Thursday, January 13, 2005
Writing to you from Siem Reap, an arid place, rusty dust-filled in the midst
of the dry season here in Cambodia. We arrived here 2 days ago, the BF is
loving the place almost as much as I have since my first time here,
and we've just gotten an apartment today for $50/month, thanks to our
Canadian friend Robert. No lease, no deposit, just some American
dollars passed from my fist to the landlady's, and the key in return.
It'll be a nice change from the alligator pool behind our guesthouse
with its denizens that've been keeping us awake at night since we got
This new apartment also got no kitchen, no fridge, and no hot water,
but plenty of room for me to paint (and y''all know it's all about
me). We'll buy a "camping" stove for about $6 tomorrow for coffee and
maybe more, a cooler for beer and cheese, and hot water showers
aren't necessary in this climate.
Now it's time to get some jobs. I've had an art gallery dangling a
position tantalizingly for months now, but we'll see if it
materializes. The boy's looking more into teaching here, because he actually
enjoys doing it. Our canadian friend's setting up the boy and me for a debate in front of his American History class. It should be a great time: an American and a Brit arguing furiously in front of a class for 15 minutes then likely making up over Angkor beer afterwards.
Friday, December 31, 2004
Happy New Year from Hua Hin, Thailand
Don't worry, we're on the east coast; the tragedies at Phuket and beyond happened on the west.
Currently battling bronchitis and a predisposition to melancholic holiday spirits, however lovely the surroundings. Those here are soft powdery white sand and european tourists baked brown and red, their skimpy beach attire an offense to the senses. Men tow massive bellies along with their rent-a-wifes. All in all, it's a tame beach area for Thailand: there are plenty of families, both Thai and European, and prostitutes keep a low profile.
December 28, 2004
The BF arrived at the pier at 1130pm on Xmas day. I'd arrived at 730 or
so, as the ferry from Seoul was due to land at 8. Met some Korean high
school students (studying in China) at the darkened terminal, and we
went for a quick meal, mainly to keep warm. When dogs started barking
rabidly, we shrieked, "the ferry's here!" And ran across the street to
the terminal, which was still dark, now with several chinese taxi
drivers waiting in warm vehicles.
"Ferry arrives at 10pm," one gigantic taxi driver said, "two hours
late." So I agreed to pay 100 yuan (around $12) to drive R&me to
Tianjin, 50km away. In return, the guy let the Korean kids and me stay
warm in his taxi for several hours while we waited for the ferry.
When the BF&I finally took off for Tianjin, the driver tried to pass us off
to a friend, shouted at us, to try to get a better rate. We wouldn't
leave the cab. "MEE-TAH!" the guy shouted as he slammed the door and
turned on the engine. It must've made him feel better, because he
didn't turn the meter on as he'd threatened.
Spent a night in Tianjin, a contrast to the frigid yet photogenic
hotel I'd stayed at in Beijing that gave me bronchitis.
Next afternoon we caught a train to Beijing, then an overnight train
to Guangzhou, where we arrived yesterday. Hard sleeper in China's much
nicer now than it was 20 years ago according to Paul Theroux. I'm
rereading his Riding the Iron Rooster, and it was truly a different
Tomorrow we'll go to nearby Macau for a day. We fly out of there on
the 30th [hooray for Air Asia!] to Bangkok, and, we'll be on the east
coast (not west), near Bangkok, at a beach called Hua Hin, not Phuket,
so everything should be fine there; I'll look into it. Perhaps more
tourist overflow from Phuket.
We're staying on Shamian Dao, an island in the middle of the city.
It's an enclave of quiet streets, large shade trees, lovely
architecture, and peace in this hectic city. We've had a great, if
too-brief, time here. I'm ready for some sun and hard-core
Again, my apologies for not calling anyone on Christmas day, but
things have been hectic, uncertain, and on the run. In short, it's the
December 25, 2004
"Merry Christmas!" a young woman smiled at me this morning as I walked to Beijing Modern Women's Hospital, only a few blocks from the frigid hotel where I've holed up these past few days (have done little besides read and drink hot water). I don't think she knew how much that meant to me - I've heard more "No"s here, to most questions I've asked, than anywhere else I've been....
Anyway, after sniffling through a nasty feverish cold these past few days, and a delerious fever last night, I decided to go to the doctor today, because we've got lots of travelling ahead in the next week. It's irresponsible to travel and spread this around in a place with such high population density.
I head on the train to Tang-gu this afternoon, a port town several hours from Beijing, to meet R, as he thinks he's landing in Tianjin (Tanggu is actually 50km east of Tianjin), he thinks we've got a reservation at the Imperial Palace Hotel in Tianjin, but they've only got single rooms. So I hope to find a hotel near the ferry (which will arrive somewhere between 6-9pm tonight) and wait outside for him for several hours so he doesn't catch an expensive tourist taxi to the hotel where we don't have a reservation.
Due to all of this, I'm not certain if I'll be able to make any phone calls to all of you, because a phone card I buy here in Beijing may not work in another province, and Tang-gu, from what little I saw on my arrival, is truly the sticks! There's nothing to do there but watch construction cranes. Now it's time to pick up my luggage at the hotel, store it at one of Beijing's two main train stations, and catch a train to Tanggu (from one of the train stations - I've no idea which one). Tomorrow, though he doesn't know it yet, we're catching an overnight train to Guangzhou (?sp) in the south, near Hong Kong. I made the reservations yesterday; this weather and pollution are only making the cold-flu worse...I'll tell him it's yet another unilateral American decision (don't think he'll mind, though).
The elderly woman doctor scolded me for not wearing a coat that's warm enough, or drinking enough hot water. Also said I shouldn't eat spicy food (?!) so may have to forgo some of my favorite Thai dishes if I follow her advice. The total cost for doctor's fee, blood work and medicines came to well under $30!
We fly from Macau to Bangkok on the 30th, on Air Asia, for the miraculous price of $60 each including all taxes. Warm weather will do us both good, I think.
Friday, December 24, 2004
Feverish in Beijing
And it's not from Xmas anticipation.
After a roiling 26-hour ferry from Seoul to Tianjin, China, I've gotten the same flu that the boy struggled through last weekend. The picturesque hotel I found online has service, shower and heating that range from lukewarm to frigid.
He arrives on the 25th, and I've just found out that the hotel we'd reserved for Xmas day is full. I'm not the sentimental type, but I'd rather sleep in a bed than the train station.
I'll leave you with a scene from yesterday:
At the Bank of China, after walking several kilometers down slushy streets, stinging from the last clerk I'd talked to ("If you can't change Korean won, do you know anyone who can?" She shook her head: "No one will.")
"It's illegal to change Korean money in China," said the woman at the information desk.
I sat down, tears ready to pour out of my flushed, feverish head. I hadn't eaten anything in over a day.
"I can change for you," said a smiling middle-aged man, wearing an acrylic sweater and pleated polyester pants. After some bartering, he changed around $200 worth of Korean money for me; he made perhaps $15 off of the deal.
A first black-market exchange for me, done in full view of security guards and staff at the Bank of China.