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Learning Stuff

My life has been fairly nomadic the last few years. It took more than a little getting used to having a lease and a flat again, much less finding one in a new country and the joys of opening foreign bank accounts. The first half year seemed a blur of acclimation into a vibrant city full of so many things to do at any given time.

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Central Saint Martins campus where I probably spent most of my time covered in cranes as it became the center of the bourgie home of a Google campus and other improvements.

The neighborhood I was living in was transformed while I was there by the construction of student housing by the largest art university system. My own discomfort at participating in the gentrification and art washing of the neighborhood merely by being there was never quite reconciled. I am glad I did not stay in student housing and enjoyed the Turkish, Somalian and Jewish communities around where I lived.

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The street around the corner full of African and prom dresses on my way to the tube.

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A lot of my time was split on transport split between being in the efficient but black dust filled tube and riding my bicycle on confusing left side of the sound roundabouts and more pleasantly along canals.

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My favorite time to ride my bike was in the quiet of the night without cars. I would run into foxes and this family celebrating Diwali in the park.

Projects sent me to zone 6, the outer reaches of London in many directions throughout the year. I have been and am still interested in these parts of cities. London is full of beautiful museums and world class architecture but I am as curious about the less central and more everyday wonders.

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My love of street signs meets my amusement at very British things.

Part of what brought me to London was the excellent theatre and interactive experience scene. My younger days of frequenting concerts replaced by a mix of experimental things from sound to immersive events to interactive installations. It was what I had come to learn, to see. There was one Janet Cardiff experience that was made in the 90’s and recalled Jack the Ripper days in the neighborhood it was set in. I was equally awed by how much that area had changed since I had been there ten years ago and when I was there then. The same place experienced in one moment in four different times, each so different from the other and yet some things remained.

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Turns out I was too busy in experiences to take photos very often. These are bluetooth speakers for a flash mob orchestra in Birmingham.

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A lot of the fun of being in a very international school with creative people is the joy of hanging out and making stuff. This was my living room wall and recycled paint from the awesome furniture thrift store down the road.

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One of my favorite things in any huge city is the variety of excellent food and the fusions of so many cultures that are there.

The colonial history of the country meant there was excellent Malaysian, African, Mauritian and Middle Eastern food on top of the traditional foods that most British people seemed to be amused that I enjoyed. What’s not to enjoy about meat pies and fried things with beer? I ate many delicious European things as well that seemed to make it over the ocean less often. It was a time when Mexican street tacos, American BBQ and Asian fusion was popular but I did not come to London to eat trends influenced by America.

It was perhaps a little too loud for me but I am grateful for the time I have had here and the amount of exploring I got to do. Funny how I end up living places I don’t think I would. That’s the thing about cities, it’s not about the big thing that may be known for because it is a mix of so many other things going on at once. I am glad I got to see a London so different from the one I knew from visiting.

 

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Being in London for school meant I also went on some trips for school, often to places I wouldn’t choose to go otherwise. Some people may find this crazy or amusing as I enjoy my less crowded off the beaten path trips much more. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to these places that wouldn’t normally interest me with people who are more excited.

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Grad school was a great place to learn about all the minority views that and larger institutions and I may not consider. This picture captures what that felt like to me, that otherwise grandiose landmarks suddenly seemed both more imperial and framed by a lot of darkness. Taken inside the Musée du quai Branly where we were learning about the role of ethnography museums and colonial viewpoints in new modern museums.

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In beautiful Nice, France for carnival right after the Charlie Hebdo incidents. The ticketed and controlled bright festivities in stark contrast to the international tensions and assault rifled military in the city.

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A winding staircase somewhere in old town Nice.

I had some romantic notion of what world fairs must have been like back in the day when things like ice cream cones and cotton candy were invented at them. So a few design friends and I took the opportunity to go to Milan for the world expo with the theme of food.

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What would a visit to a European city be without the beautiful and touristy view of the central square and church? It was surrounded by the flags of so many countries for the expo.

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I also found street signs amusingly vandalized by some local street artist. I didn’t know it was a thing or I would’ve looked for more.

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The halls did seem like a bit of a money pissing contest split between modern and traditional. This was Korea’s very techno-laden event with dancing screens. Smaller, less rich countries were shoved into back halls.

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Less high tech, still very designer-y.

 

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My non-American friends were much more excited than I to check out America’s entry, which ended up being devoted to Michelle Obama’s fresh food initiatives. The food area was a tame food truck area of hot dogs, hamburgers and BBQ.

Overall we ended up finding the two to three hour lines for the most popular stalls ridiculous especially with a long subway ride out to the venue in the first place. There was also an immense amount of walking, this coming from a person who walks 5-8 miles in cities for fun. Perhaps there were glorious things being invented we did not find, but most of the food was underwhelming and not the examples of the best or freshest to be found at many countries and instead seemed to represent a lot of frozen fast food or snack type fare. The Austrian exhibit stood out as a literal breath of fresh air as did Bahrain for both it’s simple and modern building and interesting food selection.

It was an accident, the way most of my volunteering efforts seem to go.  I applied to a bunch of farms in Hungary and they were the only ones who even bothered to respond to tell me no.  One did drag in a week or two later, another rejection.  I had decided to head south, making a break for the much warmer Croatian coast.  This Angeleno doesn’t know what to do out of temperate, warm climates.  The farm was also a hostel so I figured why not stop there.  After weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and then Budapest, I could use some country downtime.

They came to meet me at the bus stand and told me there was some volunteer work all of a sudden if I was interested.  Little did I know what I was getting myself into.  I hope everyone is so lucky as to have a great first (and every) WWOOF-ing experience.  WWOOF stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms.  While I won’t turn down an organic apple, I had originally chosen Workaway as my site of choice because I really don’t care what kind of farm it is.  I wouldn’t be volunteering on giant corporate farms either way.  Turns out I have about the same luck either way, so there may not be too much more of this in my future.

But more importantly, onto the harsh farm work to break my urban romantic notions of farm life!  Actually, I expected all sorts of ridiculous physical hard labor and feel like I got the better end of the deal.  I will gladly accept delicious, hearty home cooked Hungarian food and a roof for what turned out to be not too bad at all.  The first task was cutting down dried cornstalks devoid of corn to be used as goat feed.  The giant stalks go into a machine that shreds them into goat edible chips using a giant belt attached to a device that looks like it existed in the steam era.

The view during a break in the acacia grove from the hard work of cutting and tying dried corn stalks in the fields.

The nearby church tolls its bells three times a day to let you know the work day has started, ended, and when to get lunch. If I kept bells on me, they’d constantly be going so I could constantly eat.

Luckily I got the really hard work out of the way first.  The rest of it was easy compared to this first day of tiring labor.

The view from the drinking patio which was quite pleasant on the many warm days. A good place to catch a sunset over the hills.

A lot of the tasks seemed more for more learning benefit.  Nothing says city slicker like my obvious confusion about plants and farm animals.  However after a week and a half, I now know how to milk a goat.  It did take a few jolting tries that involved a few goat kicks to get it right though.

One of the hosts, Alan, milking a goat happily munching away on grain and fruit in the milking stand.

I also learned how to turn unpasteurized goat’s milk into cheese the slow natural way without rennet. I’ve been wanting to know how to make cheese all trip. Turns out making small quantities is only a few minutes of work a day.

Little did this urban kid know that male goats came without horns and female ones could have horns. This was good news for me because this male goat started getting a little cuddly but then started head butting me when I ignored him. He looks so silly and innocent when he’s just standing around sticking his tongue out.

It seemed like most of the things have been harvested but some of the plants were still producing well into the fall.  So there was a lot of picking, eating, and preserving going on.  Turns out picking tomatoes growing on the ground looks a lot like the strawberry growers I used to see on the side of the road.  How their backs and haunches don’t constantly hurt is beyond me.  We also preserved pots and pots of pears that took a good bit of work to peel and core.  I can’t say I’ve ever successfully grown enough of anything to need that many rounds!

A good greenhouse effect. I tore the dying tomato plants and weeds out to give the remaining eggplant and pepper plants a better chance.

A lot of the more regular tasks involved making sure all the animals were in all the right places at the right time of day and happily fed.  You don’t really get a day off from this one.  It’s a good chance to live out the Old MacDonald song though.

Here a cluck, there a cluck, everywhere a cluck-cluck. These guys were post-factory adoptions after they were too old to be productive enough. They still lay a few eggs here and there. Hens sound like hissing cats to me.

On sunny days the goats, geese, sheep and sometimes one of the dogs would be led up to the fields to munch on grass and run about. It could be more work getting them back in the stables at the end of the night.

Putting the animals away at night was actually easier than I thought it would be as most of them happily ran into their shelters or lined up outside waiting to get in.

When I was a kid my Mom warned me that geese are dicks because one nipped her pretty hard. She was right, geese ARE dicks! These guys have been hissing and chasing me all week.

Indonesian running ducks are extra slim, standing taller than most ducks I’ve seen. They’re great for gardens because they’ll eat bugs but not vegetables. As a bonus they’re also apparently delicious. I want one the next time I have a garden.

Also on the farm were one cat and two rather hyper dogs.  The cat was particularly friendly around milking times, hoping to catch some spare goat’s milk.  Sorry cat, that’s for our tea and cheese making.  He only got some when a goat became infected so it wasn’t good for human consumption.  Cats weren’t the only ones eating well on a farm though.  I enjoyed so many wonderful home cooked meals that were a real breath of fresh air after months of eating in restaurants.  Especially in a peasant culture like Hungary, this seemed like the best way to discover foods I didn’t even know about.  There was lots of sausage and sauerkraut to be had.  However it was also refreshing because I had a salad just about every night, which I also haven’t really had for months.

Why must this cell phone picture look all suspicious and grainy? Those are some giant squash though! You can’t tell from this picture, but they were probably almost two feet long and well past American edible squash range. The top two remind me of Chinese squash.

The gigantic squash were turned into lecso, a red stew like thing consisting of lots of peppers and whatever other vegetables as filler, and fozelek, a sort of cream of vegetable stew/soup/side.  Apparently Hungarian squash are tender at much larger sizes.  Kohlrabi are also popular in this area and I had a lovely soup of it with liver dumplings.  Move over sweet potato fries, because kohlrabi fries were pretty tasty.

Every morning brought a delicious spread of fresh breads and rolls from the market that morning and homemade jams and preserves. This is a sour cherry studded chocolate brioche that was delicious when toasted.

The husband of this duo is British and they spent some time living there, so I got to enjoy lots of tea.

A staple in the fridge were Pottyos, a very Hungarian chocolate bar filled with quark cheese. Apparently it started in Russia but never caught on there like it did here. It’d be tastier to bring along if it didn’t need to be refrigerated. I think they sell them in China now.

The Hungarians eat a lot of pork so my going away feast consisted of a delicious pork meatloaf that comes studded with hardboiled eggs accompanied by homemade pickles. It was delicious out of the oven and just as amazing as a sandwich.  That’s fozelek in the upper left and lecso in the upper right.

The time really flew by as I got into a groove of some farm work, lots of tea breaks, enjoying many delicious new foods, and reading from the extensive English library.  I may very well have to return in the future for a longer stint of this.  My hosts did let me know they often get two to three requests a day, so I may not have much more volunteering at new places in my future.  I realize now that like interns, volunteers need a lot of supervision and time to become useful.  I guess they’re not really the quick free labor most people expect.  Oh well, I’d happily come back to this farm.  I’ll just have to watch out for those nippy geese and lovesick goats!

I may have been in Singapore for the set up of Moon Festival but I find myself in a tiny village in southern Hungary instead for a harvest festival.  Perhaps more confusingly, it is a German minority festival with a gypsy theme.  What I was excited about though is that the community gets together to make puppets, parade down the streets eating and drinking, and make Hungarian desserts.

We arrived the day before the festival to help with the retes (strudel) making.  One of the grandmas told me villages used to get together and do this during weddings.  Then she told me I should marry a nice Hungarian lad so they could hold a retes making party for me.  Well, hot damn, that’s the first time all year anyone’s had a benefit for me with their proposed weddings.  It was even more endearing when she brought homemade langos for everyone as a snack.  I ran back and forward between the retes making and decking the culture hall dance room out with crepe paper streamers and grapevines.  And here I thought I’d never use my middle school dance decorating skills again.

All good festivals start with grandmas around a giant pot on the stove.

And what’s the only thing better than one grandma cooking? A whole village’s worth!

Kneading at the speed of light. I seriously don’t get how they pull knead like that.

The dough rests before being pulled to stretch over the entire table. They then pull off the extra bits off the edges and fold up the edges using the tablecloth.

The dough is brushed with butter (or margarine) and sour cream. See the tablecloth through the paper thin dough?

Next you fill the dough with tasty things like cheese, apples, or in this case cherries.

This one is being filled with marrow (squash) and poppy seeds. That grandma chuckled that you aren’t passing a drug test anytime soon.

Using the tablecloth to roll up the retes.

Then you cut and put the segments on a tray.

Last is the most important step, you pause, to sing dirty songs in Hungarian and have a few shots of palinka.  See the mischievous looks on their faces?

Then you repeat the process until you’ve filled an entire room full of trays of retes.

That you throw into the wood fired outdoor oven to bake.

Then when they come out burnt, all the grandmas fight a good bit about who did what wrong.

The next day we showed up early to help with the kurtoskalacs, a chimney shaped cake cooked over an open fire.  The bread is doused in sugar and caramelizes into a crispy exterior and soft interior.  I personally needed a little coffee to get going this early in the morning.

Kneading large amounts of dough by hand, the hard work intensive Hungarian way of doing things.

I had quite a bit of help to get from wet, shaggy dough to this lovely ball. My forearms hurt after a while. I’m not cut out to be a Hungarian grandmother. I can’t knead and I don’t smoke or drink nearly enough.

After letting the yeasty dough rise you roll it out.

Then you cut it into strips and wrap it around a bunch of buttered tubes.

If you can roll a bacon wrapped hot dog, you can roll a kurtoskalacs. I realize that may not be a common skill, but that’s how I roll.

Then in typical healthy Hungarian fashion, you brush yet more butter on it before rolling the whole thing in sweet powder.

Finished kurtoskalacs with poppy seed, chocolate, nut and vanilla sugar coatings ready for some wood fire.

Then we retired back to the farm to rest before the afternoon’s parade and activities.

The town and culture hall were decked out in grapes, grapevines, paper streamers, and slightly terrifying scarecrow-like puppets. This one in particular seems to have a soft spot for box wine and mini-Heineken kegs.

First order of business? Put on a traditional Hungarian skirt over my jeans. The two cups of wine help.

The townsfolk dressed in not particularly politically correct dark face to be gypsies. I’m not sure why cross dressing was necessary.

The other normally dressed townsfolk came on carts pulled by not always willing horses and donkeys.

The harvest festival is to celebrate the year’s goods. This is a wine press making must (grape juice).

Each house hands out things made from harvested goods. This is zsiroskenyer, fresh bread covered in goose or duck fat, paprika and some red onions. The Hungarian trinity is fat, paprika and meat. Other houses handed out various baked goods.

Some houses had wine or palinka, a strong fermented fruit liquor. This house had both maize palinka and red/white wines.

I took a more careful look at the decoration on the table. Well, these Hungarian grandmas are saucier than I thought!

Then everyone retired to the culture house to watch some music and dancing. I appreciate that dressing like a gypsy means putting on face paint and leather pants.

This time I passed on doing folk dancing in a circle and I unfortunately did partake in the local liquor again.  Perhaps the high amount of Hungarian techno both days and fanny packs just didn’t do it for me.  I didn’t plan for this festival but it has turned out pretty darned well.  Whenever I’ve had a little too much energy now I can try making traditional Hungarian pastries.  Until then, I’m going to eat my heart out here.

My journey started on a note about death.  I had chosen to leave in late October to catch Dia de los Muertos, or day of the dead in South American.  I wanted to see a culture where deaths were accepted not as a sorrowful occasion, but as a joyous remembrance of loved ones.  A natural process that we might as well celebrate.  As I travel to celebrate and learn about life it is unavoidable that I would meet death again.

On my way, I have encountered a more familiar view of death.  A grim and unexpected event that seems to catch us before we expect it.  In Vietnam, I saw at least one if not two deaths that I could spot due to the large, gathered crowds who had come to gawk.  In Saigon I saw a few separate funerals, a weird occasion where traditional Vietnamese music preceded the flower laden truck and a modern western style brass band followed.

It still did not prepare me for one of the reasons I ended up coming to Cambodia, to face the human tragedy that was the Killing Fields.  I ran into many a traveler who did not like Cambodia, and many more who did not want to see the Killing Fields.  It is not a happy place, not a happy history to learn about.  Yet it is our human history that we all share whether we like it or not.  The Cambodian view is that they must share it, so that it will not happen again.  Even if it already sadly has.

In high school I volunteered a weekend at an Amnesty International film festival for the movie The Killing Fields.  I managed to be so busy I never actually watched the film, thinking it was a morbid documentary.  I did not realize it was a tragic if in the end heartwarming tale.  It was not exactly the primer I expected into the subject.  No, somehow knowing what I was bicycling to go see did not lessen the impact.

I couldn’t figure out what the first thing I saw in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum complex meant. No smiling? No talking? Apparently it is only a problem for Cambodians and not for us non-Khmer reading folk.

The weird translations just made it seem more surreal how severe the rules were. The culture of saving face as priority one still rubs me the wrong way and I do not understand it. They may be torturing you to death, but no crying! That’s very important!

It felt like these pictures never ended. Their gazes varied from steely, to burning with sharp intellect or hate, to even just those who looked surprised or caught off guard. Their gazes are every degree of human and they bore straight into you. How must it feel for relatives to come here, searching both hoping and dreading that they find their loved ones in the endless stares?

The innocuous buildings used to house a school. The irony of going from an institution of instilling knowledge to one dedicated to eradicating it. Often temples were used for the same purpose.

The memorial stupa of the Killing Fields. I was surprised to realize I did not just feel sadness for the victims, but realized everyone in the country was a victim. The “soldiers” were often children who would be killed if they did not join the revolution or do as they were told. As survivors who sympathized later pointed out, everyone left with nightmares.

This is a peaceful lake now, it has hard to imagine tens of thousands were killed here. Three million of Cambodia’s eight million were killed. With one third of the population killed, how could anyone escape being affected?

In Laos and Vietnam crater like holes like this meant bombs, here it is exhumed graves. Oddly while Vietnam and Thailand are explicitly mentioned as closed borders, there is no mention of anyone running to Laos. Maybe they were also in such dire straights it wasn’t even worth considering.

In Saigon I received a handmade friendship bracelet from two sweet friends. I was awful at wearing it and it kept dragging into things. Then I arrived at the killing tree where babies were smashed. I hope this gift from two innocent girls can bring happier blessings to this sad tree.

This place needs more than a thousand cranes. A Khmer Rouge saying illustrates this best: “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.”

The nine tiers of skulls felt endless. Another Khmer Rouge saying said “To cut the grass you have to remove the roots”. This meant killing whole families because to them children served no purpose and might cause future danger when they grew up wanting revenge.

The guestbook at Tuol Sleng had a lot of foreigners exclaiming “how could this happen?” They seemed to not see the extreme rich-poor bipolar Phnom Penh that continues today that the Khmer Rough were promising to end. If only the Khmer Rouge could’ve seen what materialistic capitalism their country would embrace due to their extreme actions. Although they did not carry through their promises of a classless society, it is more scary how easy it could happen then or now.

Cambodia’s Year Zero forced agricultural work for everyone in the country killed many more who were not even accused of being traitors and thrown in prison.  The harsh country work and lack of food was deadly for even those who were farmers.  While Vietnam suffered greatly at the hands of Imperialism from others, Cambodia wrought this upon their own people years after the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution in China had caused much bloodshed. It makes me wonder what atrocities cannot be seen in museums in China.

This is the longest I’ve been in one country this year.  I didn’t intend to and it certainly didn’t feel like it, but I did enjoy it.  As with every country, I learned a lot while I was here that I couldn’t have imagined.

Captures quite a bit of Vietnam’s recent history and present.

While I knew of more recent wars against the French and Americans for independence, I was unaware of the thousand years of Chinese rule for the first millennium or so.  Chinese style writing can still be seen in weddings and luck related matters or on historical buildings.  The language was translated by a Portuguese missionary hundreds of years ago before the French got here, so the current writing system is some complex system of accents I have not seen anywhere else.  The five tones of Vietnam are a struggle even knowing the four tones of Mandarin.  Vietnam has a fear of the Chinese still and everyone in the country of either sex has mandatory training for a few weeks to learn to fire guns and throw grenades.  The short length of training makes me wonder how good their aim is.   Meanwhile they have a bigger brother complex with Cambodia.  Some old rivalries do not end so quickly.  Once I got to the south end, I did not realize that there were more cultural influences than just the ethnic minority hill tribes.  There were whole empires here before, and loads of Chinese and Khmer people from when different regions ruled the area.

As if running from their history many countries in the region are sprinting towards globalization as a positive thing. I liked this scooter decal art to show just how bright neon this push towards modernity is.

My first country of the region was Laos, the most laidback of this subcontinent.  I loved it and I worried about what I had heard about Vietnam.  It was the scam-iest and pushiest country!  I already found Luang Prabang a tad touristy and pushy and couldn’t imagine it getting worse.  It really did.  There is a tourist trail in this country, it is all the stops you see on an “Open Tour” bus ticket.  The tourist areas of these towns are awful.  People will not take no for an answer and I’ve had people follow me down whole streets trying to sell me huge pieces of art when I’m carrying a backpack.  It just makes no sense.  After generations of oppression, I do feel like there is a feeling of watch out for your own first and screw everyone else, not just tourists but everyone, over.  However I feel like knowing there is a constant stream of new, one time tourists encourages this behavior as well.  Part of me wants to slap every tourist who happily agrees to the pushy people happily handing them usually more than twice as much money.  Stop encouraging that awful behavior!  Vietnam does not have the constant repeat almost expat like tourists of Thailand and their pushy touts take advantage to make sure they never will.

There is a system of double prices here, harkening back to the days of American GIs and their wildly inflated salaries relative to local prices.  It is perpetuated by all of us as we do not know the real prices of anything, it just seems “cheap compared to home!”  While the local salaries are quite low (about $100 a month for the poor), I think this attitude of looking at foreigners as “you can afford it” is damaging when carelessly done.  My first impression of the country was the airport, where there were posted prices for the bus like vans into town.  An information booth had notified us of a slightly higher (by 25 cents) foreigner price but the signs around the vans had only a single price.  We tried to inform someone in our van arguing with the fare collector of this and got cursed at for a bit.  This would’ve been easily avoidable without a van full of cranky just arrived tourists with a simple change to the sign.  Often, I also visibly see locals pay less and then the vendor laughs, or the vendor’s tone is snide as she laughs and says things to others around her in Vietnamese.  We may not understand the language but everyone understands body language and no one likes feeling ripped off.

That being said, there is real poverty here.  The economic boon of the 2000’s did bring about lots of positive change for the people but many still are in need.  The fast growing economy also caused ridiculous inflation.  Often I’d look at prices from five or six years ago and realized they’d tripled.  Bus ticket prices posted online a few months ago were already 10% off of the posted prices at stations.  This was a mere few cents or dollars to me, but I can’t imagine how this affects those living here.  It looks like there is already a bust occuring: The End of the Vietnamese Miracle.

Facebook, blogs, and some journalists are censored here. Most young people get around the first two pretty handily.

Like in other Asian countries, there seems to be a lack of caring about the surrounding environment by most people.  This meant all local beaches were covered in discarded trash and broken glass.  The roads were of odd quality, some fantastic and new, others so well used I was afraid to drive on them or ruined by weather.

I had so many friends tell me that this was their least favorite country that I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew I came here to eat but I found so much more.  In places where no one should’ve spoken English, I met so many friendly people just happy to talk to me and try to help.  I expected some residual anger about what they call the American War (and what we call the Vietnam War).  I found only helpful, smiling people and explanations in English.  The government run museums were propaganda like, but what can one expect?  One owner of a homestay told me his family had people join both sides, and that they still can’t figure out now who was more right.  It may also be because of how young this country is.  I heard a statistic somewhere that 2/3 of this country is under 30.  They were all born long after the war, it is history now.  Part of their economic growth has been based on how young they are.  They’ve implemented a two child policy to try to limit an explosion of too many youngsters forming an unsustainable economy.  Although the fine for another child is a whopping $12, painful to even the poorest families only for a bit I imagine.

One of the most inspiring things I’ve run into in the south are the English cafes run by 20 somethings.  I ran into more than one of these, where they recognized that speaking English opened up doors and opportunities for them.  In an effort to help others gain a foothold, these cafes encourage everyone to only speak English and do things like hold happy hours where native English speakers can talk to locals.  The two I found also happened to have lots of live acoustic music, often singing English songs.  While I don’t think English is the only answer, I really like that they were creating a community to foster growth opportunities.

One of the common questions I get is where would I live of the places I’ve been.  I spend at least half my time seeking out the middle of nowhere, which is not really part of the plan for when I return to living in a city somewhere.  However I can say after months in China and Vietnam that I would not openly choose either of those countries just because I would enjoy living there.  There is a general wariness I have in these two in particular, a difficulty because there is a general lack of trust.  I have made great friends in both countries however it does not override the feeling I have that I constantly have to be on guard.  While in America, the police and government may try to screw me over, it feels like here most people feel like they always will be.  I’d like to be able to enjoy the delicious feasts and wonderful sights of these countries without the careful eye that it is my responsibility to not be ripped off or given the correct change on purpose.  While I don’t need to trust these strangers with my life, I’d like to not always have to keep one eye on everyone with negative thoughts that everyone has only themselves and close family in mind.  There is a priority on appearances of everything being OK, without regard for anything holding up to the slightest wind behind that facade, often in these countries meaning lots of corruption and shoddily made things.  I could barely stand growing up with that as traditional family values, I don’t think I could voluntarily live in it.

I don’t think the children understand what “The Rooster Game” as they call it really can be. Although that kid in the bottom half clutching what looks like money may know otherwise.

One more country in the rear view with pleasant memories.  It has not been the easiest country but it really added more character.  I am grateful for the adventure that it has been, one I could not have expected when I set out on my journey.  Kind of like everywhere I’ve been.

My time motorcycling the Ho Chi Minh Trail has come to an end for now.  I’ve headed to the coast to hit the beaches and stopped to see the old Demilitarized Zone.  I have, pleasantly, not encountered a single incident of anti-American sentiment in the north.  This is not the end of my motorcycling time.  I look forward to cruising the sandy roads.

Missile-like statue near the old border river. There were also speakers on booth sides of the river. Must’ve been a loud shout out.

It seems the people here have either forgiven, forgotten, or are too young to even know.

The war stuff is usually so propaganda full that it was nice to just see some smiling pictures of people.

The government museums and sites were full of propaganda in the north, but that has lightened up considerably in this area.

Just in case it wasn’t clear:

This is the kind of propaganda you see in the north.

I always have a hard time imagining such a beautiful, peaceful place as the site of a horrid war.

The old war sites were overgrown with lush green vegetation.  The museums had exhibits from the American veteran’s groups and the Mine Action Group (a British NGO).

The wheelchair bikes here are crazy and slow. You rock that wheel back and forward to move.

The mine education center seemed more interested in using western funded money to educate their youngsters to protect themselves and how to help those who have been affected than to place blame for those bombs in the first place.

Laos and Vietnam do reuse their bombs a lot. This one was in front of the Mine Action Visitor Center. They use it as an education center for local children to teach them what to do with found bombs and how to treat those affected with kindness.

While still a dark mark in American history, I’m happy to see less pessimism and propaganda as I head south.  A fitting way to end the Ho Chi Minh Trail for now.  I may find myself back on this road in the south, but goodbye for now mountains.  I’m off for some beach time.