Friday, July 25, 2008

Duck Blood Vinegar Kidney Soup for the Soul

I'm injured again damn it. Which is good if you're a fan of this blog, because when I'm feeling bad it's much easier to sit in an internet cafe and compose a new posting.
These nice ladies may seem innocent enough, but they are the reason I'm hobbled right now with a fat ankle. They are the women of the Yao minority in Southwest China and they patrol the eastern bank of the Long Ji rice terraces commonly known as "The Dragon's Backbone." Few are able to escape their grasp without buying something or witnessing a long hair showing with photo (only 5 Chinese Yuan=80 cents).
I was trying to walk to my favorite lake in Long Ji for a swim when I was accosted by an especially agressive woman who followed me for nearly a kilometer with a basket full of trinkets. I said no in every possible way I could think of-- "Bu", "Bu ke Qi" meaning "no, no thank you" and finally "wo bu yao kan chang fa" which means "please keep your long hair on your head, I don't need a photo!" She wouldn't give up and she left me with only three options. 1. Buy some crap, or watch a hair show. 2. Push her off the cliff. 3. Run!

I decided to run, she came running after me. My legs are long, but she knew the cliffside stone pathways much better and was able to keep up, so I broke out into a full sprint. I managed to lose her, but I also lost my footing and rolled my ankle. The right ankle, that gets hurt every 6 months or so. So now I'm grounded in the ridiculously picturesque city of Yangshou.

Pretty isn't it? The finest Karst Towers I've seen so far. This photo was taken just outside of Yangshou on the edge of a mountain. Now it's been over a week since I've written, here's how I got into China.
I met some Chinese dudes on the bus from Hanoi to China. We had a fantastic conversation about freedom and Chinese politics and Tibet and the Olympics, but then I thought "I better shut up before we hit the border, if I piss someone on this bus off, then could turn me in at the border." The land crossing into had me extremely nervous. They searched me and riffled through my stuff, even read some of my journal. When I reached the 4th level of security clearance the border guard stopped me, she looked at me a dozen times, then back at my passport. I just kept smiling. She called her superior, he looked the Visa over, looked at me and then whispered the two syllables that filled me with joy and relief. "OK" he said!

I was in! The scenery was spectacular and the roads were fantastic! After Vietnam it was like crossing from Mexico to America. China is much more modern than I expected. Not only that, but now I had Chinese friends! Look at those guys, they look like fun right? They took me all over the city of Guilin, doing China the way the Chinese do. Nasty! I ate some really disgusting food including this superb dish known as Duck Blood Vinegar Kidney Soup.

It came with a side of pork spleen! I acted like it was fine, I'm adventurous right? But it was was slimy, spongey, bone crunchy, bloody, and largely devoid of any distinctive taste. All texture, no flavor. Still I was extremely grateful for my Chinese friends especially Tsai, who really showed me around Guilin. The drinking was much more fun than the eating, and the drinking games destroyed my will to live. Please Tsai, tell me you were kidding when you said that skewer was made of pig's penis.

After Guilin I headed south to Yangshou.

Check out the wild mountain goats! I spent the night in an old converted farm house, and the next morning I went on a bike ride with a nice British young woman named Charlotte, she and I biked across these fields and hiked up the side of a mountain and met these nice goats, who didn't trust us one bit. Later that day I headed into town and opened my wallet for a piece of water theatre directed by the brilliant Zhang Yimou (Hero, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers)The show was called Impression Liu Sanjie and it was by far the most impressive spectacle I've ever seen. I have no idea what the show was about or if there was a plot at all, but who the hell cares. Zhang Yimou knows how to blow your eyeballs out with color, I can't wait to see what what he does with the Opening Ceremonies. The whole show was done, ON THE RIVER, with over 600 performers and a boat load of boats. It was like Cirque Du Soliel without all the bullshit. My camera is not very good at night, trust me though, it was incredible, they even lit up the surrounding mountains!

After indulging in the rich beauty of Yangshou, I headed to the Rice Terraces of Long Ji, I met this Phillipino dude named J.P. He had perfect English (I'm so jealous of these multiligual bastards) with a New York accent. Cool guy, we expored the terraces and he headed back to Yanghou.
Then I met some British Trinidadians and we headed to the next village which was 4 hours away. No restaurants, no tourists, and no whiteys. A nice woman from the village offered to cook us dinner.

That's Lauren, Coral, and Holly above. The dinner was amazing, I didn't want the nice Yao villager to chop up that hanging piece of pork (I hope it was pork!) but she did and it was delicious. The Brits thought I was really funny. I broke out my A-Game material. "What's the difference between the Yao and Zhuang Minority? The Yao are all like 'Excuse me sir, would you like to see me take down my hair?' and the Zhuang are all like "Yo, Whitey! Hold up homes. Wanna check my hair or what?" Ah, ethnic/racist humor in China, gets em every time.

To top off the day, I found a basketball court on the side of the rice terraces.

Notice that I am a full foot taller than these guys. I had a dozen blocks and scored at will. It was really satisfying, and I don't care if half of them were barefoot. It was time to school some fools.

The Olympics are almost here and I'm headed to Beijing, next time I write I'll be in the care of the illustrious Erika Kuever.

Friday, July 18, 2008


There's a scorpion in this liquor! What you want me to take some shots with you, you're paying? Yeah sure, what could go wrong?

Cheers, Gung! I don't wanna be rude right?

Mmm, the sweet taste of scorpion.

Ungghh Ngyueynnngg! Oh God. What? You want me to take a few more? OK, Ok. Time to go back to my room. Wait there's a lady in the tiles in my shower. How you doing? Hey lady, do you know why there are so many caves in Halong Bay? Because the fishermen got mad at the monkeys for eating the fish and threw them against the cliffs. That's where the caves come from lady, I can't be wrong, I'm full of scorpion liquor. You are the prettiest tile lady I've ever seen. Do you know why there are so many caves in Halong Bay? Monkeys! Yep.

Next day: Rendered futile! Excruciating pain! There's a goddamn scorpion in my stomach.

This is the worst stomach pain I've ever had. It feels like someone stabs me in the gut every 3 minutes. Then it goes away. Ah that's better. STAB!!! Ouch, Damn, AHHH. Oh it's gone now, boy that wasn't a big deal, just better not have anymore Scorpohol. STAB!!! Ahhhh!!!! Damn it! I got to get out of Nam. Damn you Scorpion Liquor!

Plane-Taxi-Taxi-Scooter-Bus-Taxi-Bus-Boat-Bus-Boat to Paradise

Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies in motion of no less celerity than that of thought!

Suppose that you have seen, an American traveller alone admist the nations his homeland had once sought to conquer a mere generation before. Play with your fancies and in them behold a man: ravaged by the river and jungle as he crosses the sweltering tarmac holding due course for Hanoi. Follow, follow, and from a balcony high above the burgeoning city, hear the shrill whistles of motorbikes and grapple with the bellowing of a western stomach too weak for scorpohol.

(I had Henry V on the mind) On the plane from Luang Prabang to Hanoi I met a young Australian who goes by the name of "Ang", Angela is two syllables too long for this busy young lady. "Oh no, not an Australian" you may be thinking?!? The young men of that former prison nation have given the Aussies a bad name, being constantly "on the piss," and as obnoxious as a crocodile hunter at a bachelor party. The girls are quite a different story: Ang just got her PHD in agriculture and was managing a sheep farm in Tasmania whilst getting her doctorate with an emphasis in carrot reproduction. Oh yeah? Well I'm a comedian who worked in a gynecology clinic, beat that!

She's doing a bit of travelling before returning to "Tassie" to make the world safe for carrot sex. She's quite smart and has an ambitious sense of adventure. We both have no clue of what to do in Hanoi, or how to get to Halong Bay (paradise).

Hanoi is the craziest city I have ever seen. It makes New York, Bangkok, Rome, Los Angeles, Naples, Barcelona look like quaint little villages. The streets are jam packed with motorbikes and buses and taxis and rickshaws and bicycles and vendors and people, so many people! There's no room on sidewalks for pedestrians so we all just dodge each other on the street like an apocolyptic game of Frogger (TM) on warp speed. Perhaps coming from Laos, I wasn't ready for the culture shock. Laos is so laid back, and Vietnam is apparently extremely pushy, when it comes to the tourist industry. You can't go three feet before being accosted by a motorbike and a kid with gum and a lady with fruit and shop keeper that knows you secretly want to rock that Ho Chi Mihn look with the Commie cap and the socialist red star. It's tremedously annoying, and of course there's trash everywhere.

Must get out of this place! Must get to Halong. Must see beautiful Limestone cliffs and Karst Towers. No I DON'T NEED A MOTORBIKE!!!
The destination was Cat Ba island. Now there are at least 300,000 different places in Hanoi that will sell you a package tour to Cat Ba island and Halong Bay. But I am no mere Tourist! I will not be packaged with the masses, and neither will Ang, we're gonna get to Halong Bay the old fashioned way! By taking a taxi, then a scooter, then a bus, then a taxi, then a bus, then a boat, then a bus. It ended up costing a whole lot, but at least we were the only white people on this particular mission, it makes you feel a lot more daring when you're the only Westerner. Cat Ba island was the same, I don't know where they take the whiteys actually, must be some special island resort. We booked a boat (that was three times as expensive as we expected, damn these Vietnamese are clever are getting your money) and headed out.

Nothing crazy happened this time, no head cracking, or stomach thwacking, or machete incidents; just pure relaxing beautiful fun. Here's a list of amazing things we saw.

-An endless maze of islands and dramatic Karst Towers
-Fishing villages
-Secluded beachs
-Tunnels that lead under mountains to hidden lagoons
-Hawks sailing above the hills
-Jumping schools of fish
-Trash (lots of floating plastic near some of the fishing areas)
-Yellow and Black stripey fish that you could see while snorkelling
-Thunderstorms that lit up the sky and water and literally shook the boat
-A full moon that was bright enough to eat dinner by
-Phosphorescents in the evening water
-Ridiculously heavy rainstorms (the sun came out for no more than a few hours, but the water and the temperature were always warm)

Our guides were very nice, and amazing cooks, the meals were the best part. Fresh crab and pineapple squid salad were the favorites, with a special mention to the crispy baby black fishes and buttery morning glory.

That was great, really great, but I honestly don't think I'll ever intentionally return to Nam again. One tour was enough, plus now I get to say:

"Look, I didn't go to Viet-frickin-Nam, just so you damn hippies can burn a flag."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just follow the nice man with the Machete.

First off- I would like to dedicate the following blog entry to the children of Laos who saved my life on numerous occasions over the last few days. Thank you, you've made this blog possible.

I crossed the border into a Laos a few days ago. It was easy, Laos was happy to have us. Unless you were Canadian of course, they had by far the highest fee of any nation to get a Visa to travel in Laos. That's right Canada, Laos hates you and everything you stand for, now cough up an extra 7 dollars and get your Canuck-butt back on the bus!

I arrived in the capital city of Vientiane. Nice city, about the size of Everett, WA, but with more temples, and embassies, and French restaurants. I got "dressed up" (put on pants) and walked to the Vietnamese embassy to get my Visa. I thought I should look a bit more professional for the Vietnamese, there was one other person there, a really shady looking dirty man with a long beard and a wicked gleam in his eye.

"I want six month visa with multiple entries" he said, I thought this guy didn't stand a chance.

"Sure," said the consulate and gave Shady McUptonogood a Visa. I got mine in a flash and I was on my way. But not before I paid too much for a fancy French meal. Peppercrusted Pork Loin with vegetables in a mustard gravy. Awesome.

Then I was off to Vang Vieng. The road was muddy and the bus was really slow and rickety, but the views were spectacular. I had never seen a rice paddy before, now I can die satisfied.

Speaking of dying, I'm not gonna do it, not here, not now, not with the children of Laos protecting me. Vang Vieng has touristically exploded recently thanks to one activity, tubing. Here's how it works. You get an intertube, they take you a few km up the Mekong River, you get in.

Then the drinking begins.

Before you've been in the river for more than a minute, there's a group of Lao kids throwing ropes and bamboo and life preservers at you. They are trying to draw you into the first river bar. Here you sit by the river, with some of the most amazing mountain views you've ever witnessed and you pound back a few Laos beers with your new friends.

There's a rope swing!

I love rope swings and this is the best damn rope swing I've ever seen. It's really, really high above the water and when you let go it's quite a drop. This is too good really, I'm embarrassed by how much I'm enjoying this. As soon as you land in the Mekong the current starts pulling you on down, but the good Laotian children who are STRONGEST SWIMMERS ON EARTH pull you back in.

So you get back in your tube, float on down to the next bar, and the next bar, and the next bar. You do some more rope swings, then a zip line, then you drink some more. Back in the water, next bar had volleyball and soccer, oh god make it stop. Too much fun!!! Now everyone is totally covered in mud and we're all dancing in the rain as the clouds cling to the jagged walls of the mountains surrounding us.

I'm not proud of myself, this can't be good for the culture of central Laos, and the whole thing feels a bit too much like Spring Break Vang Vieng 2008! But damn it, I can't help but love it. Soccer in the warm torrential rain! Rope swings! It's like if Shawshank Redemption ended with a beach volleyball match.

Watching people jump off the ropes is the primary entertainment, and I now have the reputation as "The Entertainer", my new friends are encouraging me to get out there and do something either spectacular or hilarious. I will not dissappoint them.

I take the rope and take to the skies. I am as Swayze as I wanna be out there above the river, I'm spinning and kicking and putting on quite a show. Now it's time for the dismount! I had pulled off a small flip earlier so now I'm feeling more ambitious. Especially since everyone knows I'm on my way to the Olympics. It's time to flip and spin. So I let go of the rope and go flippy spinny into the air. However I don't make it all the way around, oh shit . . . !


I hit the water with a thunderous ker-smack. "OOOOHHHHHhhhh DDAAAMmmmmnnnn" I can hear from the crowd as I come up for air. Worst landing EVER! I landed on my neck and side and it hurt like hell, for a second I thought I had done some real damage. The guardian angels of the Mekong (six year olds) pull me in. I'm OK . . . kinda. My neck hurts like hell and it's difficult to swallow. The left side of my torso is a mess. I have a bruise from armpit to waist that is purple yellow green and red. It looks like my side is covered with a mixture of oil and water, it's a dirty rainbow of pain. (when I have a chance I'll upload the photo, but you may not want to see it, it's nasty)

Screw the pain! It's time for some more muddy volleyball. I stay at the last bar just a bit too long and it's nearly dark when my friends and I get back in the water. By the time we reach the end of the tubing section it's dark and we don't know where we're going. Luckily there's a bunch of tiny girls who apparently are five times as strong as full grown westerners and they pull in the lot of us. Hell of a day.

The next day I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and anti-social, I'm missing my friends from home and I'm fighty a funky feeling in both my brain and stomach. So I rent a bike with the mission of getting closer to those amazing mountains, maybe climb a little, just a little exploring on my own away from the crazy kids on the river.

I head out of town and into the rice paddies, after a few miles I see a sign that says "Cave with Buddha, great adventure way." I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

I head down the lonely overgrown path and realize the bike is going to do me no good. So I ditch it, and start tramping through the mini-river in search of Buddha cave. The views again are spectacular. But after walking for a few hours, I think I may not be headed towards any cave, in fact, now the path is leading me away from mountain. As I re-enter the river I see a small Lao family climbing over a fence. The man I assume is the father jumps back over the fence and back into the river. He comes up to me, waving me off, since I'm obviously lost and going the wrong direction. I try to communicate.

"Buddha?" and I make the shape of a cave with my hands.

He beckons me with a head nod. This way, he seems to tell me. He begins to walk down the small river through the vines and trees.

At this point I realize this nice man is carrying a machete. Now I know all the children's books I've ever read say "Don't follow men with Machetes", but they've never been lost in a jungle in Laos. I'm following the nice machete man.

Another hour passes as we tramp on down the stream. Everytime we reach another fence he whips out his machete, cuts down some vines and repairs another fence.

See! He doesn't want to kill me, he's just doing some maintenence. He even opens the fence for me, which means I have to turn my back for a second, but at this point I'm not even scared. I love this guy! True to his word, he leads me to a very good path that leads me right up to the caves. Thank you Machete Man, you are a gentleman and fine repairer of fences.

I scale one of the Karst Towers and climb nearly a third of the way up. Looking back over the rice paddies is one of the greatest views I've ever witnessed. The caves have no Buddha, but I don't care. As I walk back down I see a big Lao family tramping along the path. I'm following these guys. They lead me, the muddy giant white guy, across the rice paddies and back to the road, I look ridiculous. Still, I make it back to town just before dark.

I've done a bit more travelling since then, I'm currently in the lovely city of Luang Prabang, and I had a wonderful day swimming in the waterfall yesterday. But now I've got to move on. I'm catching a plan to Hanoi in just a few hours. Soon it will be time to cross into China, which doesn't sound easy. All the other backpackers are like . . .

"You're crossing to China by land?"

"Yes, so . . . ?" I say.

"Ooh, good luck with that."

I highly recommend Laos for anyone travelling in this part of the world. I had a fantastic time, next stop Vietnam.
The world's worst ariel rope swing display above the Mekong River in Vang Vieng, Laos ended in the most embarrassing side-belly-neck flop in the course of human history. This is the massive bruise I still brandish. Plus, it still hurts to swallow. If you get even the slightest chuckle out of this ridiculous display of damaged blood and skin cells, just imagine the kind of river thwacking it would take to make such a mark.The world's worst ariel rope swing display above the Mekong River in Vang Vieng, Laos ended in the most embarrassing side-belly-neck flop in the course of human history. This is the massive bruise I still brandish. Plus, it still hurts to swallow. If you get even the slightest chuckle out of this ridiculous display of damaged blood and skin cells, just imagine the kind of river thwacking it would take to make such a mark.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Photographs from S.E. Asia

I only brought one green shirt to Thailand, and I'm gonna use it!

I add pictures of attractive young women to try and make myself look cool and popular. Truthfully I spend almost all of my time alone, which took a little getting used to, since I usually demand a lot of attention. I really like the solidarity of my travels (I'll sleep til 2pm if I wanna, then I'll get a banana chocalate pancake and a beer and go back to bed!), it's lonely at times, but you make great friends as well. Above: posing with some amazing Thaifood is Sonja, who I met my first day in Beijing, and posing in the Indian Ocean is Louiza, who would later have her face attacked by a monkey.

photos pic images jpegs, whatever the kids are callin em these days

The view from Au Naung in Krabi, Southern Thailand.
And an evil face biting monkey!


Covered in red dirt, blood, rain, and sweat.

Enjoying a beer with Lucia, who I somehow managed to talk into fanning me with a giant palm leaf.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Thai Style Head Crackin'

It just isn't a good Siano vacation until I crack my head open. I figure if I don't draw blood, no one will read this blog.

Departing Bangkok in the middle of a tropical downpour, I headed south in search of a sandy beach that would be surrounded by my favorite geographical phenomenon: The KARST TOWER. In fact, this trip, previous to going to Beijing, is all about chasing Karst Towers. Here in the southern Thai town of Krabi, the place is nothing but Karst Towers, one of my next destinations in Halong Bay, Vietnam, again the towers, and finally Guilin China is a limestone paradise of Karst Towers. The minerals that compose these tiny giants actually eat the trees and folliage on top of them as they grow towards the skies creating the coolest and steepest looking hills on earth. Yesterday, just to show those beautiful little mountains how much I love them, I left a little chunk of my head on one of them.

I was climbing in search of distant lagoon, it was extremely muddy and it was raining, not good climbing weather. It was a strenous little hike up a steep cliff, but I took it real slow and paired up with a couple from Quebec, just so we could help each other out in case of emergency, like if someone fell, and cracked their head open. Only, I didn't fall. I was so focused on finding good footing and grabbing strong vines that when I got a solid grip, I just lifted myself up not looking at the rocks ABOVE ME.


Blood! That was really stupid, the Quebecouis laughed at me, and we kept heading towards the lagoon. I felt fine, but when I saw the lagoon, we all got really scared. There were two more cliffs with nothing but a muddy rope to let you down. My mom, and Jeanne, and everyone who told me not to go looking for danger would have been proud. We turned back and decided a game of volleyball in the pool was just as rewarding as a lagoon surrounded by cliffs, and far less deadly.


Speaking of deadly, the day before I was hanging out with a young Erika Kuever wannabe, she's studying Mandarin in Shanghai as part of her degree. She is the daughter of two Islamic Tartar Russians, and was born in Tajikistan and grew up in Russia and Germany, and now she studies in China, her name was Louiza. My story was much shorter, "I'm from Seattle, in America, they call me Mark."

We went on an elephant ride through the jungle, it was totally awesome dude! Dude! This elephant is trying to buck me dude, no way Stampy, I'm holding on!!

After the elephant ride, Louiza and I went to pay the nice men, and then a monkey attacked Louiza! It latched onto her face, dug its claws into her neck and bit a chunk out of her ear, Mike Tyson style. I was like "hey, there's a monkey biting your FACE!"

She turned out to be fine, but now we're both really scared of monkeys. Those little suckas are everywhere down here, hiding in the beautiful karst caves, just looking for a friendly face to attack!

I'm getting out of here, next stop, Northern Thailand city of Changmai, and then off to Laos.

That's right,

Thursday, July 03, 2008


now. Amazing, they are closing the internet cafe. I have to go, I am well.