Posts Tagged With: The Lola Boys

The Last Word From A Lost World!

A Final Blog!

We leave Hanoi, the frenetic Vietnamese capital, with heavy hearts and even weightier rucksacks due to the ridiculous oriental trinketry I have unwisely failed to resist! imageThe shopping is amazing here, each twisting lane presenting a cornucopia of merchandise to lighten one’s purse and darken one’s load. I envisage some lively conversations between Mr Kennedy and I as we hit the open road with a few extra bronze Buddhas as travelling companions. Not to mention the deceptively heavy, lacquered ‘Tintin In Vietnam’ picture, which I’ve managed to secrete into a secret section of one of the backpacks. I don’t think he’s noticed it yet !!!

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imageAt the moment we are enjoying a brief honeymoon period, after having spent a week many miles apart. Reunification in North Vietnam has been a marvellous exercise. Absence doesn’t just make the heart grow fonder!

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But enough of that, the Vietnamese frown on open displays of affection, even though they are an extremely tolerant society. And why not? It certainly shows more decorum. There are some things that should stay well and truly behind the iron curtain that undoubtedly still exists here.

I do not, however, believe this includes the pastime of blogging. This literary hobby surely constitutes a freedom of speech, a privilege, we in The West, take absolutely for granted. To have one’s voice silenced through the actions of Vietnam’s communist government is insidious, and, if I may say, a little rude! Now we are safely out of range of the ruling party’s heavy-handed iron fist I am able, without fear of recrimination, to say what I truly feel.

This is a great nation. It’s people are resilient, hard-working and proud. They possess a sharp intelligence and a sometimes ferocious wit. They are entrepreneurial and yet keenly socially conscious as well. The family and it’s inherently decent values are paramount to them. They can be deadly serious and then collapse into fits of genuine laughter at the drop of a chopstick. Their national character, contrary to much of what I have read on the internet, is imbued with an incandescent array of colour. It is nothing short of tragic that these fine and decent people have been saddled with a colourless and humourless ‘parliament’, with all the attraction of Ho Chi Minh’s lifeless, embalmed corpse.

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It is true that many still revere their mummified former leader. But going by most of the lively conversations in which I have engaged with the local population, this deference seems mainly due to the miracle he performed by kicking out the French colonialists, and not in any part an admiration of his Soviet style policies. Plus, a little whitewashing of historical fact and a lot of brainwashing, a despicable act, that is compulsorily carried out in schools nationwide ! It seems the government doesn’t think this bright and erudite country has the brains to think for itself. Or have a say in how it is governed.

A leadership which governs in this arbitrary and undemocratic manner certainly doesn’t get my vote !

The manipulation of the country’s media, which is entirely run by the state, is a parlous state of affairs. These so-called Socialists should be red-faced with embarrassment and shame. It is a credit to the population that this wonderful land is awash with smiling optimism despite not having the right to put a cross in a box. Those brave souls who have the courage to speak out against such political tyranny and end up with enforced room service at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ get my endorsement. These are the real politicians. The genuine heroes. Not the tin-pot generals and ‘yes men’ who are unelected to such elevated seats of power. Who are so paranoid about maintaining absolute control that they think it necessary to block a silly Western cabaret artiste from making a few wry comments online. They make me gag!

I believe the situation is calm here now as the economic conditions within Vietnam are equally as placid. But there is a definite underlying political tension here, and not a definite underlying pension! If the currency of the ‘Dong’ starts going for a song, the populace may start to sing an altogether different tune. A revolutionary ditty which will have those ruling generals running for cover to the Viet Cong’s many wartime tunnels, holding on to their tin pot hats as they go. I, for one, will be cheering from the sidelines, if this beautiful nation takes hold of her own reigns, and canters gracefully towards the winning post. After spending an utterly incredible month getting to know the good folk of Vietnam, I believe the odds are more than even, and the going, exceptionally good. I can’t wait for the starting pistol to begin the grand nation.

And so we say farewell to this exotic part of the world, happy in the knowledge that this country has won our hearts and leaving her makes us sad, so it is good mourning Vietnam.

We have now pushed on even further from home.

Our plan was to visit China, but the thought of being gagged and monitored for another extended period, by another paranoid and ultra bureaucratic totalitarian regime, seems little more than a voluntary prison sentence, rather than an exotic adventure. So we have decided to avoid the risk of getting caught in the censorious jaws of the giant red dragon and have instead headed south for our first ever visit to Indonesia.

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We have arrived in Bali for ‘Nyepi’ – the fantastic Balinese festival of spirits, where titanic, garish monsters are paraded through the streets in order to scare off any real demons who may be contemplating a Vietnamese style takeover.

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It was a vibrant and noisy start to our exploration of the south seas. The tribal drumming and rhythmic chants have certainly helped us to shake of the constraints of any residual authoritarianism.

Although, ironically, we have been silenced once again on this trip, but by an altogether different authority. Today is known here as ‘The Day Of Silence.’ Not a human being on this exotic isle is allowed to stir or take to the streets. This is to fool the angry gods into thinking the place is uninhabited, so that they go on their demonic ways and leave Bali in peace.

We have been forbidden to leave our home stay by the charming family with whom we share it. We can eat only what we are provided with and must keep noise to a minimum. Andrew is thrilled as he doesn’t have to contend with my constant chatter for at least a day. Surprisingly, being such a keen exponent of the art of conversation, I am not finding this a hardship, especially as we are currently residing in a true paradise, south of the equator.

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Home

And so to comply with local tradition, I have decided to remain silent for the rest of the day, in fact, for the rest of this trip, which means it is time to bring this blog to a close.

Our trip so far has been everything we could have wished for and more. Asia continues to enthrall and fascinate. The sophistication and sheer beauty of Thailand, with it’s arcane rituals and brilliant cuisine. Stunning Cambodia, where the people are as warm as the land they inhabit. And, of course, unforgettable Vietnam. A country of such unique culture and timelessness, that has resisted all attempts to be reshaped by the aggressive chiselling of foreign and domestic sculptors. Defiantly and proudly retaining her ancient form, fecund with spirituality and mysticism. We have been most fortunate and are more than grateful to have been welcomed into these gerontogeous climes with so much sincere hospitality.

We now plan to venture into deepest, darkest Indonesia. Traversing that evocatively invisible borderline we call the world’s equator.

And for once, I’m not gonna shoot my mouth off !

What happens south of the border – stays south of the border!

That is, until I release my first book of our adventures ….

The Lola Boys Out East !

Unavailable in all good bookstores.

But it should be ready for the dodgy ones early next year!

Categories: The Lola Boy's Blog, The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Solo Adventures Of A Forty-Something Teenage Detective!

Dong Hoi

imageI set out from my ‘bijoux’ guest house in the small, provincial, untouristic town of Dong Hoi and headed for the incongruously psychedelic bridge which crossed the Nhat Li river.

There was not a lot to see here, the town once being the main staging post for the Viet Cong during the war, it’s environs had been completely razed to the ground. image

The main sights being the bombed out church, preserved as yet another reminder of yet another U.S. war crime, and the bridge, an excellent example of a Vietnamese architect’s draw crime!

The only other vaguely historical point of interest was the remains of an ancient gate which had once been the entrance to an impressive citadel.

Sadly this was unmaintained and littered with rubbish, including a few used syringes.

Apparently this unassuming little conurbation lies on the main heroin smuggling route. The locals say the brown stuff arrives on boats and is then transported overland into Laos, just twenty miles west of here. This would explain the small underbelly of the populace which I have noticed on my meanderings – wandering aimlessly, dazed and confused. I mean them, as well as me. I had assumed there was a small underfunded, psychiatric unit nearby, I now knew better.

imageI crossed the funky bridge, grey and wan in it’s daytime attire and headed for the sandy spit which I’d espied from attic room days earlier. From there it had appeared close by – just a cough and a spit on a bicylce. However, as it transpired, the journey was more akin to. A case of full blown pnuemonia!

As the essential early morning Vietnamese coffee kicked in violently, I found myself pedalling furiously through the narrow lanes. The bike had ten gears apparently, although the other nine I had tried were refusing to co-operate. The bike and I were most definitely not in tandem.

After what seemed like a very short time, I found myself alongside an extremely quiet stretch of beach. Sand dunes rolled out for as far as the eye could see, and all I could hear was the noisy roar of the implacid South China Sea, crashing ferociously sounding like an oriental timpani section as it met the beach.

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The sea itself was unswimmable, the current quite unmanageable, even for a cross channel veteran such as David Walliams. I had been warned to venture in by Vanh, my lovely guest house owner. Had she not been so forthcoming with her coastguardly advice, I would still not have been remotely tempted. Though impressive, majestic even, this remote stretch of ocean is terribly uninviting. The South China Sea can be incredibly agressive at times. Perhaps this great part of the Western Pacific is rebelling in response to China’s recent agression in this maritime region. That great nation seems intent on claiming most of these waters for herself, even those far from it’s shores, much to the chagrin of Vietnam and the other numerous countries who share the it’s coastline. It seems the sea is not the only part of this region with a disturbingl and dangerous undercurrent!

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Greedy,greedy!

I was interrupted from my high-brow geo-political reverie by four young lads, who were visiting the beautiful, if deadly beach on a day trip. Do, Hi, Cok and Wi, who on mass sounded suspiciously like Donald Duck’s nephews, were having a quacking time. (Apologies!) despite the weather. And of course they went quackers when the chance of having a snap with an odd looking westerner materialised. They wanted nothing more than to beach bond with the bleach blonde who had washed up on their tumultuous shoreline. I was more than happy to oblige, they were such sweet and gentle guys, as they always seem to be in this country.

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If the youth are anything to go by, surely only good things can happen here in the future.
I left the beach and cycled onto a road that was under construction. I went for some time at considerable speed, now having re-discovered the art of changing gears on a bicycle. The wind in my hair, the sun attempting to light up my face, it felt great. I was out alone, rucksacked and rebellious, ignoring the boringly dry guidebook and heading for adventure. I’d found at least half of my inner TinTin for which I’d been searching. Now for the remainder.

Then, from what seemed like no-where, two angry hounds from hell, sprung up from the side of the deserted highway and gave chase. I stood on the pedals in an attempt to accelerate away, but neither the bike nor my quadriceps responded quite as quickly as they had once done. image

One of the vicious looking curs, a mean yellow thing, who looked as if he’d swallowed a box of washing powder, made bold!

It went directly for my right ankle. For a moment he caught the bottom of my jeans between his sizeable jaws and I wobbled unsteadily. Physically and mentally! I kicked out hard, there was a yelp, I did not look back as the bike suddenly kicked itself into gear and I was free. My heart was pounding, my thoughts racing faster than the guy in the yellow jersey on the Tour De France. ‘What ifs’ abounded. Not least, what if I’d been bitten?!

Especially as Andrew and I had declined the offer of a series of Rabies shots prior to setting off for eastern climes. The jabs were so expensive and the risks seemingly so distant then, as we sat comfortably ensconced in the tropical nurse’s spotless, Gibraltar surgery.

She had kindly warned us of a recent outbreak in Saigon, but we’d not been swayed. I was now busy wondering if we’d been barking mad to make such a decision when I heard loud voices coming from behind. My initial thought was that I’d raised the heckles of the mean, yellow dog’s owner and he was chastising me, even giving chase! I didn’t wait to find out, but moved up through the gears as fast as I could and turned down a sandy path just beyond some camouflaging scrub, hoping I would lose any possible pursuants.

I could hear more angry shouts, now growing more urgent, I turned to look over my shoulder. To my surprise, instead of an oriental peasant with a shovel and a pissed off mutt, there stood behind me two very serious looking men in army green uniform, with two very serious looking guns by their sides. There was not a dog or serf in sight! I slammed on the brakes, and shot them an apologetic and confused touristy look. I knew I’d obviously made a transgression somehow, perhaps they’d read the blog! I was not in such adventurous mood as to try and outride two Viet army personel who appeared highly concerned and highly armed! I did want to trigger a Viet wrong!

I turned the bike around and made my way towards them.
“No! No!” They were shrieking. Holding up their arms, and thankfully not their arms, in a crossed position in the air.
“No! No! Not allow!”
As I reached the two guys there urgency did not diminish. The taller of the two was making strange noises and waving his arms in an expansive gesture. For a moment he looked as though he was doing the dance that accompanied the Y.M.C.A., I could have giggled with nerves, I was scared enough, instead I maintained composure. He continued on with his Village People  routine and with the noises, which I could now discern as ‘Boom’, ‘Bersh’, ‘Boc Boc’, etc.
It was then I twigged!

There was obviously unexploded ordinance here. I nad been warned by Vanh, and am usually very sensible under such circumstances, but ‘The Hounds Of The Baskervilles’ had put me off my pace and I’d obviously gone further off road than I had realised.
“I’m sorry, so sorry” I apologised, smiling manically. Teeth usually make a difference here.
“Thankyou, thankyou. Cam Un. Cam un.” A little bit of the local lingo goes a long way too.

At once their stern attitude changed. They were not angry with me, only concerned for my physical welfare. They smiled broadly and laughed hard. The three of us shared a moment of nervous hilarity as we shook hands and giggled energetically at the thought of me being blown to smithereens!

They were so nice, they even directed me on an alternative route, avoiding the brutish canines and the U.X.B. I was most grateful.

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After another ten minutes of riding, my crotch and I needed a break. I stopped on the deserted road and took some water.

I marvelled at the construction of all the infrastructure surrounding me, and wondered at the lack of people.

Just who exactly were they putting all this structure ‘infra’!

There was nobody here!

Other than a guy on a black moped who nad been putting along very slowly ahead of me for the last ten minutes or so. Every now and then he would come to a halt, and glance, rather too conspicuously, in his rear view mirrors, seemingly to check my position.

I passed him a couple of times as he remained inexplicably stationary at the side of the deserted highway, giving him a wide berth and attempting to look confident and butch, as my late father had always dispondantly encouraged. Each time, the shrouded rider would start up again and accelerate further down the road, stopping a couple of hundred yards in front of me, looking once more to his mirrors. After about quarter of an hour of this strange duel, I began to grow a little apprehensive. What with the the mad dogs, the leftover bombs and now this mysterious biker, everything was becoming a little too ‘Herge’ – even for my liking!

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My ‘Tin’ was definitely rattled.

I was alone, at least five miles from anywhere, and it felt like five hundred. There was nothing for it but too stand my ground. Dig deep and mine the other half of my Tintin spirit – discover my true metal.

I took out the mobile phone I’d had the foresight to pocket prior to venturing out and held it very obviously in my hand. I then pretended to make a phone call, shouting ridiculously loudly to ensure the masked motorcyclist could hear me. I then clicked the phone into camera mode, stood tall on the bike, and pedalled directly towards the suspected highwayman. I stopped abruptly, about twenty feet from him, lifted the camera high into the air, and took a photograph. I then put the phone back into my pocket and continued to ride past the guy, smiling confidently as I did so. As he was masked I could not tell if he reciprocated, although I had my doubts!

I cycled on, I did not look back for fear of appearing insecure. I kept my pace slow and measured – for once dad would have been proud.

After a couple of minutes, I stopped. Climbed out of the saddle and kicked on my bike-stand in the manner I imagine John Wayne would have done in a similar showdown. As I did so I clumsily bashed my ankle bone into the bike frame in a style more akin to ‘Blazing Saddles’! I tried hard not to react, but it bloody hurt. I then opened my rucksack, took out my water, and nonchalantly took a swig, missing my mouth entirely, and throwing most of the H2O into my left eye! I glanced over, as surreptitiously as I could with the one that could still focus, in the biker’s direction. He had begun to move towards me again – I held my nerve. I could hear the soundtrack of ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’ reverberating around my head at great speed.

“Duddle Uddle Urr – Durr Durr Durr”!!!

And then, suddenly, as quickly as he had appeared, the ghost-rider made a broad u-turn and crossed to the opposite lane. He then rode directly away from me. Calm and deliberate, without so much as a nod of his helmet.

We had, at last, parted company.

Not before time!

I waited a good twenty minutes, or so it seemed. The battery in the phone was exhausted, I had know way of knowing for certain. The photograph I had snapped of my shady biker friend in order to expose him, had been it’s final exposure!

I made my way calmly back towards the town, feeling partially relieved, and, egocentrically, a little proud of myself that I had managed to deter a possible highway robbery, or perhaps something worse! Either that, or my paranoid western sensibilities had got the better of me, and I had scared a poor Vietnamese joyrider witless, with an intriguing game of cat and mouse!

My gut feeling, however, points towards the former.

This country feels, and is, incredibly safe, doubtless due in some part to the fear instilled into the local population by the Vietnamese state should they dare to commit a crime. The gaols here are notoriously unreformed – Elizabeth Fry would have had a field day!

But narcotics can take away one’s fear of reprisal, and with the underlying drugs issue here unresolved, I wonder if I’d just been unlucky enough to encounter one of the few desperate local junkies out on the empty highway.

As I neared the river, a motorcycle pulled up directly alongside me.
‘Blistering Barnacles!’ I nearly jumped out of my skin!
But immediately I was greeted with a benign, smiling hello. It was Linh, one of the student waitresses employed at the small cafe opposite my hotel. She just wanted to ride beside me and chat, practicing her English as we went. I was more than happy to have her with me as we rode back towards civilisation.

“What is you name?” She asked, beaming. Innocent and guileless and with innate charm.
“Tintin” I wanted to answer. But I knew this was unfair. Cruel even, and the joke would have been lost.
“Paul”, I said, returning the smile. “It’s Paul”.
But I knew, that deep down inside, it was Tintin again. If even just for a few exciting moments.

And as the sun broke through the haze for the first time in days, so did my teenage self. I was delighted to know that the boy detective deep inside of me, almost suffocated by the trials and tribulations of adulthood, was most definitely alive and kicking, and it felt utterly brilliant.

Although, I think that may be enough solo adventure for one comic’s trip !

Tomorrow I head for Hanoi to meet up with my old partner in ryhme.
The double act is to be reunited.

But I shall always be grateful for this week I spent alone. Thankful for the hounds, the unexploded ordinance and the angel from hell, which provided me with just enough danger to resuscitate my inner child.

Now he’s been given the kiss of life, I may invite him out to play more often.

“Come on Snowy. Walkies”!

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Categories: The Lola Boy's Blog, The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bright Light In A Grey Hue.

I arrived in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, in the dark, after an arduous bus journey which inevitably took much longer than the advertised four hours! I found a small, traveller’s cafe, where the food was hot even if the local climate was not. It was cold, wet and miserable. I huddled beneath my two duvets, wearing three t-shirts, and wondered if I had made the right decision to leave Andrew in the relative comfort of Hoi An.

In the morning, on entering the rooftop, Soviet style breakfast room, I was even less convinced. The dining area was as silent as the grave. I bade a pretentious ‘bonne matin’ to three French girls who were busily tearing at baguettes in the corner, but to no avail. They glanced up momentarily, glared, and then went back to their breadslaughter – expressionless! I normally love the French. Andrew and I spent a wonderful few days in Normandy only last summer. the locals were charming. But on our travels through Vietnam the only type of Gallic cousin we have come across has been obnoxious and stuck up. I fear for their poor necks in years to come, as their noses are invariably stuck so far in the air, they are doubtless causing severe trauma to the upper spine. The Vietnamese loathe them, which I’m sure is not all due to their country’s lamentable colonial history here. Quelle dommage!

I sat at a small table, looking out over the ‘Perfume River’ which today looked particularly unfragrant and colourless. Hue had a very grey hue!

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As did the breakfast.

I opted to ignore the blueish looking noodles and the dull eggs – more grey! And plumped instead for some fresh fruit and coffee, which is always reliable in this country. The mood did not lighten. It was reminiscent of The Last Supper, heavy and foreboding. I wondered if my fellow diners all knew something I didn’t.

imageTwo American ladies on the opposite side of the salon conversed in a manner that only Americans can, loudly, and without any consideration for their fellow breakfastees. One was telling the other in vivid detail how she had eventually mastered the art of potty training her husband.

“I felt like a Carebear” she whined!

I felt like a sick-bag!

Her pal then droned on and on about the benefits of emotional therapy. After twenty five minutes of this interminable shit, I felt I could do with some too! The French just shuddered.

I was more than pleased to get out into the damp daylight, if only to escape the dreariness of my lodgings. I made my way on foot to the old citadel on the opposite side of the river. I wasn’t expecting much, as I had read how the French had ransacked the place at the end of the nineteenth century. They violently stormed the imperial city, burning down it’s ancient library and looting everything of any value, from exquisite treasures to the last toothpick! Then, during that other infamous conflict which occurred more recently here, the U.S. flattened the place with bombs and even painted the historic quarter with Napalm. It is true that this was a counter-attack after the Viet Cong had assumed control, and bludgeoned a sizeable portion of the local population to death, but it was still an incredibly broad brush stroke! The main victims of all of this futile fighting were, of course, the civilians of Hue. Thousands of men, women and children were killed during these atrocious campaigns.

With all of this in mind, I entered through the magnificent Noon gate with a very realistic attitude about what I was to discover on the other side. However, as it transpired, I was remarkably and happily surprised. Although the battle scars were very evident, the emperor’s once resplendent abode now a pile of rubble, there was still much to admire. Many of the buildings had been brilliantly and sensitively restored, and there was a wonderful atmosphere about the place. The site still resonated with imperial echos of it’s grand past, especially in the quieter, overgrown corners where one could imagine the many concubines bathing in their lotus-covered pools, bickering over the attentions of their lord and master.

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As I stood in the centre of the ‘Forbidden Purple City’, once a place to which only eunuchs were allowed to enter, I felt lucky, not just to still posess my testicles, but to just be present in the presence of such regal ghosts.

It was a real trip – I’m glad a made it.

The following day, after another petit dejeuner from Hades, I made plans to visit the Thien Mu Pagoda. A veritable Vietnamese hotbed of political protest. The location which houses the old Austin in which the Venerable Monk Thich Quan Duc made his journey to Saigon to make his famous fiery protest against the treatment of Buddhists in the country, by burning himself into the next life!

Ignoring the pleading and incessant offers from at least sixty cyclo riders to jump into their baskets for the journey, I decided to walk. I had been informed by my hotel receptionist, Valerie,( at least, I think that’s what she said!), that it was a short two kilometre stroll out of town. After an hour of steady pounding, I was still promenading along the side of the river. I thought perhaps I had headed in the wrong direction, not for the first time. Before me on the wooded, mud-track I had foolishly chosen to take, was a group of men, nonchalantly grouped beside an incongrous W.C. on the verdant riverbank. I approached to ask them for directions. Almost immediately I realised the error of my ways. Let’s just say they were more than pleased to see me, and a little dissappointed when they realised I wanted a different sort of direction to the one on offer! It was all very pleasant. One of them looped his arm tightly around my lower waist, and used his free arm to finger my ‘Lonely Planet’, much to the amusement of the present company. I keenly followed his index finger as it ran suggestively along the length of my route-map, laughing along with them in a slightly petrified fashion. After he’d come to a conclusion, I thanked him very formally, and swiftly continued along the path, like a not so little but very red Miss Riding Hood. Feeling fortunate to have freed myself from the clutches of a pack of over-friendly wolves and leaving them to finish off their tasks in hand, which I had so very rudely interupted.

The winding path eventually ended and I was forced to join a busy four lane carraigeway, juggernauts and coaches sped perilously past me. I would have turned back but was slighly concerned that the gentlemen at the ‘gentleman’s’ may think I had reconsidered and was popping back for a refreshment stop and a quick handshandy! So I continued onward.

Eventually I stumbled upon a photocopying shack in the middle of nowhere, as you do, and managed to make clear to the lady-copyist the location I was seeking. This involved a lot of mime, including a terrible Joan Of Arc at the stake impression, which actually proved to be the clincher.

“Ahh” she nodded, and gestured further along the highway, “five kilometre”!

It was at this point that the thought of self-immolation crossed my mind too. The idea of dousing myself in petrol and whipping out a box of Swan Vesta, seemed only marginally less appealing than continuing on foot along South East Asia’s equivalent to the M25!

Needless to say, I resisted the urge to strike up, and just under an hour later the sight of the evocative tower before me extinguished any further hot headedness!

I climbed the many steps in solemn fashion, aware of the turbulent history that had unfolded here. As I neared the top, I was surprised to hear peals of laughter rather than religious bells. The whole summit seemed alive with joy and hilarity. A large group of extremely jolly Vietnamese were finding something outrageously amusing. As I got a little nearer I could see them pointing and guffawing, I realised then what the big joke was.

It was me !

They found me utterly hilarious. They were practically splitting their sides with laughter.

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Andrew has always told me I have funny bones, but I hadn’t expected my skeleton to cause such uproar at such a seriously religious attraction. After countless photos, for which I happily posed, and a glut of hand-shaking, back-slapping and giggling, I said farewell to my new found friends and stepped inside the temple. The atmosphere was very different inside – much more sombre.

imageMonks were ambling gracefully around the grounds, and every so often one of the novices would bang a gigantic brass bowl with a Fred Flintstone club, resounding in a massive bong which would startle me every time. I marvelled at anyone’s ability to meditate with the incessant racket of the tourists and Wilma’s mighty dinner gong being regularly bashed, let alone find the extraordinary concentration to set oneself alight.

This was an amazing locale. Made even more so by the startling juxtaposition of the incredibly sacred together with the most mundane. On turning a corner and passing a beautifully ornate temple, I was confronted with a Royal Blue, 1960’s Austin automobile, seemingly parked out back. It was actually an exhibit.

imageIt was the car in which the famous monk had been driven to the centre of Saigon. On arriving in that great city, he alighted from the vehicle, assumed the lotus position, and set himself alight. He was later emulated by several other brave souls who burnt themselves alive to bring light to the suffering of their people.

imageI could not help but be truly moved. I even touched the car in admiration, hoping, perhaps, that some of the spiritual courage may rub off on me. We can all surely take something from such selflessness.

On hearing of this genuinely brave flame throwing, the then president’s infamous sister-in-law was reported to have said, in an ‘Antoinesque’ manner,

“Let them burn! I love a big barbecue party!”

This comment unsurprisingly inflamed an already furious public, setting the wheels in motion for Ho Chi Minh’s communist revolution. We all know the rest!

I was interested to learn, that in 1993, another man performed this same pyromanical trick just in front of the pagoda. No-one knows why, it remains a mystery. Perhaps he was given the same directions as I was!

I sat quietly for a while, and meditated on how any being can develop the clear sightedness to sit calmly and turn themselve’s into a human torch for the sake of illuminating society. I left, feeling nothing but a perplexing sense of admiration for them.

I was, however, unpuzzeld by the route I wished to take back to the city. I decided to avoid the turquoise cottage and took to the water.

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The Riverside Cottage!

Smugly pleased with myself that I had managed to barter the boatman down to just 100 dong for the return trip, I cast off in a vessel all of my own.

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I realised though, on disembarking, just why my skipper had been so ready to reduce the fare for my passage. The port of disembarkation was, I’m not sure how one pronounces it in Vietnamese, but in The Queen’s English I’m fairly certain it is known as, the back of beyond! As I was cast ashore so mischievously I felt the fire in my belly begin to ignite, but instead of blowing a gasket, I thought of those beautiful monks from whom I had just learnt so much, and instead let myself – decompress.
I payed the captain, smiled and bid him ‘Tam Biet’.
I then set out once again on the long march home, this time on the other side of the river. At least there was no danger of having to quell the desires of the five knuckle-shufflers across the water.

By the time I eventually reached my dreary abode, my plates of meat were smouldering, I must definitely have burnt off breakfast, if not the dreadful recollection of it. That unfortunately was branded onto my long-term memory.

Just like the story of the brave and brilliant monk. His fate had seared itself well and truly onto my hard drive. I shall never forget the story of his burning passion for freedom and justice, and how it must be to have a real fire in one’s soul.

Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk, burns himself to death on a Saigon street June 11, 1963 to protest alleged persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. (AP Photo/Malcolm Browne)

He surely was a true beacon of light in an often grey and murky world.

image

Bless him x

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two Go To Devil’s Island!

Con Son, also known as Indochina’s Devil’s Island, is the main isle of the remote archipelago of Con Dao, lurking quietly,  far out in the turquoise South China Sea, just off the coast of southern Vietnam. Today, it is mainly visited by northern Vietnamese war veterans, who had once been incarcerated here during the infamous American campaign last century. They come to pay respects to their fallen colleagues and, I imagine, in an attempt to reconcile themselves with the brutality they were forced to endure here.

It was The French who built most of the prisons in this beautiful place, during their colonisation of the country. The lock-ups were used to keep those natives who had the audacity to rebel against France’s colonial ambitions. Almost twenty years after The French were kicked out, the United States put the jails to bad use once more, when they transferred Viet Cong fighters here to be imprisoned in the infamous ‘Tiger Cages’.

This is a ‘Tiger Cage’ !

image

A pit with a barred grill as a ceiling, so that the guards, like demented circus trainers, could stab at the inmates below with thick bamboo poles. These torturers also threw lime onto their captives to blind them and scorch their skin.

imageFor those ‘lucky’ enough to avoid these hellish holes, an altogether different abode awaited. Known as solariums, these were stone cells, completely open to the fierce sunlight. Made to share these compounds with hundreds of others, naked and without room to even lay down, these men and women literally baked alive under the punishing, equatorial sun.

The Americans denied the existence of these killing rooms, much like the waterboading which took place at Guantanamo Bay. But, in 1970, they were forced to admit their cruelty. A journalist, on a controlled congressional visit to the gaol, had in his posession a secret map, drawn by an ex-con, and detailing the whereabouts of the rumoured ‘Tiger Cages’. He managed to break off from the main group, and following a path leading behind a vegetable plot, used as camouflage, he discovered these brutal cells. ‘Life’ magazine then published his photos for the world to see.

image

America was shamed and forced to apologise.  Just another example that none of the participants in that fatal conflict conducted themselves with anything near flying colours.  The Geneva Convention was torn up and fed to the big cats.

It was a very eerie visit.  To walk through a gate, leaving paradise feet behind, and to be confronted by a genuine house of horror.  The atmosphere was a heavy as the iron manacles which still lay on the hard stone floors.  It was difficult to remember we were in an exotic heaven when surrounded by such barbaric history.  The imaginative evil to which Man is able to stoop during war is beyond imagination.

We were pleased to leave !

Not before giving one of the guards a disrespectful hand to lighten our mood. A shameful act for a shameful place!

image

Thankfully, the rest of the island is a delight. Cobalt blue waters, emerald mountains, abundant wildlife, and best of all, no Starbucks in sight !  It would be very interesting to return in ten years time, to see if Ronald Macdonald has kept his grubby hands of the place.  Perhaps the heavy red glove of the communist government will hold back any of his commercial clowning.  Although, having just spent six days in Saigon, I very much doubt it.  Change maybe at a glacial pace here, but at some point the floodwaters of commerce will surely overrun the islet’s innocent defences.  Paradise, after all, never endures !

image

imageWe took a motorbike to see the rest of the island.  It was glorious, the ride, however, was not.  I hadn’t ridden for several years, and saddled with a hungover hunk, by the name of Andrew Kennedy, riding pillion, we must have looked like ‘George And Mildred’ as we wobbled precariously along the precipitous roads.

imageWe stopped for lunch at a local village, or rather, the only other village!  Our hosts were so polite and engaging, that we thought it churlish to refuse their fishy offering.  The ‘head chef’ sat with us and prepared the frightful feast.  He seemed to take a shine to me, and I was therefore offered all the best bits of this marine meal.  First, he fed me a fish eye, which glared at me angrily before he chopsticked it into my gob.  Then, I sampled some gill and something quite unrecognisable that came from the fish’s midrift.  Finally, with a flourish, I was presented with a type of organ, which flapped between the sticks before it slithered down my gullet.  It was most unappealing.

Andrew looked on, with barely suppressed hilarity, as he escaped most of this fishy torture.  He was, however, offered the head of the creature to munch on, as a digestif.  Our cook was taking no prisoners when it came to his selection of menu!

A day later, and I can still taste the overdose of iron in my mouth.  It is like I have had a flagon of fish liver force fed.  A faceful !  I doubt I shall ever be able to contemplate a plate of cod and chips again !

In the evening, still with bass breath, we joined the local game of Bingo.  A manic affair, run by two terribly stern looking drag queens, resembling camp guards from the tv show ‘Tenko’!

imageimageimage

imageThe numbers were sung, at lightning speed, by a flat singer in sequins.  Without the help of the charming ‘Miss Hassan’ lookalike, we would have been lost.  She kindly handed Andrew a white piece of chalk with which to cross off his numbers.  He misunderstood, and much to everyones amusement, he put the chalk into his mouth and began to chew, thinking it was a sweet.  He spat it out once he eventually realised his inedible error, but at least it had got rid of the flavour of fish bonce that was still lingering on his palate.

Needless to say, we didn’t win!

I think something fishy may have been going on here too, as the same man won three cases of Tiger beer in a row.

We had to buy ours!

It was a fun night, and the bottled Tiger and the Bingo cage, helped to erase the memory of our visit to the other ‘Tiger Cages’ the previous day, which was most definitely the pits !

Tomorrow we head for the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

But we shall not forget Con Dao, with it’s beauty and bestiality.  It is a place where nature still roars at her most magnificent.

image

 

Categories: The Lola Boy's Blog, The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

I Miss Saigon.

Her crown may be glitzier, her gown may have more sparkle, yet her face is almost unrecognizable. Lifted, filled and bulldozed to make up an entirely different visage to the one I met here, almost twenty years ago.

Lucky enough to be sailing and performing on The Q.E.2., we docked here, on the Saigon River,  on two magnificent occasions.  I recall such a colourful connurbation, full of oriental mystery, not to mention some mysterious orientals.

image

My great friend, Becky and I, had a thrilling time, being pedalled around the ancient, incensed streets, by Ting, our trusty rickshaw pedlar. At once engulfed in narrow, smoky, lanes of boiling, mammoth pots containing unthinkable cuisine. Animals pulling carts of exotic produce, and children and chickens and dogs, and what seemed like a million other vibrant and virulent actors all adding to the richly foreign pantomime.  We fell in love, there and then, with Miss Saigon.

It was the Saigon I had imagined a few years before, when I saw Andrew at his brilliant best, starring in the show of the same name, at Drury Lane.

imageimage

Exhilarating, unnerving, dissarming.  And like Mr Kennedy, utterly enchanting.

And now, I have returned. I have searched in vain for this former enchantress.  The bygone Saigon.  But she just doesn’t want to show her hauntingly, nuanced face.

Sometimes, all cosmetic surgery seems to do,  is mask the true beauty, however uncompromising, that was once plain for all to see.  Seeing the change in Ho Chi Minh City today, does little to make my face lift!

image

 

imageThere are still some character lines to be discovered here, if one looks hard enough.  Alleys of exuberant decadance, where a plethora of temptation and illicit goods, are available for the bad.  All at a haggled fee, of course.  Canals and rivulets of artful iniquity, flow like subtarreanean waterways ‘neath the town’s old boat race.  But these tributaries of tribulation are few and  far between.  The old laughter lines I remember, have been cunningly erased.  The warts expertedly excised.

Or just blasted into submission !

image

And if you are lucky enough to spot one of the broken veins that reveal this city’s former bones, Lady Chi Minh turns, all too swiftly, to give you her good side once again.  Seemingly underconfident in her once, magnificent bone structure.

imageThe odd pocket of grand, French, colonialism can still be found, as one stumbles across a faded parade of shophouses, or a wan pastel mansion on a shady, tree lined avenue.  But there are less of these dinosaurs now,  crumbling discreetly, like antique, Gallic, gout-ridden, dukes.

Once splendid.

Now revolutionised.

Like the rest of the place!

image

Despite the rampant, and sometimes, irritating commercialism that is ever present here, the city still feels like she’s had a rosy, red, facelift!

Her brash, near-perfect, Hollywood smile disguising some of her less palateble home-truths.

The Vietnamese government control every news outlet in this country. image Every television channel. All of the press is state managed too,  and the government imprisons anyone who dares to sling mud in it’s face.  Including bloggers !  At least a hundred writers were banged up last year for simply having a point of view.  Not such a pretty face now eh?

There are always several facets to every major world city.  So it is not surprising the reigning Miss Saigon is ever so slightly two faced.

image

But I prefer the old, fading, beauty queen of a town, when I was a gentleman caller in my prime. She definitely wore too much slap, and was less, well, red!  But she had a surfeit of eastern promise and allowed her resident scribes much more expression.

image

A Miss Saigon played by Norma Desmond.  Always ready for her close up – however revealing!

As much of my acquaintance will know, I am the first in line for a spot of Nivea and a touch of peroxide.  After all,  everybody can sometimes do with a little tarting up in some districts.  A little gentrification can do wonders for a tired surburban face.  But major surgery?

Is almost every, up and coming, oriental starlet of a city, destined to metamorphosize into every, ordinary, aging, L.A. Socialite ?

image

Ageless. Devoid of character. Lifeless.

Yet it seems another urban, oriental, grand-dame is to slip disgracefully into old age.

Out with the ancestors. In with the new !

What a load of old botox!

image

I miss Saigon!

Categories: Rebecca Knight, Operababes, The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I Miss Saigon.

 

Her crown maybe glitzier, her gown may have more sparkle. Yet her face is almost unrecognizable. Lifted, filled and bulldozed to make up an entirely different visage to the one I met here, almost twenty years ago.

Lucky enough to be sailing and performing on The Q.E.2., we docked here, on the Saigon River,  on two magnificent occasions.  I recall such a colourful connurbation, full of oriental mystery, not to mention some mysterious orientals.

image

My great friend, Becky and I, had a thrilling time, being pedalled around the ancient, incensed streets, by Ting, our trusty rickshaw pedlar. At once engulfed in narrow, smoky, lanes of boiling, mammoth pots containing unthinkable cuisine. Animals pulling carts of exotic produce, and children and chickens and dogs, and what seemed like a million other vibrant and virulent actors all adding to the richly foreign pantomime.  We fell in love, there and then, with Miss Saigon.

It was the Saigon I had imagined a few years before, when I saw Andrew at his brilliant best, starring in the show of the same name, at Drury Lane.

imageimage

Exhilarating, unnerving, dissarming.  And like Mr Kennedy, utterly enchanting.

And now, I have returned. I have searched in vain for this former enchantress.  The bygone Saigon.  But she just doesn’t want to show her hauntingly, nuanced face.

Sometimes, all cosmetic surgery seems to do,  is mask the true beauty, however uncompromising, that was once plain for all to see.  Seeing the change in Ho Chi Minh City today, does little to make my face lift!

image

 

imageThere are still some character lines to be discovered here, if one looks hard enough.  Alleys of exuberant decadance, where a plethora of temptation and illicit goods, are available for the bad.  All at a haggled fee, of course.  Canals and rivulets of artful iniquity, flow like subtarreanean waterways across the town’s old boat race.  But these tributaries of tribulation are few and  far between.  The old laughter lines I remember, have been cunningly erased.  The warts expertly excised.

Or just blasted into submission !

image

And if you are lucky enough to spot one of the broken veins that reveal this city’s former bones, Lady Chi Minh turns, all too swiftly, to give you her good side once again.  Seemingly underconfident in her once, magnificent bone structure.

imageThe odd pocket of grand, French, colonialism can still be found, as one stumbles across a faded parade of shophouses, or a wan pastel mansion on a shady, tree lined avenue.  But there are less of these dinosaurs now,  crumbling discreetly, like antique, Gallic, gout-ridden, dukes.

Once splendid.

Now revolutionised.

Like the rest of the place!

image

Despite the rampant, and sometimes, irritating commercialism that is ever present here, the city still feels like she’s had a rosy, red, facelift!

Her brash, near-perfect, Hollywood smile disguising some of her less palateble home-truths.

The Vietnamese government control every news outlet in this country. image Every television channel. All of the press is state managed too,  and the government imprisons anyone who dares to sling mud in it’s face.  Including bloggers !  At least a hundred writers were banged up last year for simply having a point of view.  Not such a pretty face now eh?

There are always several facets to every major world city.  So it is not surprising the reigning Miss Saigon is ever so slightly two faced.

image

But I prefer the old, fading, beauty queen of a town, when I was a gentleman caller in my prime. She definitely wore too much slap, and was less, well, red!  But she had a surfeit of eastern promise and allowed her resident scribes much more expression.

image

A Miss Saigon played by Norma Desmond.  Always ready for her close up – however revealing!

As much of my acquaintance will know, I am the first in line for a spot of Nivea and a touch of peroxide.  After all,  everybody can sometimes do with a little tarting up in some districts.  A little gentrification can do wonders for a tired surburban face.  But major surgery?

Is almost every, up and coming, oriental starlet of a city, destined to metamorphosize into every, ordinary, aging, L.A. Socialite ?

image

Ageless. Devoid of character. Lifeless.

Yet it seems another urban, oriental, grand-dame is to slip disgracefully into old age.

Out with the ancestors. In with the new !

What a load of old botox!

image

I miss Saigon!

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Putting The Bang Into Battambang.

We came on the six hour bus to Battambang – Cambodia’s second city. Our only sustenance provided by two crickets and a stag beetle, courtesy of our new New Yorker pals Maria and Logan, seated just ahead of us.

Fried, of course.  The bugs that is, not the Americans.  Although some of the recent impoliteness we have witnessed, from our cousins across the pond, especially  when dealing with the Khmer natives, has left us wanting to dip them into boiling oil just like their beloved French Fries.

Behaviour which can only be described as implausible.  Making any special relationship, impossible.

We have, however, began to form a burgeoning friendship with the slightly scruffy Battambang.  It’s much more, how do you say? Cambodian.  Yes – that’s the word.

image

Here, every other Tuk-Tuk driver isn’t desperately trying to entice you with the fierce whisper of,

“Lady? Lady?  You want lady?”

Or,

“You want smoke?  Tina? Coke?”

By which I’m sure they meant the real thing and not ‘The Real Thing”!

image

 

It’s, shall we say, more family orientated here, much like the famous beverage.  Mafia families I’ve no doubt, but let’s not harp on about that or I may have to refuse that offer after all!

image

 

The city actually feels more like a small town – one in which Gary Cooper would have felt at home  – but still, a friendly, ordinary town.

image image image image

Our hotel has the imaginative name, The First Hotel.  I imagine it will be the first and the last time we stay in it.  We are rooming on the fifth floor and were hoping for a view – we got one!

image

image

 

The Ritz, it ain’t, but then what can one expect for six dollar!  Hardly ‘Downton Abbey’, more downtown shabby!  The dowager countess would almost certainly not approve.  The ‘grounds’ are somewhat more charming.

 

That faded touch of French Indochine is spread rather thickly here, like a good Bearnaise sauce.  I have been won over by it’s particularly, parochial flavour and I shall miss the old madame when we have left.

I shall not, on the other hand, miss the hammering, screwing and sawing emanating from the five story building site, adjacent to the Hotel First.  Waking up to an energetic builder noisily drilling may sound appealing, but believe me, it does nothing but put the bang into Battambang.

Added to the noisy comings and goings of a local hooker, who is obviously doing a two for one deal, more bang for your buck up on the fifth floor, sleep has been rather erratic. But hey, a girl’s gotta make a living.  Had we realised the establishment also charges by the hour it may not have been our first choice.

In fact, this whole place comes to life at an ungodly hour.  From five-thirty, inappropriately loud music, thumps from the near distance and the french designed avenues erupt with an eastern joie de vivre, at an oriental volume.  Not to mention what sound like a thousand mopeds spluttering and coughing their way into the morning, like a huge pack of Gaulloise smoking dockers.

And, of course, le construction work!  Waking up has never been so noisy, yet so puzzlingly peaceful.  City sounds can be superbly soporific.

image

 

Andrew and I have done most things to do here.  We have taken a rickety, bone-banging, bamboo train through the searing heat of the countryside.  We have been lucky enough to witness six million bats make their nightly mass exodus from the giant limestone they call home.  Great swathes of flapping black, darkening the skies in almost biblical fashion.  Amazing.

Our Driver – Puffin’ Bill

 

imageimage

Andrew as batty as ever!

We also visited another cavernous wonder, only this one radiating more horror, than the  gigantically gothic batcave.  Known as ‘The Killing Cave’, this was the site where the monstrous Khmer Rouge would beat their prisoners half to death, before flinging them down through the large hole in the cave’s roof, onto the rocks far below.  For those wretched souls who survived the deadly drop and managed to crawl, with shattered limbs, to the surface, the fate that awaited them was to be kicked, nonchalantly by the Khmer cadre, back down the rocky scree, to join their dead friends and family amongst the stalag-like stalagnites.

Any visitor can never truly escape the recent,bloody past here in Cambodia, even when surrounded by such natural beauty.  Scratch the surface and Pol Pot and his gang of murderous clowns rear their ugly faces.

On a more positive note we saw some much less vicious clowning later on, when we attended the circus.  In all honesty it was more akin to a high school gym contest, only
with nicer costumes and the hint of a story.

image  image

The young, underpriviledged performers were so spirited and well meaning, the audience could not help but be enthused.  The charitable ringmaster who spins this big top is doing a great job, providing a much needed net for the local youngsters.  Helping to train the country’s budding artists, musicians, dancers and wannabee circus performers in their chosen profession.  Clevery juggling the books so that everything is provided for free for the kids that most need it.  In the words of Sir Tim Rice – Oh what a circus !

But my most abiding memory of this slightly shy and retiring city, will be the all too short time I have spent meandering along her riverside setting, basking in the tropical heat.  Stopping, only occasionally, for a Cambodian iced coffee or a stag beetle crepe.

In fact, the latter is not true.  I jest.  Since our last insect experience aboard the bus,  Andrew has not gone near another culinary creepy crawlie, for fear it should pierce his tongue again, making conversation an impossibility.

imageThis afternoon we have been marvellously marooned in a beautifully chic, family guest house in the colonial part of town.  Due, entirely, to La Biere Cambodie Andrew has insisted we try.  I am now suffering from the same magnificent malaise that is effecting him and cannot move.  When alcohol and heat meet, it is all to easy to sit and watch the world amble by, busy doing nothing.

I blame The French.

And The Cambodians.

But mostly, Andrew.  He has encouraged us both to sit and stagnate.

He may need a little help to get back into the saddle – something exotic to prick his palate.  Maybe stag beetle, rather than stagnation should be on the menu tonight.  And as it is dinner,

En Croute, of course.

Then en route, on course.

To the mighty Mekong Delta in deepest Vietnam.

We’ve been well and truly bitten by the travel bug again.  Only this one isn’t fried, it’s very much alive and kicking.

image

 

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Putting The Bang Into Battambang.

We came on the six hour bus to Battambang – Cambodia’s second city. Our only sustenance provided by two crickets and a stag beetle, courtesy of our new New Yorker pals Maria and Logan, seated just ahead of us.

Fried, of course.  The bugs that is, not the Americans.  Although some of the recent impoliteness we have witnessed, from our cousins across the pond, especially  when dealing with the Khmer natives, has left us wanting to dip them into boiling oil just like their beloved French Fries.

Behaviour which can only be described as implausible.  Making any special relationship, impossible.

We have, however, began to form a burgeoning friendship with the slightly scruffy Battambang.  It’s much more, how do you say? Cambodian.  Yes – that’s the word.

image

Here, every other Tuk-Tuk driver isn’t desperately trying to entice you with the fierce whisper of,

“Lady? Lady?  You want lady?”

Or,

“You want smoke?  Tina? Coke?”

By which I’m sure they meant the real thing and not ‘The Real Thing”!

image

 

It’s, shall we say, more family orientated here, much like the famous beverage.  Mafia families I’ve no doubt, but let’s not harp on about that or I may have to refuse that offer after all!

image

 

The city actually feels more like a small town – one in which Gary Cooper would have felt at home  – but still, a friendly, ordinary town.

image image image image

Our hotel has the imaginative name, The First Hotel.  I imagine it will be the first and the last time we stay in it.  We are rooming on the fifth floor and were hoping for a view – we got one!

image

image

 

The Ritz, it ain’t, but then what can one expect for six dollar!  Hardly ‘Downton Abbey’, more downtown shabby!  The dowager countess would almost certainly not approve.  The ‘grounds’ are somewhat more charming.

 

That faded touch of French Indochine is spread rather thickly here, like a good Bearnaise sauce.  I have been won over by it’s particularly, parochial flavour and I shall miss the old madame when we have left.

I shall not, on the other hand, miss the hammering, screwing and sawing emanating from the five story building site, adjacent to the Hotel First.  Waking up to an energetic builder noisily drilling may sound appealing, but believe me, it does nothing but put the bang into Battambang.

Added to the noisy comings and goings of a local hooker, who is obviously doing a two for one deal, more bang for your buck up on the fifth floor, sleep has been rather erratic. But hey, a girl’s gotta make a living.  Had we realised the establishment also charges by the hour it may not have been our first choice.

In fact, this whole place comes to life at an ungodly hour.  From five-thirty, inappropriately loud music, thumps from the near distance and the french designed avenues erupt with an eastern joie de vivre, at an oriental volume.  Not to mention what sound like a thousand mopeds spluttering and coughing their way into the morning, like a huge pack of Gaulloise smoking dockers.

And, of course, le construction work!  Waking up has never been so noisy, yet so puzzlingly peaceful.  City sounds can be superbly soporific.

image

 

Andrew and I have done most things to do here.  We have taken a rickety, bone-banging, bamboo train through the searing heat of the countryside.  We have been lucky enough to witness six million bats make their nightly mass exodus from the giant limestone they call home.  Great swathes of flapping black, darkening the skies in almost biblical fashion.  Amazing.

Our Driver – Puffin’ Bill

 

imageimage

Andrew as batty as ever!

We also visited another cavernous wonder, only this one radiating more horror, than the  gigantically gothic batcave.  Known as ‘The Killing Cave’, this was the site where the monstrous Khmer Rouge would beat their prisoners half to death, before flinging them down through the large hole in the cave’s roof, onto the rocks far below.  For those wretched souls who survived the deadly drop and managed to crawl, with shattered limbs, to the surface, the fate that awaited them was to be kicked, nonchalantly by the Khmer cadre, back down the rocky scree, to join their dead friends and family amongst the stalag-like stalagnites.

Any visitor can never truly escape the recent,bloody past here in Cambodia, even when surrounded by such natural beauty.  Scratch the surface and Pol Pot and his gang of murderous clowns rear their ugly faces.

On a more positive note we saw some much less vicious clowning later on, when we attended the circus.  In all honesty it was more akin to a high school gym contest, only
with nicer costumes and the hint of a story.

image  image

The young, underpriviledged performers were so spirited and well meaning, the audience could not help but be enthused.  The charitable ringmaster who spins this big top is doing a great job, providing a much needed net for the local youngsters.  Helping to train the country’s budding artists, musicians, dancers and wannabee circus performers in their chosen profession.  Clevery juggling the books so that everything is provided for free for the kids that most need it.  In the words of Sir Tim Rice – Oh what a circus !

But my most abiding memory of this slightly shy and retiring city, will be the all too short time I have spent meandering along her riverside setting, basking in the tropical heat.  Stopping, only occasionally, for a Cambodian iced coffee or a stag beetle crepe.

In fact, the latter is not true.  I jest.  Since our last insect experience aboard the bus,  Andrew has not gone near another culinary creepy crawlie, for fear it should pierce his tongue again, making conversation an impossibility.

imageThis afternoon we have been marvellously marooned in a beautifully chic, family guest house in the colonial part of town.  Due, entirely, to La Biere Cambodie Andrew has insisted we try.  I am now suffering from the same magnificent malaise that is effecting him and cannot move.  When alcohol and heat meet, it is all to easy to sit and watch the world amble by, busy doing nothing.

I blame The French.

And The Cambodians.

But mostly, Andrew.  He has encouraged us both to sit and stagnate.

He may need a little help to get back into the saddle – something exotic to prick his palate.  Maybe stag beetle, rather than stagnation should be on the menu tonight.  And as it is dinner,

En Croute, of course.

Then en route, on course.

To the mighty Mekong Delta in deepest Vietnam.

We’ve been well and truly bitten by the travel bug again.  Only this one isn’t fried, it’s very much alive and kicking.

image

 

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mega Wattage!

As I gazed through the ornate sandstone balustrade onto the vast, luxurious pools, in which King Suryavarman the 2nd would purify himself before worshipping his Hindu gods, I drifted.

imageFor a brief moment I was there, in the 12th century, splashing in the cool waters. I, too, had ten thousand nubile dancers, like sexy suryavarman, only mine were dancing to a slightly different tune. My minions floated all around me – back-stroke, breast-stroke, mid-stroke. Marvellous.

And then, snap,  my exotic reverie was halted in a flash. A Japanese tourist with an overlong lense had pointed his weapon towards me and captured his moment, thereby dissolving mine. I smiled, far too English to make clear my distaste. When two more over-enthusiastic, oriental, ‘Cecil Beatons’ asked me for the same shot moments later, I gave it to them, like a porn actor who does it for the love of the art, not the cash. I have always hated that trait in myself.

We were in Angkor Wat, Andrew and I, in the largest religious building on earth. I had left him, ten minutes earlier, in a blazing courtyard filled with Japanese tourists doing a rather good impression of the invasion of Pearl Harbour. I needed somewhere quiet.

We had arrived in the nearby town of Siem Reap two days earlier, not without incident. As we arrived at our guest house after a lengthy bus journey, during which the driver insisted on screening hyperactive, Cambodian, pop videos, starring quite frightnening female midgets, at a terrifying volume, Andrew realised he had left his sunglasses on the bus. In blind panic, he persuaded a tuk tuk driver to take him to the bus station. It then transpired the bus had already departed – so the helpful chauffeur decided to chase the bus down an almost dirt-track, at high speed, attempting to flag down the driver. They eventually won the roadrace, and Andrew returned back to the hotel, shaken and stirred, but facewear in hand.

He did look somewhat pale though.

The next morning I tried to rouse him – but to no avail.  He was in a disastrous state after spending the previous evening slugging back cocktails and losing at pool, whilst bidding farewell to some of our friends who were also in town.

‘Andrew – are you getting up?’ I asked loudly, ‘you were the one who arranged this trip.’

In a muffled and confused tone the monster stirred.

‘What?’ he moaned.

‘Exactly’ I retorted, somewhat impatiently, ‘Angkor fucking wat!’

‘What?’

‘Angkor Wat!’

‘What?’

I gave up.

‘Wanker!’

‘What?’

I left !

I hit the road with the taciturn Chevran,  Andrew’s trusty sunglass catcher of the previous day. As we rattled down roads that had yet to be conceived, I realised that when it came to driving, Chevran was definitely a stripe short of a chevron – he was a madman.

We collided with great, ancient tree roots and leapt into the air like an untuned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, landing everytime with a spine- shattering crash.  If there was a rock, we hit it.  A pothole, he found it.   By the time we got to the medieval, jungle city, I had more shake,rattle and roll then Jerry Lee Lewis.

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But then – the temples.

Constructed nearly a thousand years ago. Ornate and grand, inspiring an instant awe which few places can match.  If any.

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At once I forgot about Mr Magoo and our hair-rasing tuk tuk chase, and instead was overtaken by a great hum of serenity.  The energy emanating from the site was immense and all encompassing.  These buildings rocked.  They got me stone crazy.  It was surely the reaction it’s creator had hoped for.  King Suryavarman the second  needn’t have worried, his vision was still blinding.  Still rendering the most loquacious of tourists speechless, if only for a moment.

The next day I returned with Andrew, still, unwisely, keeping loyal to Chevran, the James Hunt of Rickshaw rallying, we endured another wacky race down the religious tracks towards the temples.

We prayed as we went.

I was excited to see whether Andrew would have the same reaction as I to the exquisiteness I had beheld a day earlier.  I know he is definitely partial to an enormous structure, but also realise, after nearly twenty-four years together, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  I also wondered whether my reaction would be the same, after all, sometimes things don’t always seem so impressive when one goes back for more.

I had no reason to be concerned.  The beautiful works of art were just as stunning.  If not more so on re-examination.  The hum even stronger.

Familiarity bred comtemplitude.  And so I drifted…..

As we explored the endless cloisters and clambered sweatily over the fallen stones and staircases throughout the palace, Andrew was just as taken with this once hidden paradise as I first was.

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Andrew And The King

We sauntered in silence across the vast emerald moat.  Andrew muttered something about being the hottest he had ever been in his life.

But I wasn’t really listening.  I was drifting.

Floating in my own fantastical pool of exoticism.

Lotus flowers decorate the surface and incense perfumes the air.  All the dancers have left now.  It is calm and peaceful – the water ripples.  The hum goes on.

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It is just the king and I …….

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Killing Trees.

For centuries the trees have told us tales – whether they be stories whispered of fairyfolk ‘neath the woodland canopy, or literally via the paper these great literary giants produce.

The trees have always spoken, and we, have always listened.

When Andrew and I decided to visit ‘The Killing Fields’ of Cambodia, neither of us had an inkling, that yet again, the wood would have a story to tell.

It is impossible to write a blog evoking anything but a semblance of the horrors that occurred in Cambodia during the latter half of the Seventies. The crimes being so vast, so heinous, that any scribe, certainly many with more talent than myself, would struggle to fully describe, or even make sense, of this international tragedy. But, after visiting the sites of these abominations, I feel I must have a try and put pen to paper – so to speak.

As a theatrical young lad I had heard of Pol Pot, the Maoist maniac who overtook this land. No doubt because I had a wonderfully, socially-concious headmaster, who thought we should all read Tolkien and play cricket. Two things I can honestly say I have taken little interest in, being neither interested in goblins or googlies. He also encouraged his students to think about those kids more luckless than us, and I can remember completing at least two sponsored walks for the children of ‘Kampuchea’ – a far away place that had changed it’s name. Of course, whilst walking miles, as a child of seven, I had no idea of the dreadful facts, just the need for a plaster afterwards!

In 1975, on April 18th, the day before Andrew’s fifth birthday, the smiling dictator, Pol Pot, and his murderous crew, the Khmer Rouge, took power in Cambodia, by way of a bloody revolution. Within twenty-four hours, they had begun to forcibly evict every citizen from every city in the country. Doctors, teachers, children, monks, nuns, – everyone with any hint of an education.

Those who were unfortunate enough to wear glasses, or who had ‘soft hands’, were killed immediately. The same fate befell anyone who could speak a foreign language. Hospital patients, the sick, the dying, were forced to march or limp, with whatever they could carry, into the impoverished countryside to begin work in forced labour camps, which were given the tragic misnoma, ‘collective farms’!

This was just the beginning of Comrade Pot’s misguidedly cruel experiment envisaging a return to an idyllic age  where all worked on, and lived off, the land. The ‘Angka’ was a mythical idea, like ‘Middle Earth’, that  big  ‘Brother No1’ simply made up.

Everyone who was suspected of previously living a ‘light life’ in the city, whilst their peasant brothers toiled the  soil, was imaginatively tortured. Sometimes for months. This practice was carried out by the crazed, fiercely loyal Khmer Rouge brigade, done in order to elicit false confessions and mendacious accusations against friends and loved ones. Therefore signing the death warrant of both themselves and their accused.

Three million men, women and children had been sadistically murdered and starved to death by the time the nutty Pol Potty and  his Khmer Rouge were overthrown.

And so, today, I try, in vain, to tell the story of this brutalist regime and the madness which ensued, but, of course, it is impossible. I can only describe our little experience. Our tale of a day trip from hell. But one which, I am very glad we made.

We left the city early in the morning, so as to avoid the heat of noon, escorted by Hong, our trusty, toothy, tuk-tuk driver, with whom we had arranged our ‘outing’. As we juddered our way through streets that may even have appalled Charles Dickens, we had only little idea of the horror which lay ahead.

When visiting ‘The Killing Fields’, the visitor is provided with a headset to provide an audio commentary of the points of interest. Much like The Tower Of London, in fact, the torture and insanity are somewhat similar, yet the evil that took place here was only forty years ago, not eight hundred!

As we strolled in silence around the mass graves, being instructed to be careful not to tread on any bones, the weight of the crime which unravelled here began to reveal itself. The atmosphere became heavier and sadder with every new, lurid revelation of barbarism, recounted through the headphones.

It was sensitively done, especially for a country with a love of kitsch, but there were moments I simply had to remove them from my ears and pause.

It was when we reached the first ‘special’ tree of the tour that I finally succumbed to the weaker sensibilities that the pathetic tourist has the luxury to feel.

Known as ‘ The Killing Tree’, it was here, that the idoctrinated, mindless Khmer guards, some of them only children themselves, would take the infant prisoners by the ankles and swing them hard against the tree. Smashing the babies skulls against the great trunk, their tiny trunks no match for mother nature, or the abomination of it which gripped their tiny feet.

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When the tree was first discovered, it’s bark was stained with blood, it’s cracks and crevices still grasping the children’s downy hair torn form their battered scalps.  Butchered beneath it’s boughs.

The children’s mothers were forced to watch these acts before being raped, battered and thrown into the pit besides their little sons and daughters. Cast into the mass graves beside The Killing Tree.

It was almost midday, and the shade provided shade but no relief. I am not ashamed to say, that beneath my flash, western sunglasses, I wept.

I was not alone.

Bullets were considered far too expensive to waste during the age of ‘The Democratic Republic Of Kampuchea’. Instead, it’s victims were bludgeoned to death with whatever came cheap. Hammers, axes, hoes, tyre irons, whatever came to hand. Many were thrown into the pits whilst still alive, then smothered with chemicals to hide the stench and aid decomposition.

Andrew had gone ahead. I sat for a moment alone, to regain my composure. I didn’t want to appear over emotional, like the pissed aunt at a funeral. I pondered a moment, that how often it seems to me, that countries which have ‘democratic’ in their title, rarely display very much democracy.

The second tree was almost worse, this great natural wonder, similar in genus to the one The Buddha sat under to attain enlightement, once housed The Party’s speakers and generator. It was from these imagebranches that the group’s macabre, musical, political propaganda blossomed. These great limbs carried forth the message of the Khmer Rouge. Blasting forth to cover the screams of those having their limbs removed. To disguise this depravity from the outside world. To stop the rest of us from finding out and helping these poor, defenceless people.

Even when the madness was over, because the Communist Vietnamese helped to establish a new Cambodian national government, western powers refused to acknowledge this evil.  In fact the Khmer Rouge was still recognised as the official goverment of Cambodia by The United Nations, despite being responsible for the deaths of a quarter of the population.

Imagine.  If one in four people, in your country, were murdered,  by fellow countrymen, speaking your language, with your customs, and no-one came to help!  How would you feel?

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To me, it is unimaginable.

I really have no idea how these decent, charming, kind and dignified people have recovered so quickly from such genocide.  But bounced back they certainly have, and with a gentleness and spirit of reconciliation that is a lesson to us all.  Their sheer humanity is a shining example to ours.

I have always had a fondness for an old song from ‘Paint Your Wagon’ that goes,

‘I talk to the trees – but they don’t listen to me…’

It has always been so touching to me.

Today, here in beautiful Cambodia, the trees talked to me.  And I did listen.

I was truly touched, and I will never forget their tragic tales.

Categories: The Lola Boys | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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