Tag Archive for 'vietnam'

ASIA DISPATCH 7 // HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA

DISCLAIMER: IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN READING ABOUT CHILD PROSTITUTION, GENOCIDE, UNSOLICITED HAND JOBS, OR PHILANTHROPY, PLEASE DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

Woke up at dawn and made it to the travel agency bus depot just in time to find out that the dude who sold me my bus ticket misinformed me of the location of my buses departure. So I hopped on the back of some random thrill jockey’s scooter and embarked on a treacherous high speed journey through the back alleys of HCMC to the real bus depot where I boarded my ride to Phnom Penh with about two minutes to spare.

Once on board, the bus host greeted me with some complimentary doughtnuts

and a 6 a.m. screening of Michael Jackson’s video for “Man in the Mirror.”

I grabbed a seat next to a super-size Dutch girl who was traveling alone. Travel chat ensued and I asked her if she had any misgivings about traveling through Cambodia solo. She told me that as long as she’s aware of her surroundings she doesn’t have any problems. This before she told me that she’d been mugged twice in the two days prior, and in fact had come straight from the police station where she’d spent hours waiting to give a statement to decidedly unconcerned HCMC police officers about the most recent of the double late night Saigon muggings.

In the first incident, two days prior, she’d been riding on the back of a taxi scooter when another scooter pulled up along side her in traffic. The rider adjacent promptly ripped her purse off of her arm and blew town. So the next day she wore a backpack instead, and the second thief, not only took the bag, but the big girl with it, sending her to the pavement and leaving her with a considerable case of road rash to accompany her monolithic hangover.

She told she was headed to Siem Reap. I assumed she was going to see the temples, but she told me she didn’t really care about the temples, that she was really just going there to “party.”

Knocked about by a combination of Dutch Girl’s stimulating conversation, the monotonous pop music blaring through the overhead speakers and the complimentary carbon monoxide wafting in through the A/C vents of our dilapidated long haul coach, I floated in and out of consciousness until we reached the outskirts of Phnom Penh where I woke up with a crippling headache and was greeted by a creepy scene.

It began when a tween girl in a dust mask got off a ferry with a single sack of belongings and was greeted by these shady characters.

The interaction was strange to say the least, the Shadies being, well, shady, and Tween being one block south of terrified.

At this point I tried to make sense of the scene by convincing myself that Shady was Tween’s long lost cousin, some distant relative, who just happens to live at the crossroads of this vice highway, and that after a long journey though the wilds of Cambodia alone, as in some coming-of-age, feel good, foreign indie flick, Tween had come to celebrate their joyous reunion after years spent apart.

And then five more creepy dudes surround her, sharing sinister smiles, and eyeballing her like lions at feeding time.

The first creep relieves her of her belongings and hands them to another creep in the pack, then orders her to saddle up on the back of one of the other creep’s scooters. Tween’s looking visibly freaked out at this point, so Shady One obliges her a pat of encouragement on the back and sends her on her way with the gaggle of creepazoids.

And as soon as the creepazoids pull away, Shady One turns to Shady Two, slaps him five, and spreads one of the wickedest smiles I’ve ever seen a kid that age smile that wasn’t in the process of torturing a small animal.

About thirty seconds later, the bus boards the ferry and next to it pulls up a motorcycle wrapped in live chickens. The only reason I could tell they were alive was because they were vomiting all over and pissing themselves.

15 minutes inside the boarder, chaos, it seemed, had taken control. My head was spinning, and the sarcastic, rational me was laughing.

“Welcome to Cambodia, fuckface.”



I’d heard about the vice lords that swarmed the city bus stops offering guns, girls and drugs as buses of of travelers emptied out in the capital. And as we disembarked our dilapidated motorcoach, we were graced with a similar greeting.

In a matter of about fifteen minutes, you can basically buy a small child, a lifetime supply of heroine, and backpack full of hand grenades if you so desire.

And for this reason, sex tourists and mad men flock to this place like preservationists to Madagascar.

I passed on the guns and girls, but I did need some Advil.

I was offered speed and random pills from strangers, which a few years ago would’ve been a reason to extend my trip, but these days my medicinal needs are purely just that. So I went to about five different pharmacy’s in a six block square area where I was again offered random narcotics from the dirty palms of De facto pharmacists.

I finally scored twenty Tylenol (priced by the pill) from a pharmacy whose entrance was barricaded with stacks of chairs to ward off bandits, though anybody with two eyes in their head would surely question how effective such such security measures would be when tested by a band of exacto-wielding Cambodian speed freaks.

Medication working it’s way to my brain, I hit up a surprisingly delicious French bakery for lunch and after being accosted every ten feet by peddlers of wide variety of evils, decided to hit the road to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat before my headache morphed into something more sinister.
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I arrived in Siem Reap and was greeted at the bus depot in near darkness by another gaggle of grabby drivers and dealers. Intense would be one way to describe it. Enraging might be another.

I chose number 6328, the most calm of the pack, to take me to my luxury accommodations.

Not to a makeshift shooting range or whore house or tin shack where his great aunt carves busts of Khmer Rouge soldiers out of rare marble, but directly to my hotel, the Angkor Star, which oddly enough looked like a Calabasas McMansion owned by some Persian coke dealer.

My headache was searing and my patience wearing, and this particular driver, one of the few I met that spoke decent English, understood very clearly.

Number 6328’s name was Thon and he was driving a tuk-tuk to feed his family and pay his way through hotel management courses at the local college.

Considering his command of English, I assumed his story at least I part true and decided to hire him to drive me to the temples the next morning, somehow at a cheaper rate than the majority of non-English speaking drivers in town. So if you’re in Siem Reap and need a reliable driver you can reach him at 092277140 or by email at jhontimck@yahoo.com.

My $25 a night suite at the coke palace ended up being quite luxurious, complete with marble floors, wi-fi, satellite TV a two-person spa tub, and a killer view of the mall next door.

More specifically, the children’s play area, and even more specifically than that, the ball cage.

Before turning in, I strolled into town, to check out the night market where I was offered cocaine and a massage from the mysterious “Dr. Fish.”

But burnt from my journey, rather than taking a big step backwards to re-explore the 2-dimensional darkness, I decided to turn in early and save my strength for my trip to Angkor Wat in the morning.

Mr. Thon picked me up, hungover, but on time. My heart began to race and my mind numbed, stunned, as we approached the moat surrounding the temple complex, the sheer size and beauty of the structures just too much to comprehend for a guy who has a hard time putting a bookshelf from Ikea together.

And the old Powershot, and handy as it is, just has no way of bringing these structures to life in the same way they come alive when you’re standing before,

hiking up,

or finding your way through, them.

But to give you an idea…









The temples are still functional and every so often you’ll stumble across a passing monk,

or cowboy,

the faithful making an offering,

a sloppy, sunburnt Swedish tourist in a half-shirt,

or an old Asian woman treating herself to some sort of masochistic slap massage.

Masochist Slap Massage // Angkor Wat from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

I was dying from fever and headache when I noticed this annoying trustafarian in the monk gear, a certain “DON’T” for “white man in Cambodia” travel fashion.

I get it. You want to show how down you are with the people by rocking their style, but if you really want a decent shot at achieving nirvana, I highly suggest losing the $300 running shoes.

This chick’s a “DO” though. Looks like a character from some modern day Paul Bowles adaptation.

Many of the temples are in serious disrepair, and hiking through them, if you’re a klutzy fuck, can actually be fairly risky business.

i.e. this ladder to the sky. It’s less than a person wide and goes up about ten stories. Had to squeeze past some old lady who freaked out about half way up and nearly took us both down.


The view from the top…

This one was pretty gnarly too.

Those trees you see, down there in the background, are like redwood high so…

You fall. You die.

Fail to pay attention to what’s above you

and you might just get crushed.

One thing that I found interesting, in a country where forty percent of the people live under the poverty line ($0.45 per day here), is the amount of money wealthy foreign country’s are pumping into the restoration of the temples. The French, The Japanese…

I’m all about the preservation of historical monuments, but my question is who are they preserving them for?

Because if they don’t start putting some of that money toward helping the people, there will one day be few true Khmer’s left to celebrate the history of.


Of course you’ll get the self-righteous rich fucks who’ve been handed everything their whole lives who’ll claim that these people have been given opportunities to better themselves, but are too lazy, or stupid to seize them. I’m guessing these assholes have never crossed paths with Mr. Thon who’s driving a tuk tuk to pay his way through college, or this 10 year old kid, who stands out in the hot sun all day selling petrol out of Johnny Walker bottles to survive.

A storm brewing, my fever rising, and my head pounding,

I made the main temple my last stop of the day. The moat surrounding it is 190 meters wide,

and some crazy ass construction worker was swimming across it, in FULL GEAR, for what appeared to be PLEASURE.

After wandering the halls, I happened upon a Buddhist ceremony and an impromptu jam by the house band.

Cambodian Children’s Band Jams at Angkor Wat from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Buddha must’ve approved of the set list, because upon ending the session, we were treated to a giant thunder clap.

Not understanding the gravity of the storm that was about to hit, I started strolling my way across the moat as locals sprinted for cover. Growing up in Chicago where I’ve hiked to class in -30 wind chill, I was actually chuckling to myself at how panicked they appeared to be.

Mr. Thon howled at me from the other end of the moat to follow him as he bolted off towards a café about a 100 yards beyond it.

So I did, and narrowly missed being pummeled by the first monsoon storm of the season. We sat in the café, and watched as people ran for cover…

and the land around us flooded.

Even the cows were freaking out.

But it wasn’t until we rode back into town that I understood the full power of the monsoon.

In the course of a half an hour, the storm pretty much shut the city down, and this was only the first of the season. They had three more months of storms like this to go.

After a long day at the temple, I headed into town

to get some dinner, work on a Cambodia-inspired NIGHTSlikeKNIVES track and to find out more about the mysterious Dr. Fish.

Who is this Dr. Fish? And what does he do?

Why are women all over town wading around in tanks full of filthy water, and how is this considered a healthful activity?


When I asked the woman running the show what they fish were actually doing, the manager responded. “They eat your skin. They so hungry.”

Gross.

Here’s some video. Try not to lose your lunch.

Dr. Fish // Siem Reap, Cambodia from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Somehow still hungry after my pit stop at Dr. Fish, I ended up at this Cambodian version of some bad Big 10 Frat boy bar where, four alarm fever enveloping my entire being, I somehow forced down some Cambodian BBQ while I listened to drunk white kids at the surrounding tables argue over who was the most totally fucked up the night prior, and share intriguing tales of recent conquests with hairy backpacker sluts.

Kings of Leon poured through the speakers and across the way, four shirtless Matthew McConaughey look-a-likes crashed glasses and cat-called passing hookers as if playing bit parts in some sort of post-colonial borrowed nostalgia show.

Sports on the tube. Tubby dudes in tank tops downing pitchers of mixed drinks. Fist bumps. “Born in the USA.” Off-key waiters singing “Happy Birthday.” It was all too much to bear.

Patience drained, I noticed some bearded Fauxhemian across the way smiling at me. And as I would in LA, where most people that smile at you are either A) bat shit crazy or B) trying to get something from you, I ignored him. But then he started waving. Waving at me like he knew me, or worse yet, wanted to know me.

I was freaked out to say the least, about ready to stand up and holler something like, “yeah, we may both be single white males with archetypical pervy facial hair styles, both traveling through Cambodia solo, dining alone a restaurants filled with hookers, in a country known around the globe for its depravity and sex tourism. But I’m not here to fuck kids, buddy, you are!”

And that’s when I realized it was just comrade Rob, my Canadian programmer travel buddy with the great shitzer stories that I met back in Luang Prabang. So I headed over to see how his battle with Parvo was going.

After dinner, what I really wanted was a massage, but after seeing the vast and attractive selection of masseuses and masseuse/prostitutes available in town, I decided to roll back to the castle and hit the hay.

Prior to arriving in Cambodia, I guess I had this idea that any prostitute I encountered would surely be wearing neon fishnets and rubber and lace, five tons of cheap makeup, would most certainly be dying of AIDS and/or starvation, and possibly covered in flies.

And though some were wearing neon and bad makeup, and according to statistics quite a few are dying of AIDS, and/or are malnourished, none of them were covered in flies. In fact, the majority of the ladies of the night I encountered were crazy fucking hot, quite healthy looking, and dressed better than most suburban mall tarts.

On top of this, I also heard some were aggressive. You ask for a Swedish and they give you a baby. After going bone dry for a month, I was feeling quite vulnerable, so I figured I better split before I ended up like this guy.


I spent most of my dinner watching him. At first it repulsed me, the site of this Medicare Marlboro Man parading around with this twentysomething Cambodian cutie and playing daddy to her kids…

But the longer I watched, the more I realized they weren’t just her kids, and he wasn’t just “playing” daddy. They were his kids too. And that cute Cambodian chick was his wife.

The Marlboro Man was a regular at this joint and everybody seemed to like him. This guy wasn’t your typical boozy, hooker-bashing, expat rapist. The Marlboro Man actually ordered a round of kiddy cocktails for he and the kids, and then played games to entertain them until the food game. Big smile on her face, his young wife was glowing, and not in a “you feed my children, I love you long time” way.

The whole scene was pretty touching actually.

Next morning, I woke mad ill and decided against another romp through the wat.

Instead, I opted to head into town to celebrate the impending monsoon by making more musica. Within five minutes of taking my seat on the bakery patio, the rain began to pour.


As what would eventually become “Magic Tree” floated from my headphones, I noticed these two little girls dancing in the rain. The older one twirling and spinning the smaller one in circles. Both appeared fairly malnourished and yet they were giggling and beaming, just kids being kids.

You see children like these all over Cambodia, roaming dirt roads and trash filled streets, begging for food, whether put up to it by their parents or not, and having no idea how fucked up a world is that allows this to happen.

The western couple across the way, charmed just as I was by the pair, brought the kids over to their table and bought them lunch.

Being grateful I had the money to eat, I went over to the Blue Pumpkin after lunch for some dessert,

and eavesdropped as these British yuppies grilled their visibly annoyed driver about his thoughts on the mass genocide of the Cambodian people by the Khmer Rouge.

His response to their prying was this. “When you ask what it was like, if you come to dig up the things that were buried before, to dig up a dead body, and bring it into day, I do not think it is a good thing.”

And with that, as if on cue, some Cambodian mine victim with no legs pumped by on his tricycle with a smile on his face, punctuating the end of the nosey broad’s interrogation.

After a day of mulling over starvation and mass genocide, I was feeling fairly stressed, so I retired to my hotel for a massage. And that’s when shit really got weird.

As I said before, I figured my hotel would be the last place I’d end up being tempted by the pleasures of the flesh, so I headed to the pimp at my desk,

who just happened to speak better English than me, and asked to have a massage in my room. Ten bucks an hour. I handed over the dough and headed up to my suite, the one with the view of the children’s playroom that is,

where I rinsed my body off in some rusty water, and passed the time flipping through channels on the tube.

I caught bit of a Cambodian tabloid news broadcast that featured uncomfortably long takes of child murderers posing with their weapons of choice. The skinnier of the two killers was a bat man apparently

while the plumper one preferred to use the classic for his dirty deeds.

After pondering what a 24/7 Khmer Rouge News Network would’ve looked like back in the 70’s, I kicked back on the bed and settled in to watch this, oddly gripping, live weaving competition.

Like moth to flame I was drawn to the delicate, intricate action of each machine, and the deftness with which its captain commanded it. Enthralling to say the least, and why the Olympic Committee hasn’t thrown this one on the list of world competition events I will never know.

And then the doorbell rings.

I cross the room, pirate-eye the peephole and find a sad sight on the other side. A big-headed, slow-eyed, pony-tailed Elvis lookalike in a white Polo and yoga pants, frowning at the thought of rubbing another pervy westerner down. Flanking her, a slight security guard standing bored, waiting for his next smoke break.

I pop the door and a giant smile breaks across Elvis’ face, pushing the drawn on beauty mark she wears just to the left of her top lip, up towards her eye.

Me being neither fat, nor old, nor too ugly, she seems way too eager to get down to business and it’s freaking me out. But I was the one who asked for this.

So i invite her in and she motions for the security guy to take a hike. I leave my clothes on, camo shorts and a t-shirt, and sit down on the bed.

“You lay down now,” Elvis instructs me, gently, and so I lay down on my stomach and she makes an attempt at rubbing my back through my shirt. But the cotton barrier making it impossible for her to give it her all, she tugs the bottom, signaling for me to take it off.

“This okay?” she asks sweetly, beaming.

“What, my shirt? You want me to take it off?” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “This okay, yes?” She asks. So I sit up and she pulls the t-shirt over my head
with a devilish grin.

“You marry?” she asks.

“Not married, but I have a girlfriend,” I say and her eyes scan the suite.

“No marry?!” she gushes. “This is very big room for one person! So you alone?”

“Alone here, yes,” I say.

She crosses the room and gazes out the windows, admiring the view of the mall next door as if it were her first time at the hotel, then tugs the drapes shut, concealing us from the prying eyes of frolicking children.

“Very expensive this room for a man on his own,” she coos. “You must be very wealthy man.”

“If you say so,” I say, knowing the joint’s all of 25 bucks a night.

“This okay?” she asks, this time tugging the bottom of my camo shorts. “I take off?”

“Um… okay sure,” I say and she undoes my belt and tugs and tosses my shorts on the bed.

So now I’m in my skivvies, as most would be, if not in the buff, while receiving a professional massage. She tells me to flip over, on my back. I do, and she gets to work on my legs, particularly the part that’s closest to my dick and balls. And now it seems no matter what area she’s supposed to be massaging, one hand is not only lingering in, but massaging, my groin region.

“You are American, yes?” she asks.

“Yes American,” I reply.

“You are very handsome,” she says.

“Um… Okay. Thanks,” I say, wondering if that feeling I’m feeling down below is in fact me getting an erection.

It is.

Her thumbs are magic. Her hands are on my scalp, but her thumbs are somehow massaging, very deeply, the area between my cock shaft and thigh. My heart’s racing. I’m sweating. Not sure how much more of this I can take.

“You must be lonely in this big room all by yourself,” she says softly in my ear, and now I’m laying on my back, staring up at the cottage cheese ceiling, a blazing hard on tenting my boxer briefs and I’m paralyzed.

I don’t know whether to scream or blow. I haven’t even done anything, but the guilt is smothering. Is she rubbing my balls?! I think I’m about to get raped.

Should I stop her? Maybe this is just how they do it here. The Swedes have there way, and the Cambodians another.

What if I accuse her attempting to molest me and she flips out, offended? Word could spread. The entire Cambodian massage therapy community could be affected.

What if she cries?

What if she leaves and flips the script, tells the pimp downstairs that I went and forced her to view my boner tent while she was simply trying to make my stay at the Angkor Star as comfortable as possible.

Why is she getting on the bed? Is she going to try and suck my dick? What if she tries to suck my dick?! Can a man cry “rape?” Who will hear me? Will anybody care?

The harder my dick gets the less she looks like Elvis and more like Marilyn. I am only human, but I have to put a stop to this.

JESUS SAVE ME!! MOHAMMED!! BUDDHA!! HOUDINI!! SOMEFUCKINGBODY GET ME OUT OF THIS MESS!! ONE MORE WIGGLE OF HER THUMB AND I’M COMING HOME WITH A BABY!!!

In a desperate and awkward move, I flip over and stab my boner into the mattress. Picture myself being buried alive, in bloody puppy parts, in the vomit of 1,000 gangrenous rest home grandmothers, in anything that will level this erection.

“All done?” she asks. She doesn’t tell me. She asks, implying that we don’t have to be done if I don’t want to be. Do I want to be?

“All done,” I sigh, breathless and sweaty, ready for my archetypal Lifetime movie-of-the-week post-rape shower. And by the look in her sad, hound dog eyes, I’m guessing it’s not the answer she wanted to hear. I peel off a few extra bucks in hopes in might reduce the sting of my rejection, but it doesn’t.

When I hand her the bills, she holds on to my hand in hope for something more. And not for any other reason than this is Cambodia. This girl probably lives in some shack on the edge of town with five kids, no clean water, and I was her ticket to a healthy dinner.

And as she mopes out the door, I can’t help but think about how many times she returns to massage dispatch, or wherever these girl go off-duty, no extra money in hand, as her prettier, skinnier, less Elviscentric co-workers gush about the fat tips they got for allowing some pervy, old, more than likely British, sex tourist to molest them.

Shit gets twisted in countries as desperate as Cambodia. To unravel it can take centuries, and who’s got time for that? Looking back now, I probably should’ve just let her give us both a happy ending.

Only kidding, Aunt Trudy!

In the morning, I grabbed a bus back to PP for my flight out. This chatty Kathy hopped on board and plopped down on a seat next to me.

I felt her watching me, waiting for an opportunity to ensnare me in some travel chat. But I wasn’t biting. We had six hours of driving ahead of us. She was already vibrating in her seat and she hadn’t even started in on the Big Gulp-size cup of coffee she had in her lap.

I’ve spent way too many flights in my life pinned against the window by lonesome crazies, so I’m all too aware of the fact that even the slightest movement can be taken as a cause for engagement.

Here are the basic rules I suggest when taking a seat next to a stranger on a plane, train or bus for a long distance journey.

1. If you feel eyes upon you, do not move.

2. If your kooky neighbor takes the sneaky route by saying something aloud to themselves that necessitates a concurrence from you, something as seemingly benign as “what a beautiful day,” ignore them. Stare straight ahead and do not oblige their unwelcomed intrusion.

3. Do not smile at your neighbor.

4. Do not look in your neighbor’s direction (whether or not they are in the window seat).

5. Put your headphones on, open a book or take out your laptop. Let them know you have business to take care of.

6. And if they are still sizing you up for a prolonged period of time, simply stick your finger up your nose or start scratching your balls.

One form of intrusion not covered here is when your neighbor invades your sightline and engages you face-to-face.

That’s what my Cambodian bus neighbor did. I don’t remember what her opening line was, but it left me no wiggle room. I was trapped.

Lucky for me, she was awesome. She’s a nurse from Boston. Her husband, an engineer, had volunteered, earlier in the year, to help with the building of new infrastructure in Vietnam, and having fallen in love with Southeast Asia, she’d decided to donate her time to helping the children of Cambodia.

She told me that 1 in 100 children still die of dysentery or pneumonia here simply because of the lack of clean water. She works 10-16 hours a day at the Angkor Hospital for Children.

Impoverished families from all over the country travel hundreds of miles to get there. Some days start with a line outside that wraps around the block. And this lady doesn’t leave until every last patient is treated.

Amazing the effect one human being with good intentions can have on such a great number of people when an asshole like me can’t even take the time to engage a single stranger in casual conversation.

Problem is there’s only one of her and children are still dying.

The Cambodian government is useless, corrupt is fuck, and more concerned with supporting the welfare of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces than taking care of its citizens.

U.S. and other foreign corporations are pumping billions into Cambodia’s tourism, rubber, rice, mining, textile and oil industries, buying up land in perpetually renewable 99-year leases, yet doing little to improve the quality of life of its people or improve the human rights situation there.

You see these dudes in their $600 jeans and Rolexes waiting at the airport for the Lexus or Mercedes luxury sedan to pick them up and whisk them away to their 5 star resorts where they can sip martinis while discussing how to rape and enslave another 3rd world country.

Meanwhile, children are begging for food in the streets. Like these two who cleverly put on their saddest face for begging as we disembarked our bus for a break on our way back to PP, and then frolicked in the dust laughing while they waited for us to return before strapping their sad mugs back on again.

Upon my arrival back in PP, I was blitzed by a swarm of grabby teen to thirtysomething hustlers once again as I looked for a driver to take me to the Choeung Ek aka “The Killing Fields.”

They were shouting and tugging at my clothes and bags. I was sick and tired, and over it, I finally lost my cool and snapped, howling all sorts of expletives at them, and then waited for the rusty shiv in my gut.

But it never came.

I was stunned. They actually stopped talking and listened.

After some remarkably polite haggling, I boarded my chosen driver’s tuk tuk and off we went.

The sky was fast turning black, the second storm of the monsoon was on it’s way, as I headed off on the forty minute journey out of downtown

and through the slums of Phnom Penh, which that make post-riot Watts look like Disneyland.


Burnt out husks of homes, dirt roads

and abandoned construction

mine victims

tin shack dress shops.

A few minutes in, I passed a stilt house nearly identical to this one

with bars over its windows, packed with children fighting for a space to see outside.

My driver was really insistent about taking me to a shooting range, but I was pressed for time, besides the fact that I’d heard way too many horror stories about travelers getting robbed at gun point and assaulted in these parts. My driver seemed cool enough, but my laptop alone could feed a family of ten for a year so I was taking any chances.

The monsoon dumped and I was just stoked I finally had a chance to wear my poncho.

We arrived at Choeung Ek, which, at first glance, looks less like a site of mass murder than it does some sort of twisted Palm Springs golf course.

The rain let up just enough to hustle into the small museum on the grounds where smoking, among other things, is not permitted.

I perused the collection of visual aids displayed to help explain the gruesome history of the site, the Khmer Rouge gear, the pictures of victims, and the like, but my brain for whatever reason, was unable to make a emotional connection with the truth of it all.

That is until I came upon the case containing this anonymous child victim’s sweater, pinned the way it was, as if in motion, as if it still held the ghost of the young girl who’d once worn it.

I could see her in my head, running and playing and laughing, in the dust like those little girls begging at the bus stop, or in the rain, like the ones dancing together outside the café in Siem Reap. And I nearly lost it.

I’m still about to lose it, typing this now, months after my visit, and thirty some odd years after this stranger lost her life.

I moved outside to the fields where some of the graves were excavated after the regime fell.

Others were left covered, the names, and the number of occupants still unknown, though the rainwater, especially during monsoon season continues to bring the bones and clothing of those buried to the surface.

The clothes are occasionally collected by groundskeepers and put in this tank


though there are so many buried here that it’s hard to keep up, especially during monsoon season.

Same with the bones, they’re popping up everywhere, and there are just not enough hands on deck to keep up.

And I found myself inadvertently treading across random bits of bones and clothes…

until I realized that not only the excavated parts were graves, but that the entire site itself was.

This is “The Killing Tree” where the Khmer Rouge, known to kill three generations at a time, as to avoid future retribution, would smash and kill the babies and small children, swinging them by their legs.

And this is the “Magic Tree.”

From its branches, the Khmer Rouge soldiers would hang a P.A. speaker and blare music out towards the city

to cover the screams of their victims as they were stabbed, shot, smashed or buried alive in pits. Skulls of some of the victims are kept in an on-site shrine.


I left Choeung Ek numbed at first by what I’d seen.

And seeing these children playing in the parking lot on my way out only tightened the knot in my brain.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the airport

and found a bone fragment stuck in the bottom of one of my boots

that my head found a place for the ghosts of Choeung Ek to settle.

I felt and helpless and sad and selfish.

In the great scheme of things, I’ve lived my life in a mirror, seeking only to do what puts a smile on my face. And in result, what I’ve worn for the larger part was a frown.

It was time to step up. The only problem then being, where to begin.

I racked my brain for the majority of the 21-hour flight back to L.A. and came up with a thousand solutions, and none of them practical. I like to think big which sometimes dooms the simple forward movement.

But as luck or fate or whatever would have it, upon my arrival back in Los Angeles, I found an email asking if I’d like to DJ A Moveable Feast event for Drop in the Bucket, an organization that has constructed more than 80 wells and a number of sanitation systems at locations in Tanzania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Chad, Kenya and Uganda.

Needless to say, I leapt at the chance.

All it costs is a measly 5 Gs to change these people’s lives forever and the well in Uganda we raised money for began pumping August 17, 2010. You can see some photos of the well-building and dedication here.

The next Moveable Feast to raise money for A Drop in the Bucket will be taking place at a farmhouse in Ventura on November 13, 2010. For event details and to buy a ticket or donate, go to www.amoveablefeastla.com.

And if you’re a fellow Angeleno looking for a way to step up today, you can always check out L.A. Works to see what service opportunities are available around town.

On the flip side, if you need somebody to shoot, cut, spin, write, produce, pick up, move or plant something that will benefit somebody in need, feel free to hit me up at chrisk@sleepnever.com.

Until then, I leave you this old school Khmer proverb “Tork Tork Penh Bampong,” or “Drop by drop fills the (Bamboo) Container”

chouay soum,
kostrzak

ASIA DISPATCH 4 // HANOI & HALONG BAY // POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE

So after downing another fabulous mystery meat sandwich and a properly aged jelly cake, I landed safely in Hanoi, met my driver…

and checked into my hotel with the crazy ass view of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Fuck yes! I love this city.

And I’d tell you all the reasons why, but then of course you’d have to read them all.

So let’s do it this way… If you were looking for search terms to enter into my brain to extract an explanation, here are a few that might strike gold: bun cha, Xiao mian, pho ga, pho tai boo vien, pork ribs, steamed chicken with lemon grass, unidentifiable genius, doughnut, beefsteak, seafood, fruit, pastry, coffee, coffee street, deconstructed fruit smoothie street, gravestone street, silk street, lacquer street, ice cream parlor, analog electronics, makeshift business, street life, carbon monoxide, chaos, propaganda, ho chi minh, hoan kiem lake, cruising, $6 massage, $30 room, scooter fashion, scooter physics, elderly women thwart scooter thief, death ride, child vs. truck, French colonial, art of the hustle, honor, pride, resilience, resourcefulness, revenge, war, forgiveness, art copyists, construction, shirtless old dudes, elderly pickpockets, mystery streets, labyrinth alleyways, feral light, soul.

onward ho…

so as I let on before, I hit up the Hanoi Fine Art Museum which was impressive, not because the collection was housed in this gorgeous french colonial mansion that was built in the 30s for the daughters of French colonial rulers’ throughout Indochina who came to Hanoi to study

or that the art itself was necessarily groundbreaking or stunning, (some of it was of course) but because most of it, aside from this nazi Buddha

this rural business

and “this guy”

was just dolled up war propaganda. Peasant farmers and guns. Flowers and guns. Babies and guns. Uncle Ho beaming knowledge with wise eyes into the minds of possessed, frolicking children… and guns.

Much of the “modern art” collection, in fact, is dedicated to the revolution, the Vietnam war, random battles that I’ve never even heard of, or of Uncle Ho himself. And I would’ve taken more photos, but I was escorted a female security guard throughout the museum after getting busted by the electric eye snapping (non-flash) shots of this piece…

The remainder of the “modern art” collection isn’t very modern at all. In fact, every 20th century art movement appears 20 to 50 years behind its western equivalent. For Vietnamese artists, cutoff from the influence of the western art world, cubism appears to have started in the 70’s, abstract expressionism and surrealism in the 80’s, and so on.

What’s even weirder are the Vietnamese artists who chose to build an entire career on biting a legendary western artist’s style. Looking across the gallery, I swore I’d spotted a blue period Picasso, but upon closer inspection found that some Vietnamese dude had actually painted it. There was an early Magritte, an imposter Klee, all doing original stuff, but painting it in somebody else’s style decades later.

Crazy…

In the afternoon i dropped through a wormhole to the innocence of the 50’s and landed in this the very Lynchian ice cream shop.


The streets here are a tangle of tires and flesh. Thin bodies darting between whizzing scooters, and street vendors hawking anything and everything you could ever want. Like fake art…

gravestones

killer vintage analog stereo gear

Hanoi, Vietnam // “Musics Before” from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

strange beasts dropped from the bellies of alien space ships

Scooters or mannequins or ladders

the best food on the planet


and other stuff (when somebody’s awake to sell it to you)

This dude was posted outside my first hotel. Didn’t see a press pass, but I’m pretty sure he’s still shooting a war, maybe not “the war,” but some war.

Rented a scooter and headed over to Hoa Lo Prison aka “Maison Centrale” aka “Fiery Furnace” aka “Hell’s Hole” aka “Stove” aka “The Hanoi Hilton.” Unlike the scooter thief who attempted to steal my rental while I was showing off my ball stash money belt over a bowl of pho to a professional pickpocket, the ones stationed outside the prison were nice enough to tell me they’d snatch my shit if I didn’t park it inside the gates. So I did, right here, in the scooter parking hall of the prison.

Inside, you can see models of actual cells where, during the 30s and 40s, many of the future leading figures in Communist North Vietnam were imprisoned,

tortured with bottles and electrical generators, beaten with canes,

and killed by the french.

Conditions were so bad at Hoa Lo in fact that 100 of them somehow escaped down this sewer in the prison yard between March 11 and March 16, 1945.

I was starting to feel bad for them until I saw that the prison bathrooms were actually nicer than those at my regular coffee spot

You can also see how, in the very same prison, American imperialist invader prisoners of war, including the bitter and crazed failed John Mccain (flight suit picture here)

were treated like visitors to Club Med.

Here they played chess, volleyball, basketball, pool and guitar


and provided only the absolute best medical care the North Vietnamese Army had to offer.

Ho Chi Minh even sent them a handmade New Year’s card!

Don’t believe me? Just read the sign. It’s in a museum, so it must be true.

After my visit to hell on earth, I took a stroll through the gift shop where I found a wide variety of collectible items for sale, including creepy buddhas and “Good Morning Vietnam” beer cozies.

The Hanoi nights are magical. Just take a look for yourself…






So as I did in Hong Kong, and in my casket bunk on the Chinese train, I set up a portastudio on the roof of the City Cafe, channeled Aaron Miller and the Gods of thunder and war and composed some new jams for NIGHTSlikeKNIVES which you will soon hear…

Back at my room, though it was comfortable enough (for $30 a night)…

sleep did not come easy. This is the construction crew that kept me awake as they poured cement and drilled rebar into my bedroom wall all night for four fucking nights straight.


No, like into my bedroom wall, for serious…

Every night (b/c it’s hotter than a motherfucker during the day) at 10 or 11pm they’d begin their assault, and drill and smash and bang and chisel directly into my brain until morning. And every morning, I’d come down with bloodshot eyes, politely interrogate my hotel manager (the Vietnamese one with the fake French accent. huh?) as to when the construction would stop. And everyday he would lie to me.

He’d dissuade me from checking out and say something like “no, not tonight. Tonight it quiet” or “They stop early.” So knowing Katie was checking in and we were checking out shortly after that, I powered through and went to check out the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra at the Hanoi Opera house…

This wicked violist played straight up Yngwie Malmsteen shit while the ancient gin-nose Brit conductor whipped up a flurry of classical delights…

Hanoi, Vietnam // National Symphony Orchestra from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

The sounds were inspiring to say this least. This dude even did some calisthenics during intermission.


I’ve actually been obsessed with static furniture and moving bodies lately…

But I’m not sure why you’d care.

Morning started with a cup of Joe at my usual place.

My peeps asked where I was going and when I told them to see Uncle Ho and they replied “gangsta!”

I dropped “Al Capone.” They rolled “Lucky Luciano,” and let me know in broken English that they thought Uncle Ho nothing more than a corrupt piece of shit.

As in most countries led by charismatic cult figures, it seems the least educated with the most to gain (though they rarely do once their hallowed leader takes power) are the most apt to believe the hype, while the educated city folk with decent lives going into said revolution, tend to lose the most, including (in many cases) their lives.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the weirdness and my expectations were gladly met.

We arrived just moments before they closed for the day and locked us into the mausoleum grounds.

Old farmer ladies pushed their way towards the front of the line like cougars at a Josh Groban concert as soldiers herded us into a single file line full of believers, tourists and weirdos. We were relieved of our cameras and I watched as a young Vietnamese soldier abruptly silenced some guy’s three-year old son and jerked him into line by the arm as we headed inside.

Now that’s some shit that would never happen in America. Can you imagine if some random rookie soldier at the Lincoln Memorial manhandled some vacationing Pennsylvania Millworker’s son and told him to shut his trap? All hell would break loose. There’d be a fracas. The press would pounce. There’d be lawsuits. It would never happen.

Apparently Uncle Ho’s wishes were to be cremated and to have his ashes scattered around Vietnam, but thankfully the agenda of the party outweighed that of it’s leader and so I had the morbid luck of being able to stroll into the dark, marble, air conditioned chamber past a four count of rifle-armed, statue-still soldiers to check out the psychopathic revolutionary legend who’s been col’ chilling in a glass box for forty fucking years! How awesome is that?!

Dude looked like a porcelain figurine, smooth, white, like one of those Hummel collectibles gathering dust in your grandmother’s China cabinet. Would be pretty cool to have a set of communist leader porcelain collectibles actually…

But even cooler to have Uncle Ho himself standing guard at the entry of your house, like a gargoyle or something, or in the corner of your rec room next to the pool table. What a conversation piece that would be…

“Oh, Bill, I just looooove what you’ve done with the basement. What’s that in the corner?”

“Oh, just Ho Chi Minh?”

“Really?”

“You betcha.”

“Where’d ya get him?”

“Auction at Christies.”

“Nice…”

“Stalin’s coming next week along with a case of ‘53 Clos de Vougeot.”

After checking out the corpse, we headed over to the Ho Chi Minh Museum.



The first floor was standard shit, a big Ho statue, war propaganda, archival photos, Ho’s wax collection…

but upstairs looked like it was set-designed by a member of some fringe communist contingent of Cirque de Soleil.

There was this red tent room

and another dedicated to Guernica, or modern art, or the modern artists he was into or something.

And then there was this crazy ass installation that was supposed to be Coc Bo Cave aka President Ho Chi Minh’s revolution headquarters “presented in the form of a human brain.” WTF?

The guards started shutting the museum down (with us inside) before I could get a handle on what the fuck they were actually trying to say with the whole mess. And “weird” as a word is generally a cop out, but I’m feeling fairly typical today, so let’s just say floor number two was just plain fucking weird.

Outside we saw a real life character from Aeon Flux (though I thought that was Korean American thing)

We shopped for Caucasian Barbie dolls at the gift shop…

and picked up some frozen novelty treats.

Frozen novelty treats. They’re everywhere. The Vietnamese gather on the street to eat them. In crowds to savor and lick them. The whole thing’s very 1981. The yogurt place is dead, but who wants yogurt when there’s no chance of you getting fat.

Only saw one American-style, super-size girl in all of Hanoi, on a scooter no less, and was mesmerized, like “how did that happen?” not b/c I’m plumpphobic, but just b/c she was like a fucking unicorn or something in a country that weighs an average of a buck twenty soaking wet.

Whatever…

After downing my creamy pistachio or coconut somethingother I was mobbed by teenage girls.

No, really. I was full on mobbed “Twilight” style.

Here’s Katie trying to act like she’s not totally jealous of the rowdy group of Vietnamese teens’ incredible interest in me. (But why shouldn’t she be?)

Look at them! Dazed by my luminous presence. (Is it me or does the one on the right look like she’s about to faint?!)

Maybe I should start a religion? Or a revolution of my own? Maybe I should be president? Or king of the fucking world?! Who knows…

Hanoi // Kostrzak Mobbed by Teenage Girls at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

Whatever the case, it was obvious to me that I would have to start some shit in a big way to take power of whatever, so I went to the Military History Museum to do some research where I saw some guns

a movie about how violent and generally fucked up America was during the Vietnam war

this iron bowl that “army hero” Chu Van Mui drank his own urine out of so he could “refresh himself” and “keep on fighting.”


and a stone some gun-deficient soldier captured an American imperialist invader with.

Outside I met some future recruits…

Does this feel kind of pervy to you?

No. well then how about this?

I picked a place to raise my flag.

and took in the view of the museum yard from my new stronghold.

The place already has a crazy modern sculpture collection

and a salon right down the street

The following morning we got up at the crack and boarded a bus bound for Halong Bay, an easy three hour drive from Hanoi through rice and fog

past factories

and graves

through old vietnam and new…

Our bus arrived at the bay and we boarded a feaux junk for our first of what would be many boat rides

Guess I should preface this Halong bit with by saying I wasn’t super gassed to go there. From what I could gather off the world wide internets and information I’d gotten from peeps who’d been there, the place is a total tourist trap.

I’m not really interested in scenic beauty for the scenic beauty’s sake. if I wanted to hang out on a beach and go swimming, I would’ve just stayed home.

I want soul, but Katie REALLY wanted to see the world famous “Descending Dragon Bay.”

And so, being the altruist that I am, I sucked it up and opened my mind to embarking on what I knew would be a completely fabricated adventure.

This is our tour guide. He told us to call him “The Rooster,” but I prefer to call him “The Cock.”

Here’s another boat!

A floating AM/PM!

And here’s Katie drinking it in.

She really loves the beauty…

Some lunch squid, straight from the polluted bay!

No really. The water’s straight up Gulf-style shit.

And look! There it is! The bay!

Stunning… Just stunning. Isnt’ it?

So we parked, boarded another boat and boated over to a fishing dock, kayaked for twenty minutes in the blazing sun, returned to the fishing dock and then boated over to a large rock where we visited a really big cave.

Here I am in the cave under hot golden shower lights looking like a distended belly monster from a lost episode of Star Trek. Tapeworm? Who knows… (Apparently everybody on the boat got food poisoning a day prior so I wouldn’t rule it out.)

This blurry South African guy’s a jockey in Dubai. He was super cool and one of the most interesting features of Halong Bay for sure.

This Anthony Bourdain-type on the right asked me for hash.

Another boat, some more trees and a mountain-type thing coming out of the water!

And here we are happily splashing about in the green death.

I won’t lie. After being subjected to kayaking and hiking and frying on the top deck of the boat in the blazing sun and 95 degree heat, diving into the luke warm toilet water was actually one of the highlights of the Halong trip.

Halong Bay, Vietnam // Kostrzak Boat Jump from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

The other highlight was confronting death, which Katie and I did when we arrived at the Cat Ba Island docks bound for “Monkey Island.”

Most tourists on our trip opted to stay the night on the boat. Some decided to stay on Cat Ba Island. Knowing we only had one night to really take in all Halong Bay had to offer, Katie decided that it would be a better idea to take a hell bus over crumbling mountain passes, across the length of Cat Ba Island to the opposite end where we could then (well after dark so we could truly enjoy the subtle nighttime beauty of the place) take another boat to Monkey Island where we could make out, and make sex, and do all that stuff couples are supposed to do when they go on a romantic island getaway.

When we arrived at port in pitch black, Mr. Phuk (Fook), the owner of our hotel, met us at the “boat.” After telling us how luxurious our “special” room would be, he presented us a 10’ X 5’ tin flat boat with no lights, no seats and loose 2X4’s for a floor, and instructed the non-English-speaking “captain” to take on our 20 minute journey across the pitch black bay between limestone cliffs to our luxury hotel room on Monkey Island. Mr. Phuk courteously explained that normally he’d be heading back with us to the island, but he had some business to take care of in town, so we were on our own.

The engine wouldn’t start and the captain shooed my leg back so he could lift up the floor and choke the engine. After a few angry pulls we were ready to go and we set out across the choppy black water for Monkey Island, waves lapping up over the lip of the death vessel.

All we could see was seen by moonlight alone, which wasn’t much. And Katie and I were unable to openly discuss the depths of our peril as it appeared before us as the engine was too loud. So we were left to enjoy the rising terror in our skulls autonomously…

First thought. Life jackets…

No dice. They were sailor-knotted to a metal pole supporting the plastic roof tarp.

Second thought.

Untie my boots. Surely they’ll be the death of me.

Third thought. Think positive.

Thought four, survey the tides and shore and attempt to guesstimate the safest landfall.

Big waves = bad. Sharp rocks = bad. Slippery rocks = bad.

Sinking here = bad.

Here Katie and I are silently considering what’s truly important in life.


And here we are finally arriving at Monkey Island. Awesome.

Halong Bay, Vietnam // Welcome to Monkey Island from Sleep Never on Vimeo.

After being treated to a buffet of cold food, we were led to our room where Katie passed out from exhaustion and I read a book about the siege of Khe Sanh.

How romantic.

Morning came monkeyless…


So I entertained myself by snapping surveillance photos of the main generator shed

and a resupply op that was taking place outside our room.

Shortly thereafter, we boarded the supply boat.

and then another bus and another boat and another boat and then I worked on some more music to distract me from the mild case of sun stroke and malaria pill poisoning that was gradually robbing me of my sanity.

Back at the bus, some visitors to Monkey Island the night previous told us a story about how Mr. Phuk threatened to hold a couple hostage on the island over an unpaid $6 bar bill and then stole some girl’s ipod and camera. Apparently some sort of dust up occurred and a crazed Scot, one of the ipod girl’s friends, ended up somehow punching Phuk in the face through the window of his cabana.

The following day the camera and ipod magically appeared in the theft victim’s room. But before leaving the island, Mr. Phuk’s henchmen forced the Scot to pay for the window and attempted to make him sign a letter of apology to Mr. Phuk for dishonoring him.

How “old school” is that shit? Wonder if it was written in calligraphy?

Anyway, the Scot (being true to his nature) refused to sign the letter, and the whole thing ended in some sort of armistice.

All I can say is I’m happy I made it back from Monkey Island with my Ipod and honor in tact.

Back in Hanoi we checked into our new room…

with a new view

We strolled around the lake and took glamour shots

of artists making shit happen
fearless babies

hot imports

white mannequins

basket heads

half shirts

and more scooters breaking the sound barrier.

The next day we were treated to our very first motorcycle vs. cow crash on our way to the airport



where we passed over some construction on the runway…
through a tube like a paraplegic’s food…

and boarded a smoking plane bound for Da Nang.

McCain Survives Vietnam/Narrowly Escapes ‘Meet The Press.’

It was ‘belligerence as usual’ for the American hero as he argued with Tom Brokaw over the results of a recent NBC poll, and then, staring down a 12 point Obama lead, guaranteed a win for himself, telling Brokaw they’d be up late election night.

When Brokaw attempted to question him further regarding matters of public opinion, McCain flatly refused to answer questions based on any polls that he didn’t agree with; polls including those conducted by NBC, ABC and The Washington Post.

Tom then brought up Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama. McCain said he was disappointed in Powell, but bragged about how happy he was to have the endorsements of five other former Secretary of State.

Cornered and on the defense, McCain tried to drop the names off the top of his head while twisting the life out of an innocent Sharpie, and in a sad ‘senior moment,’ forgot one of the five.

Red in the face, the old man crunched his brow, tried again, tapping out the count with his side of his hand on the desk to help himself along and forget the final name AGAIN!

Embarrassed for him, Brokaw quickly moved to another question and a few seconds in to the lead in, McCain exploded. ‘George Schultz!’ he howled over Brokaw, with a big stupid grin, apologizing to Mr. Schultz before allowing Brokaw to continue.

When asked about defending Palin in the press, McCain claimed he didn’t have to ‘defend’ Palin, instead insisting that he was ‘proud of her,’ then went on a rant defending her again.

When questioned about his talk of Obama being a socialist, he defended his position lamely and was unable to do much to separate himself from video clips where he aligned himself not only with Bush in the past, but also with Barack at times.

I could go on forever, but what scares me the most is how angry he is. So angry.

To me his weather-beaten, war-torn mind has traveled far beyond delusion at this point. He projects this sense of entitlement when he speaks as if the White House were his ‘destiny,’ that his whole life led up to this moment and the country owes him for his service.

At times during the interview, it felt like he was seconds away from hopping over the table and choking Brokaw to death with his bare hands, all the while screaming, ‘I was in a fucking cage! Don’t you get it?! I was in a cage for five fucking years, man!’

But he didn’t. Thankfully.

And now for your viewing enjoyment I bring you “Dramatic McCain,” submitted by “Invisible Forces.” Thank you “Invisible Forces.”

Sunshine on Sleep Never

“THIS HIPSTER SHIT HAS GOTTA GO” - TOMMIE SUNSHINE

Homecoming ‘08: Went back to Chicago for a lovely/ugly night with Tommie Sunshine at the Smart Bar.

We got down to business in a shady hotel room before the show, covered everything from Fellini to Vietnam, and yet somehow my favorite ended up being the “Love and Sobriety” episode.

EPISODE ONE

Sunshine Sound - Paris vs. NYC - NYC vs. LA

EPISODE TWO

Music as a Reflection - Rise of the Blogs - Interpersonal Communication

EPISODE THREE

Love and Sobriety

EPISODE FOUR

Music for all Seasons

EPISODE FIVE

First Memory - Rave Memory? - Sunshine, The Dancer

EPISODE SIX

Inspirado - Fellini - Johnny Rotten - Toby Dammit - Reinterpretation and Respect - Hipster Shit

EPISODE SEVEN

Two angry men discuss art, politics, pop culture, Son of Svenghouli, man’s quest for knowledge and George Bush’s ‘America’

EPISODE EIGHT

The Definition of Punk (Running time 8 sec.)

EPISODE NINE

What the world needs now - Over and Out