Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Winter is killing me.

Winter's torture is hard for me to bear any longer. I have 18 long days before I depart for Burma where the weather, as Orwell described it, rolls from the earth "... like the breath of an oven. The flowers, oppressive to the eyes, blaze with not a petal stirring, in a debauch of sun. The glare sends a weariness through one's bones."

If I don't get that "weariness" into my bones soon, I'll go insane. Fuck this cold nonsense. Not even the fireplace or Wild Turkey Rye are helping.

Friday, January 26, 2007

"The Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling."

I depart for Burma (Myanmar) in a couple of weeks so I've begun reading George Orwell's 1934 book, Burmese Days. No one writes like Orwell anymore. Check out the first two paragraphs of his book:
"U Po Kyin, Subdivisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his veranda. It was only half-past eight, but the month was April, and there was a closeness in the air, a threat of the long, stifling midday hours. Occasional faint breaths of wind, seeming cool by contrast, stirred the newly-drenched orchids that hung from the eaves. Beyond the orchids one could see the dusty, curved trunk of a palm tree, and then the blazing ultramarine sky. Up in the zenith, so high that it dazzled one to look at them, a few vultures circled without the quiver of a wing.

"Unblinking, rather like a great porcelain idol, U Po Kyin gazed out into the fierce sunlight. He was a man of fifty, so fat that for years he had not risen from his chair without help, and yet shapely and even beautiful in his grossness; for the Burmese do not sag and bulge like white men, but grow fat symmetrically, like fruits swelling. His face was vast, yellow and quite unwrinkled, and his eyes were tawny. His feet---squat, high-arched feet with the toes all the same length---were bare, and so was his cropped head, and he wore one of those vivid Arakanese longyis with green and magenta checks which the Burmese wear on informal occasions. He was chewing betel from a lacquered box on the table, and thinking about his past life."
It seems like everyone today writes with loads more forced, adverb-y bullshit but whenever I pick up a book from 50 or more years ago, the effortless simplicity blows me away in its ability to convey an image, mood or setting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Taking your shoes off when entering a house is DISGUSTING.

No one's ever thought: "You know, I haven't seen enough male feet lately." Despite this, way too many people request that I disrobe my stank-ass feet when I enter their houses. I can understand if someone has white carpets that they're obsessive about keeping clean but it's useless with wood floors or linoleum. Floors are meant to be walked upon and most people don't have enough filth clinging to their shoes to be a problem.

I hate taking my shoes off to enter someone's house for three simple reasons:

1) Feet fucking smell bad. In Asia, you can't enter any place with a roof overhead -- other than an outhouse -- without being sock-footed. Since the weather is hot as an oven indoors or out, the result is a roomful of soaked, reeking feet, which has the opposite of the intended effect.

2) Feet fucking look bad. No one wants to see a man's feet. No one. If you like the sight of a man's naked or socked feet, you're a fetishist freak.

3) Being sock-footed and doing business -- or anything around adults -- makes me feel like a douchebag. Could you imagine James Bond with a Martini and no shoes on? Or how about Donald Trump cutting a real estate deal while lettin' his dogs breathe? Horrible.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In southeast Asia, I stuff my mouff like you never saw.

When the snakehead fish hit the ponds of Maryland, people freaked out, saying it was going to devour every species in sight and then walk to the next body of water. Fuck that fish. I decapitated his ass and ate him from a plate. How about we train it to walk to the nearest restaurant and climb onto my plate.

Snakehead don't look so tough boiling on a plate. It was the first thing on the table to go.

The papaya is the only fruit around here I can pronounce. Usually, when I ask the question, "What's that fruit?", I get some name that I've never heard of like "Uk Uk" or "Waba Wookie". Fuck all that.

I ate this meal at a shrimp farmer's house (largish shack on stilts). I climbed onto a reed platform with 10 others and we ate with our hands. I like simple farm food --- plate, rice, shrimp, fish, peppers, tea, hands. Nothing else.

Here's the meal being prepared over smoldering coconut husks.

And as always, the women do the hard work of gutting fish.

This was hands down the toughest, most rubbery meat I've eaten. It's a local flightless duck whose flesh is blackish gray. The live bird is usually cramped in some cage out front of the restaurant. Imagine me, both hands clutched around the leg bone, desperately trying to pull off a chunk of meat with my straining teeth and bulging eyes.

Fresh coconut sounds like a good idea, but it sucks ass. The insides of a coconut are slimy and flavorless. Plus, the machete they cut the top off with usually is teeming with microbes that give you the shooting shits for two days. My suggestion: give it to the chickens.

I never knew beef farms were so infested with flies. Every surface was covered with them --- temporarily making white paint into elusive black clouds, hard not to inhale.

I bet you had no idea bananas had penises.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Squat Toilets Help the Shit Out Cleanly

Most people in Europe and the US are used to sitting down to squeeze out shit into a chair-shaped apparatus but most people in Asia are used to hovering over the “squat toilet” that you see here.

At first, the hunched-down shitting position is off-putting but it’s actually a more efficient and clean way of getting rid of feces, especially if it’s in spraying liquid form --- often the case after chowing third world street food like snakehead fish, wild boar liver and frog legs (pictures to come).

In western countries, when you sit down to take a crap like you’d sit in a chair for dinner, your ass cheeks are fairly close together, making the fudge dragon slide against the insides of your butt cheeks before it hits water. Ew! But when you’re squatted down over a hole in the floor, your ass cheeks are spread apart wider, allowing the poo to go about its business quickly, leaving little trace on your body.

Just thought I'd dispell any snobbish notions that you developed world pussies are cleaner poopers than the rest of the world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thoughts on My First Visit to the Muslim World

Most Americans imagine the planet as infested with angry snipers whose rifles are equipped with US-citizen-seeking radars so it’s rare to meet any of my countrymen abroad. Not sure where the “ugly American” stereotype comes from considering that most rarely step outside the 50 states.

During my business trip this week in Indonesia I never sang the US national anthem or slipped an image of George W. Bush into my power point presentations, but I came damn close. At right is a picture of the 150 Muslims we spoke to on Tuesday, promoting a product from the US of A and informing them that we were bona fide Americans. We announced Capitalism loudly and were received most warmly. Meetings often ended with tens of people insisting that we take pictures with them. The women would pose with us --- often several at once --- and the men would wrap their arms around our necks for each pose. Can you imagine that happening if a delegation of Muslims came to Iowa?

There are more Muslims in Indonesia than any other country. And I never forgot it, because every town emits a tone deaf cacophony of Muslim prayers five times daily, broadcast from multiple 16-inch subwoofers.

One positive thing about the status of women here is that Islam has prevented an embarrassing percentage of the female population from becoming prostitutes like many other parts of southeast Asia I’ve visited. The drawback, of course, is that most of them are relegated to the periphery --- always in the background, cooking, doing household drudgery, and never playing a part in the business at hand.

And Islam was healthy for me. Since few people drink, I got to bed early and felt good when I woke up. And despite this lack of social lubricant, these people chit-chat for hours like no one I’ve met.

But I haven’t changed my mind about the tenants of Islamic scripture being violent and backwards --- more so than other major religions. Every other page of the Koran is clear on disdain for non-believers and martyrdom is a powerful theme; infidels should be subjugated to an Islamic empire, converted to Islam, or killed according to the “perfect word of god”, the Koran. But the kindness I experienced from people in Indonesia and the brutal properties of their religious texts are hard to reconcile.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Air Supply is worshipped in the town where corpses hang from cliffs.

The thought of carrying human vertebrae onto an airplane and across continents was too much to bear. And trust me, the ghost stories my Indonesian friends earnestly told me about being forever haunted for what I’d just stashed in my pocket had no effect. It must’ve been some instinctual taboo against pilfering graves that made me surreptitiously toss the human remains back onto the piles of jawless skulls, dirty human femurs, rib bones and countless unsmoked cigarettes (left as offerings to the ghosts).

I’m in the mountainside town of Toraja (Wiki link) on the island of Sulawesi somewhere in Indonesia. Whenever people die here, the families cover the bodies in herbs and store them in special houses for months until the “Days of the Dead” festival each May. When the festival arrives, the villagers parade the deceased to various spots along the steep cliffs surrounding the town. There, they ascend towering bamboo ladders to deposit their relatives’ bodies into wooden coffins suspended by logs jutting from the cliff face. Coffins of babies and children are hung from trees. This serves as their resting place until years later the ropes rot or the rock eventually crumbles with the weight of dead humans and the coffins come crashing down from several meters, bones scattering in all directions. The locals are too afraid of ghosts to clean up the morbid mess so the sight is like Cambodia circa 1977. This odd way of treating corpses started hundreds of years ago as a way to prevent grave robbing and it’s still practiced in 2007.

Still feeling the jitters from the number of human bones and skulls I’d just fingered or nearly stolen, I steered the discussion to pop music during the car ride home. Three different locals told me that Air Supply is the most popular music in Toraja – loved and adored. I didn’t believe them at first, but they proved it by belting out the best rendition of “All Out of Love” I’ve heard next to my wife’s. Nothing like bad 80s music to make you forget the sight of hundreds of dead humans strewn about willy nilly …

The locals leave cigarettes for the ghosts, stuck between the bones. You can see thousands of them scattered about, stained brown from the rain:

Here are the coffins that hang from the side of the cliff. These coffins were fairly close to the ground but there are others very high up on the face:

Human bones are everywhere. You can't help but step on them when walking around the area.

This is a typical storage house for the bodies before the villagers hang them from the cliffs. You can see the pictures of the deceased at the top.

Sometimes the coffins are carved like water buffalos:

Here's a coffin that fell from the side of the cliff and no one ever cleaned up the bones:

More offerings of cigarettes to the ghosts:

Man, I really miss my old office job ...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

American Baptists preach abstinence and "godliness" in Africa. I shit you not.

There isn't a better example of the utter uselessness of religion than this one---raw Christian ignorance causing the needless deaths of millions.

I told this guy I met today that I'm headed for Indonesia, and I asked if he'd ever been to Asia. He replied no, but he'd been to Africa with his church's mission where -- he admitted -- AIDS is a horrible problem. At first, I was enlightened: "Really? So you did AIDS prevention work there? Nice." He corrected me, saying that there's a permanent Baptist mission in South Africa and Botswana to teach the people abstinence and how to be godly to prevent the spread of AIDS. He also mentioned that many people there practice tribal relgions, and they need to be saved.

So that's the important work some American Christians are doing in Africa.

Anyone who has a rational thought in their reasonable mind should be sickened by this. The insidious virus of faith and god belief is exacerbating death, especially in areas of the world where the only information people can get on AIDS prevention is from religious people.

If anyone has any doubts about the impact AIDS is having in southern Africa, please at least read this.

On a side note, I'm reading Carl Sagan's book, Cosmos. My friend Jason said it best: "Sagan's the fuckin' man." May he rest in peace, and may godlessness be forever by his side.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tomorrow, I depart for the island in Indonesia where 90 people were killed in a plane crash.

After a week using my Indonesian language CD-ROM, I now know the numbers. That's why the words "sembilan puluh" sound morbid because that's the number of people killed in yesterday's plane crash on a flight from Java to Sulawesi---the exact route I'm going to take after I depart DC tomorrow.

But I'd much rather take that risk in the world's largest muslim country rather than be stuck here for the duration of January---arguably the most depressing period to exist in Washington DC. (I think I have Seasonal Affective Disorder).

The good news about spending time in a muslim country is the lack of alcohol which will help me accomplish my new year's resolution of not getting hangovers in 2007. I dealt with a severe brain-drainer that ended with me puking in the Molly Pitcher Service stop on the Jersey Turnpike yesterday. Never again, never again.

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