec 2001 05:21:28 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: notes from hanoi
I like Hanoi. It's not as big or as flashy as Bangkok, and there isn't as much to do, but it's a very pretty city (or at least the Old Quarter is -- I haven't seen too much of the rest of the city). While Vietnam is indisputably a poor country, Hanoi isn't anything like as run down as Phnom Penh. Trash is picked up, you see people in business suits, and there are lots of boutiques selling clothing, housewares, artwork, you name it.
What there *isn't*, at least that I've seen, is a big air-conditioned shopping mall with international brand-name stores. But I'm sure it's coming sooner or later, theoretically Communist country or not. The only evidences I've seen that Vietnam is still Communist, incidentally, are the red national flag, a few monuments (there's still a statue of Lenin, and of course Ho Chi Minh's ridiculously huge Mausoleum), and the loudspeakers on street corners that go off every morning at 7 am. (I am told they carry government announcements and news, though obviously I can't understand them.) Other than that, state apparatus is not unusually in evidence -- not any more so than Malaysia, say, or France.
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2001 22:29:43 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: first impression of China
This is a caffeinated country.
Thailand and Cambodia are ganja countries. No matter how aggressively the moto drivers charge the gates when a train pulls in, you know it's a short burst kind of thing and purely for business -- the moment the last tourist is out of sight, they'll doze off again.
China's not like that. The Chinese seem to be cranked on caffeine and nicotine 24/7 -- they're always checking you out and looking over your shoulder, not because they want to sell you something but out of plain nosy curiosity.
I feel wired just walking in to this country.
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 05:55:17 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: travels in china
Travel in China has generally been easier than I've been cautioned about. No one really speaks English, of course, but more people than I expected know at least some rudiments, and with a phrasebook it's been okay. It may be difficult to get train reservations, but I couldn't really say -- I've found myself repeatedly on buses, which have been excellent. (Long- distance buses in China have stewardesses. (Flight attendants?).)
The weather, unfortunately, has not cooperated. For my first three days in the country, it rained more or less non-stop, and now I am out of dry clothes. I haven't spent as much time out looking around as I would have liked because it just got too unpleasant being damp all the time in towns where there was no central heating. Not in stores, not in the bus station, not in my hotel rooms. (The Chinese generally just keep all the doors and windows open all the time -- why not, I suppose, if there's no heat to keep in anyway.) The temperature, for reference, hasn't really been cold, for which I am grateful, just around 15 C (60 F). I just don't have room in my pack to carry a decent jacket, and so the rain has been a problem.
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 22:55:58 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald
Subject: end of the road
So, in three hours or so I head for the airport for an overnight flight back to San Francisco, where I have a few days before continuing onward to Halifax for Christmas. (Side note: Halifax time is exactly 12 hours offset from Hong Kong. I'm not going to know if I'm coming or going.)
It's been a great trip, but I'm worn out -- it gets harder and harder to actually pay attention to all the stimulation China throws at me. I need home for a rest. Or another week on a beach somewhere would do in a pinch, but I think I'd rather see Anna for a few days and have Christmas in Nova Scotia.