Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

In case you had any doubt whether Ernest Hemingway was a BAD ASS ...

There are few men as god damn manly as Hemingway was.

In case you can't see, please note the following about the above picture from 1935 that I scanned from a book. He was 36 years old:

1. Hemingway is holding the Thompson sub-machine gun that he used to kill sharks and marlin with. Imagine him spraying that shit downward onto an angry 15-foot fish!

2. Hemingway is holding a Daquiri.

3. Hemingway is on his boat, The Pilar.

4. Hemingway's beast of a fishing rod-and-reel is tied to the fighting chair, meaning that whatever he's about to catch is a monster.

You can bet I'll be doing a lot of fishing this spring and summer, but unfortunately not with a sub-machine gun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring means giving away your old leftie books to swarms of pedestrians.

Today I set 150 unwanted old books on my front stoop and within four hours they'd been picked over and dwindled down to a few Noam Chomsky books and a foreign policy textbook from college 10 years ago.

The sidewalk in front of my apartment gets more foot traffic than most areas in the region so whenever I want to get rid of anything, public recirculation is as easy as setting it out front.

Today I chatted with two old lesbians about what they described as a "mind stretching" collection of books. The grey-haired one picked up a book titled Feminism & Anarchism: A Reader, thrust her fist into the air, and said, "YESSSS".

One other guy came along and said, "Wow, you don't usually see these types of books. Kropotkin and anarchism, eh?" I responded, "Yea, I used to be an anarchist. Now I'm a capitalist."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

This week in disturbing video.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Animals could give a crap about our romantic wishes for their habitats.

From the monorail at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, I looked down at an oil-slicked, concrete-lined drainage creek to see a muskrat happily going about his business. The airplane runway was just a few meters away --- planes coming and going on a normal Friday.

And next to the Amtrak platform at the airport is a barbed wire fence with thousands of plastic bags clinging to it --- New Jersey’s quintessential scene of urban decay. The fence separates the platform from a garbage dump. The only sounds are the screeches of seagulls and front end loaders moving trash. The swarm of birds was bigger than I’ve seen at any beach.

Animals have no sense of aesthetics and will generally live wherever the food is. People, on the other hand, imagine an animal’s ideal habitat as some pristine wilderness but this is plain fantasy. The animal kingdom will take the edge of a runway or the waste dump of humanity just as much as they’ll choose a sun-soaked beach, babbling brook or untouched tropical rainforest. There’s something elegant in that.

btw, I'm back in the USA.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Drinking Remy Martin with Communist Shrimp Farmers and Talking about Keck Meck

Your shrimp doesn't come from the sea and your pricey Orange Roughy is really Mekong catfish --- both likely raised in a sprawling tropical desolation of sludgy saltwater ponds converted from former rice paddies.

The Vietnamese government's expanse of 6,000 hectares of shrimp ponds I visited yesterday was so far down a narrow road that thick vegetation began to block the truck. So we hitched rides on strangers' motorcycles, riding past endless rice fields, scruffy dogs and shacks on stilts.

The lunch meeting began at noon with a bottle of Remy Martin cognac (above), poured by a 62-year-old Communist --- a veteran of the "American War", shrimp farm manager, and hardcore alcoholic. This old fucker could drink more than anyone I've seen. He poured round after round of 80 proof cognac, forcing us all to partake, until I secretly poured the booze into my rice bowl in order to survive.

12 shots in me on Sunday afternoon, and the drunken lout spit a question at us in Vietnamese, followed by a serious stare. I felt like Christopher Walken in the Deer Hunter, expecting a gun with one bullet in the chamber, but our translator told us he wanted to know what we thought about "Keck Meck".

What the fuck is Keck Meck? we asked. After five minutes of back and forth, the translator said, "You know, Keck Meck and Lenin. KECK MECK." Holy fuck, these people's language has no ability to pronounce the "-arl" or the "-arx" in the name "Karl Marx", so they say "Keck Meck" when referring to him. God damn.

So there I sat, trying to come up with a non-offensive answer for this rich Communist, blotto out of his skull on expensive French cognac, in the middle of a shrimp plantation --- his poor workers sitting 10 meters away in the dirt, eating rice and vegetables on top of an upside-down rusty 55 gallon drum. Ah, the irony.

I made up some bullshit about Marx's writings having more to do with capitalism than socialism and how Lenin and Stalin messed it all up. I don't think my translator understood. The meeting ended with this wasted old codger cackling and singing Communist anthems and keeping the rhythm by beating on the table.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Let's talk about doing business in a Communist country, then -- unrelated -- about Mr. Jeff Simmermon.

Two Ambien-powered nights from cold Seoul and I'm in the Mekong Delta.

Like Martin Sheen said, "Saigon ... [dusty ceiling fan, chopping through cigarette smoke] .... Shit."

So like Sheen, I got the fuck out of Saigon and made way for big rivers -- the Nine Dragons of the Mekong, bitch.

The Mekong Delta is a complex phlebology of canals and rivers like your grandmother's varicose veins except with a catfishy solution carrying floating plastic bags instead of clumpy blood.

Traveling around, I had thoughts of my friend's father, Blake, who's a former Marine and modern arms dealer, who gets a wistful thousand-yard gleam in his eye when talking about Vietnam. I kept wondering if he wielded an M-16 in these muddy places that, despite 8% growth since 2000, are still desolately poor.

But the number of hammer and sickle flags adorning the countryside hasn't decreased the desire for profit among the shrimp farmers I'm doing business with. It's the paradox of capitalism -- whatever that means -- and communism -- if that means anything -- in the year 2007; the respect for silly symbols remains, but we all know that markets have and always will exist. To me, everything appears the same as the poorest countries in this region, despite the mindless patriotic songs blasted through the speakers in local shopping malls.

The Mekong River originates from China's Tibet, then past Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the final anus is south Vietnam -- where I'm typing at you from.

Being in cold DC, you probably can't picture what lies outside my window. These pictures sum up Communism's last half-ass stand, from what I've seen this week:

This hunched old woman sells lottery tickets to restaurant-goers. She's just sold one to my associate who's checking out his numbers for a winner:

A canal off the mighty Mekong. I took this picture from a rickety feed boat paddling me to a catfish pond:

Typical Third World transportation: pack as many people onto whatever you can:

This picture isn't as good as I hoped because the frame doesn't capture everything. These villagers have torched a harvested rice field and are flying tens of kites -- a big burning/flying party that I unfortunately couldn't be a close part of:

The Mekong Delta is the land of eating rats and snakes. This is the least disgusting photo of a snake ready to be served on a plate at a restaurant where we ate:

All this Viet Nam talk reminds me of a quote from Dennis Hopper (from a movie that shouldn't need naming) that's eerily apt for how I would describe one of the most honest and consistent blogs in existence, written by my neighbor and friend, Jeff Simmermon:
"Hey, man, you don't talk to the Simmermon. You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense. I mean sometimes he'll... uh... well, you'll say "hello" to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you. He won't even notice you. And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say, "do you know that 'if' is the middle word in life? If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you"... I mean I'm no, I can't... I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's... he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas..."
If you're not a regular reader, you should be.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Korea eats two types of food: octopus, and all those other animals from the sea.

I held a cold writhing octopus in my bare hand tonight.

I was strolling through an Anyang backstreet, and after photographing one of the many bubbling tanks of sea life in front of a restaurant, the owner came outside and thrust her hand into the water, fighting an eight-legged beast to the surface -- tentacles sucking the glass to fight surfacing. She had shoved her thumb into a flap in its head and gave me a big smile while it flung icy water through the air into my eye.

This is the restaurant owner's hand before she handed it to me:

Their suction cups glue onto your hands, leaving a fine slimy residue. The scent left on my hands reminded me of the beach during autumn as I was trying to rub them together to stay warm in the Korean winter air.

A few hours prior, I had had an amazing experience. And please understand that I'm not exaggerating when I say this: I had the best meal of my LIFE tonight. The first course was fatty tuna (Toro), which is like a work of art, in all its fat-marbled goodness. Koreans claim they invented sushi before the Japanese; I now believe them:

And the second course is what I refer to as the "shovel from the sea platter":

Then I walked it off, but I swear I did not visit this place. Going in alone would have pushed me over the edge into full douchebaggery:

It's bullshit that Japanese scientists JUST captured the giant squid; Koreans have been selling that shit on every other street corner since time immemorial:

Sunday, March 11, 2007

South Korea has mastered the art of making beer labels look like detergent bottles.

I'm in Seoul for four days and the weather is bright cold like a crisp fall day in DC. I didn't have a lot of hope for this town but it turns out to be a massive, vibrant city with interesting-looking restaurants on every corner. The high rises sprawl throughout a valley kind of like Lima Peru and it's flanked by massive mountains and Kim Jong Il's missles a few tens of miles north of the city.

Today I went to an octopus and kim-chee restaurant (all they serve) and drank Hite beer which is lighter than all American beers put together and tastes twice as good -- sort of like Asahi Dry with a twinkle and a wink.

I've decided Korean food is my new favorite; it's all so sharp, strong and unafraid to present the food like it appears in nature -- for example, they serve live octopus that you cook fondu style. I'm gonna track some of that shit down, I swear.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Thailand's "Bar Girls" aren't, in reality, whoring full time.

In a private room at a Bangkok karaoke bar, the mama-san offered us two prices for drinks: 280 baht with drinks or 1,100 with drinks and girls.

I'll be honest, I swallowed a dry lump in my throat. I'm a married man and wasn't prepared to hire prostitutes. But my business associates are stand-up guys so I went with the flow, confidant that I wasn't getting into some orgy a la

The decision was made to have drinks and girls so when the mama-san returned, in walked TEN (I counted) scantily clad ladies and their forced smiles. Our group, despite including some locals and expats, sat there nervously. I suppose no matter how many times you've done it, trying to choose between a herd of 10 humans like cattle is demeaning.

Someone in our group asked if any of the girls spoke English. Three or four raised their hands, sheepishly giggling.

I can't underscore enough how unnatural this moment was. There was no chit chat or music playing in the background. All the while, ten women were trying to maintain perfect smiles, flirty eyes and twisty hips to gain employment for the evening, while we avoided eye contact, trying to play cool.

And god dammit, the guys chose me to make the first choice in females. After pointing to the oldest-looking one, the selection process began. We'd each make our choice and the women then remained by our sides for the evening, giggling at our dumb jokes and feeling our under-worked biceps.

As hired companions, they were a decent bunch. We sorted through the Worst Karaoke Song List in History and half-assedly passed the mic. They liked my version of CCR's Who'll Stop the Rain and made sure my glass of Johnnie Walker Black was never empty. Then at 1AM, we bid goodbye.

Prior to this, I thought the extra-friendly women in southeast Asia's bars were there to pick you up, let you stick your dick in them, then take your dough. But from this experience, that's not the bulk of their business. All they have to do most of the time is hang out and drink with douchebags like me. Makes me feel better about the world.

(Photo above: pogobee)

On a side note, here's a sign that was on the wall above the bed in a Yangon (Myanmar) hotel called the Haven Inn:

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Shwedy Balls Pagoda is an awe-inspiring reminder that monks are useless parasites.

After climbing barefoot (it's enforced) up hundreds of stairs in 90 degree temperature to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda I shall henceforth refer to it as "Shwedy Balls Pagoda".

Sure, it's a beautiful temple and all that---pictures below---but I'd like to take a moment and reiterate my undiscriminating disgust for religion of any kind, occidental or oriental.

How did it come that people in the west give Buddhism a free pass? Maybe because they don't believe in gods. Here's one of many reasons to have no time or respect for Buddhism: MONKS.

In a country as poor as Myanmar, becoming a goddamn mendicant is despicable. It should be a moral emergency that maroon-robed lazy asses get to hang around cool temples all day getting handouts from the poor who break rocks on the highway for 16 hours seven days in a row. Monks contribute nothing to society. Asceticism is wasted energy that makes me angry.

The Shwedy Balls Pagoda from afar. It's over 320 feet high:

When the candles come out, the religious mumbo-jumbo is soon to follow:

The Shwedy Balls, from under the flame:

Monday, March 05, 2007

Hand-lining for Scorpion Fish from a Sinking Boat in the Bay of Bengal

The water slowly pouring into our wooden skiff created a perfect habitat for the inch-long pill bugs and crabs who'd sneak up from under the board I was sitting on to steal the squid used as bait.

For $12, I chartered a lawnmower-engine-powered floating pile of boards for five hours off Ngapali Beach in western Myanmar somewhere in the Bay of Bengal. The crew consists of a fiftyish guy with a conical hat and skin that looks like pock-marked leather; a thirtyish fellow who's wearing a ragged Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt and whose job is to manage the massive anchor; and me, the only English speaker in sight.

After picking up our bait of squid and minnows handed to us in an empty oil can, we fired up the mufflerless engine and headed toward open water, but I was puzzled because I didn't see any fishing rods on board. The crew didn't speak a word of English so I made a hand motion like I was reeling in fish but they responded by just pointing into open water.

Without stopping for rods, the engine was suddenly shut off and the anchor dropped. Soon I was handed what I discovered would be our fishing implements: empty water bottles with lines and hooks wrapped around them. To use them, you hand feed the line into the water until the bait hits bottom. When the fish is on, you haul him in, leaving the line in coils on the boat deck. It's fishing distilled to its simplest form.

The water kept pouring in through the wood slats in the boat but I was somewhat reassured by the anchorman's persistent bailing. So much water was coming in that he had to bail every 15 minutes and there weren't any life jackets within several miles.

I ignored the water rising past my ankles and started reeling in colorful reef fish for a few hours until we hooked a poisonous-looking, spikey-finned scorpion fish which was unhooked and dropped into the eight inches of water in the bottom of the boat near my naked feet. By the way the crew was shouting, I knew they weren't planning to eat that son of a bitch, but for some reason they weren't throwing him back either.

The crew invited me back to their shack where they grilled the fish and climbed a tree for coconuts. They made me drink a horrible fermented beverage that had flies buzzing all over the top and was the color of skim milk. From what I figure, it was a type of coconut milk that they let sit in the sun for a week until the alcohol level reaches about 5%.

Probably the most unseaworthy vessel I've been on, our boat:

The captain of the Good Ship Sinky:

Crew #2, the anchorman:

Our expensive fishing equipment:

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