Posts Tagged With: The Lonely Planet

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.

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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 !

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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.

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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

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

Bandits And Bumguns !!!

We made our way across the dusty, deserted roads of south eastern Cambodia, driven by Mr Lucky. We realised after the third time of overtaking on a blind corner, with juggernauts speeding towards us, just how he acquired  his name. We were bloody lucky to survive.

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Andrew & Lucky

We were also fortunate to miss any encounters with the bandits who ply their trade along these quiet roads. I had been furnished with this information beforehand, but decided I would refrain from sharing it with any of my fellow passengers so as not to make the trip any hairier than it already was.

On one particularly dead stretch, a man came suddenly from the side of the road as if to flag us down.  Our driver swerved slightly to avoid him and we continued on.  I must say I was secretly dissappointed that it didn’t materialise into a highway robbery moment, a la Mr Turpin.  Although I wouldn’t have enjoyed losing any belongings, the thought of a roaming Dick making me stand and deliver has always caused a deep stirring.  Maybe he held up my carraige in a previous life – who knows?  Trust us to be landed with a bum bandit!

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So we have arrived safe and almost sound in Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s south coast.

The beach is beautiful, if not very relaxing.  Sellers, fruit merchants and massage ladies (I use the term loosely!) abound.

Today I met Mary.  A tiny woman with a large voice. A particularly pushy and persistant masseuse, who wore blood red lipstick and carried a matching Gucci bag.  Her opening line was,

“Long hair – long cock”.

‘Thank you”, I replied.

She followed up with,

“Open your heart, open your legs”.

“No thank you” I replied.

“You want massage?  I make it happy!”

It was at this point I felt it only fair to inform Mary that where I came from, some less generous folk, called me by the same name.

She got my gist. Or so I thought.

“No worry. I can teach you”, she pleaded.

Exhausting.

I realise these workers are very poor and I genuinely sympathise.  But when you are being asked for the thirtieth time if you’d like a quick hand- shandy in the shade, it becomes incredibly difficult to preserve the English reserve !  I managed – just!

They never go near Andrew, even if he is sitting adjacent to me.  I think they are put off by his haughty demeanor, and the fact that he has a look of Ray Liotta in ‘Goodfellas”.

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In the evening we attended the night market.  Which was really like a very small music festival.  The band were great, the singer however, less so.  He had the look of a classic, pretty boy, front-man, but the sound of a backed -up drain.  Too many drugs, not enough diaphragm! Dreadful.

I am already hankering to find somewhere more authentic.

The beach is all very nice and all, but when one spends the majority of one’s day avoiding sunglass pedlars or women that want to toss you a salad or toss you off – or both!  It becomes wearing.  Not to mention tiring.

Why is it never the people you would like to give you a hand that offer?

Yes, we plan to head somwhere more real.  More Cambodian.

Also the bumgun in the ‘bathroom’ is much more poweful than the shower.  So far we have had to wash our hair over the toilet bowl, which I don’t really mind, although I keep getting a whiff of Domestos when I turn my head to the breeze. It brings an entirely new meaning to Wash And Go.

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So I’ve decided.  We’re off.  I don’t want to be bothered by anymore highwaywomen who are intent on making me lay and deliver.

And I’ve had enough of the bandit who is overcharging us for a room with a bumgun as a shower – so has my hair.

We’re outta here……

 

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

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