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  • hardie karges 11:44 am on April 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Dachau, Nazi, Saigon, , , Vietnam, , WWII   

    On this date in History…. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, G-L-O-R-I-A….. 

    70 years ago: Dachau was liberated, the oldest of the Nazi concentration camps, paradigm for them all, and home and cemetery to many, simply for the fact of being a threat to Hitler’s intents and purposes. This was America’s entry upon the world stage as dominant power, rivalled for many years only by the USSR…

    40 years ago: Saigon was falling (if you’re American or South Vietnamese), or being liberated (if you’re Communist or North Vietnamese), Americans and South Viet sympathizers evacuated by helicopter if they hadn’t left already. This was the USA’s first clear defeat in war, and a clear message about the limits of power…

    What kind of animal are we, killing and wasting beyond our immediate needs for food and shelter, killing and torturing for the sake of misplaced doctrines and misunderstood creeds? Why does our need to believe in something become a need for greed and a penchant for destruction? We have the mutant gene; we are the other ones, the gift of consciousness becomes the curse of violence…

  • hardie karges 8:09 pm on January 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Dao, , , , Sapa, Vietnam   

    Hot Date Pho Ya’ 

    Red-Dao-PeopleHot dates and hot steamy—but ultimately limp—noodles are two concepts that don’t always go well together, but they defined a pleasant event in my life some twenty-odd years ago. You see, I wasn’t exactly the first guy off the starting-block in the dating game way back when way back where. That’s because women scared me to death, everything they were and everything they represented, mostly ‘otherness’ written in large letters and emblazoned across the sky by out-of-work crop-dusters looking to make an extra buck in the off-season.

    But then when I realized that their ‘otherness’ was not defined by their femaleness, or vice-versa, and that for the most part females were people almost just like you and me, then that opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and suddenly life became easier and less scary, too. I’d just have to find my otherness in other ways, I guess. Itinero ergo sum. I travel, therefore I am.

    So I decided to put all my fancy theories to the test back in 1995 (or was it 1996?), during a visit to Sapa near the Chinese border in northern Vietnam. For those of you who’ve never been, it’s a lovely hill town probably best known for its spectacular Black H’mong and Red Dzao hill-tribes. The H’mong are known, among other things, for their hand-spun handwoven indigo-dyed hemp fabric, while the Red Dzao are probably best known for their embroideries… and ‘love market’.

    It’s true. The night before the weekly market, the women hang out and hook up with guys, presumably from other villages. That keeps the species healthy, hybrid vigor and all. They even sing to each other, no accompaniment necessary. But the unique twist is that married women get in on the act, too, especially the ones whose hubbies are back home, and probably too stoned from opium to care much about their wives’ needs at the end of the day.

    Yes, I was propositioned, and more than once. But no, I did not go gently off into the bushes of that good night, nor was I especially interested in applying for any of their apparently frequent openings and positions. These weren’t the young filles of the tribe, after all. The girl I was interested in was less then twenty years old, and less than half my age at the time.

    My friend’s head was half-shaved, like all of them, and she was cute, dressed in full tribal regalia, something similar to what the British redcoats wore during the American revolutionary war. It’s striking. We hung out, communicating in Tieng Viet as best we could. How good is the average Thai bar-girl’s English, after all?

    So I asked her to go eat pho with me, Vietnam’s famous noodle soup (pronounced ‘fuh’, with a falling tone, unless you’re in Laos, in which the tone is rising; go figure). To my surprise, she accepted. Well that caused a stir in town, you can be sure. Vietnamese tourists from the cities, who normally only take pictures of each other, were now taking pictures of us.

    I think there was even one real journalist in the crowd, poking his lens up almost in our faces. The surprising thing is that my friend never flinched, out of fear of me or any of the attention, this in a modern world which scares many traditional tribal people to death. We took long walks. I showed her where I was staying. Finally I told her I’d go visit Ta Phin, the village where she and all the local Red Dzaos live.

    So that’s what I did. But I didn’t find her there. Hill-tribes lack much in city planning. They had running water, though, carried in slit bamboo tubes. I left town without seeing her again. When I came back six months later on my biannual trip, I saw her again, hanging out with the group, as they made their rounds selling crafts to the tourists. Did I mention that I used to deal in crafts and folk art?

    She said that she was getting married; I’ve read this script. I congratulated her. I told her I went to visit her village previously, but didn’t find her. She said she didn’t know. That’s okay. It would have never worked out for us anyway. The damp cloud-like climate turned all by papers to mush. And when Internet finally came it would have been too unreliable. I can see that now. Maybe I should go make sure…

  • hardie karges 2:21 am on January 29, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Vietnam   

    Thais and Vietnamese like cats and dogs 

    After food, Thailand is perhaps best known for the beauty of its women, both real and imagined.  If the West is a man and the East is a woman, then vive la diference!  Thailand has more homosexuals and transvestites than any other place in the world, and few men would be called ‘jocks’ strictly by appearance.  Even successful businesswomen never look anything but ultra-feminine.  By contrast, American women routinely wear business suits, shave their heads and otherwise blur their femininity beyond recognition.  But you already knew that.  In America even the women are men.  In Thailand even the men are women.  But if Thais are like cats grazing up against you, purring, jumping up in your lap even though you just tossed them down, then Vietnamese are like dogs humping your leg.  They bark at you in the street, chasing phantoms, ultimately lying dead in the road from chasing enemies they could never defeat in a million years, even if they knew who they were.  Apparently mirrors came late to Vietnam.  The Vietnamese are a cursed race, more Chinese than the Chinese themselves.  While Thailand, Laos, Burma, and Cambodia took India and Buddhism as role models to ultimately circumvent, if not defeat, the Chinese, the Vietnamese took the Chinese themselves as role models in their struggle against those same Chinese.  Bad choice, unless you’re suicidal, like India trying to defeat England militarily fifty-something years ago.  The Mahatma had a better idea.  The Vietnamese DID defeat the US, true, and fought probably fairer and squarer than the US itself, but at such a cost and for such ultimately questionable goals that the Word Police are considering changing the term ‘Pyrrhic’ to ‘Vietnamic’.  The men still wear Viet Cong army helmets as a badge of honor.  Now that’s weird.  Vietnam is a question mark inverted, chip placed precariously on the shoulder, hugging the South China Sea for dear life.  In Vietnam, unlike most countries who identify with their landmass, the word for ‘country’ is the same as the word for ‘water’, as if the UN would be better off referring to Thaiwater, Finnwater, Icewater, Bechuanawater, etc.  I’m getting thirsty.

  • hardie karges 1:27 am on January 27, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Vietnam   

    Historical Relativism 

    North and South Vietnam are totally different, the north culturally Chinese, the south culturally akin to its Theravada Buddhist Southeast Asian neighbors, with which it was part until the Viets overran it a few centuries back.  They showed no mercy to the Chams in the process, decimating them almost to the point of genocide, then proceeding to wrest the Mekong Delta from the Khmers.  Siam and Vietnam were in the process of dividing Laos and Cambodia up amongst themselves when the French intervened and decided that they would take it instead, and Vietnam, too.  Nobody ever had to take Siam; just ask for what you want nicely.  Genghis figured that out long ago.  When he left Burma, he left the Tai Shans in charge.  All of which just goes to show what Vietnam can do to you.  That the tribal Tais there can co-exist with some degree of dignity is a testament to their own endurance, but the writing’s on the wall.  Tribal Tais are steadily migrating to lesser-populated Laos.  The US, too, finally decided to cut and run, rather than pursue a hopeless cause.  Let’s call it ‘peace with honor’.

  • hardie karges 2:02 am on January 26, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Vietnam   

    Tieng Viet 

    Vietnamese language is another of those languages with mixed origins.  It seems like the languages of the most successful countries are so, the hybrid vigor thing and all that.  Vietnam may not be so successful, but it is strong, as America found out.  The Vietnamese greeting equivalent to “How are you?” is literally “Are you strong?”  The language sounds like somebody playing banjo with a loose string.  Try to get a handle on it and it slips through your fingers like sand through the hourglass.  That’s a bad cliché, like ‘Days of Our Lives.’  Sounds and syllables fall from your hands like chopped vegetables spilling over the edge of a hot wok, dancing lightly over a surface of super-heated oil, an experiment in theoretical physics gone terribly wrong.  The words spoken are themselves chopped karate landing on the bearded surface of your white skin, little slaps in the face each of them, just begging for a response.  Give it to them.  When you prove you can be as big an asshole as they are, then you’re part of the club, a full member with honors.  There’s no age requirement.  Even little kids are in on it.  You sit reading the paper on a park bench in Hanoi and some kid just comes up and pokes you like you’re some animal in a cage that he wants to hear squawk.  Throw him to the ground and now there’s a bond between us.  Go figure again. 

  • hardie karges 7:40 am on January 25, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Vietnam   

    Vietnam is a war, not a country. 

    They’ve never been at peace with themselves, nor anyone else.  The best thing they have to commend themselves is the fact that they broke free of the yoke of Chinese domination after 1000 years.  That’s significant, though inconclusive as to whether they’ve improved their lot in the process.  Most nations in their position have multiple dialects and genetic relations with displaced neighbors and lost cousins and so forth, but not Vietnam.  They don’t get along with anybody.  They’re at the end of a cultural and linguistic dead end that presumably ties them to the Khmers at some distant point in the past, but acknowledged only as a client state in the present, presumably communicating with each other in either English or French if not Vietnamese.  Korea and Japan are in the same boat, the Asian Mystery, presumably related to each other, but no proven relationships to anyone else, though some inferences can be made.  The Viets’ only distinct relations are the nearby Muong, presumably their aboriginal cousins, living patchwork with aboriginal Tais, Tais in stilt-houses, Muongs on the ground.  If that’s not confusing enough, ‘muong’ itself is a prominent Thai word signifying, alternately, ‘the people’, ‘the city’, or ‘the country’.  Go figure. 

  • hardie karges 8:15 am on January 24, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Vietnam   

    Life and Love in Time of War 

    Black-pajama buzzard ladies line the Hanoi pavement perched on their haunches, chewing their betel nuts, grinning like Cheshire cats under their cone-shaped mushroom caps proving McKenna’s theory that we evolved from a psilo-cybernetic visitor from outer space. The men have their own perches on other branches, sucking on the business end of a water pipe loaded to the gills with long stringy shreds of tobacco. If Asians sometimes don’t even seem human, be assured the feeling is mutual. Somewhere across town foreigners light up ganja in a sidewalk café for the same reason that a dog licks its balls. The lady selling cigarettes in Saigon sells those left-handed ones by special request, just like she did back in the Tet offensive. I imagine those practices are being phased out by now as Vietnam re-enters the real world. Not so Cambodia. Cambodia specializes in filling those little gaps that others leave unattended. The girl in Siam Riep gave me her holiday photo as though we were first loves sharing the only little bits of ourselves that were available for public consumption. She was right. I never saw her again. Many a Thai man who’d kill another Thai man for looking at his girl would readily offer her up for an hour to a Farang to bounce off of as if the Farang weren’t really human so didn’t count. It’s just phone sex with a vibrator attached. Sometimes love seems no more than the relationship between that lump in your back pocket with that lump in the front, notwithstanding exotic currencies, floating exchange rates and general arbitrage of the soul.

  • hardie karges 10:53 am on January 23, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Vietnam   

    Vietnam Hill Tribes 

    The Viets can’t believe that tourists go to Sapa to view the incredible hill-tribes, insisting it’s the French alpine atmosphere that draws them.  Maybe it’s a poor man’s Switzerland, but certainly no more than that.  The hill tribes are another story.  The little Hmong girls have been photographed and appeared on book-covers many times and could speak better English than a Thai bar girl by the age of six just by being copycats and hungry, Pidgin by parrot-chat.  The Dzao women are from outer space, heads half shaved and wearing outfits resembling the British Redcoats of three centuries back.  Rumor has it they’d get frisky with their male counterparts during the long weekend market.  It’s true.  They’d sing songs antiphonally, and then just wander off, I guess.  I was propositioned at least three times by various members of the group of varying ages, all wanting nothing more than my temporary membership in their apparently frequent openings.  I think their guys smoke too much opium.  Of course the young girl I fantasized about wasn’t available.  Photographers followed us on our only date, to eat Vietnamese noodle soup.  I wonder what it’s like now.  They’d started to refurbish the French colonial atmosphere that got badly smudged by the Chinese invasion of 1979.  China intended to teach Vietnam a lesson for invading Cambodia and putting an end to the Pol Pot terror.  They lost almost 20,000 troops in two weeks before withdrawing.  A Chinese friend insists Vietnam begged China to leave.  Right.  Countries do that all the time.  Just ask Slobodan.     

  • hardie karges 3:10 am on January 17, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Vietnam   


    Vietnam is the girdle holding in China’s pregnant belly, hanging out over the ocean, threatening to dump billions more upon us, DNA in a raincoat and rubbers and carrying a suitcase filled with samples of trinkets and useless gadgets. China is the most conservative country in the world, convinced of its superiority, entrenched in its own mythology. They rule from inside, allegiance to the past, allegiance to the memories, racist ideology in the guise of ancestor worship. There’s the Middle Kingdom and then there’s everything else. Asia is the most racist region in the world and it all started in the Middle, part of the face-saving mentality in which every human interaction assumes an upper-lower relationship, a caste system of the soul. Japan’s superiority complex is legendary, but Thailand is certainly no different. All these cultures share Chinese cultural roots. You could probably measure a country’s racism by the number of slang words it contains for persons of other races, but that might leave out Vietnam. Maybe that’s because Vietnam’s persecution complex masks its superiority complex. It’s certainly not exempt from racism. When the Vietnamese teenager up in Sapa winked at me and proceeded to run his motorbike up against a group of hill-tribe ladies I was hanging and chatting with, I felt the anger rise up through the ground and take my fists and start wailing on the poor guy oblivious. I still can’t believe he expected to impress me by being an asshole, like Kris Kristofferson in Lone Star winking in flashback before proceeding to shoot his poor victim, the event forestalled only because he himself was shot and killed instead. Fortunately the Viet guy’s engine was already running so he was able to get away with only minor damage to his ego.

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