A Personal History

December 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I have purposely kept this post image-less. No photo of mine could properly convey the atrocities of the Killing Fields. No image I’ve taken could possibly honor those who died there.

This post is not meant to be a history lesson. That is something left for the Internet and the powers of googling. Instead I relay the connection I have to this time period and to this region of the world.

I was born in 1976 in what was then Saigon, Vietnam. That was one year after the fall of that southern capital, one year after Pol Pot marched into Phnom Penh.

Though my parents fled in 1979 to relocate to America (my mother is Chinese and my father fought in the southern Vietnam army), the Vietnamese were spared compared to the Cambodians. Ho Chi Minh was seen as an enemy Communist to the West, but was revered as a nationalist hero in Vietnam. Ho’s leadership helped the country gain sovereignty from the French and Americans.

China had the Cultural Revolution. Cambodia had the Killing Fields. When ones discusses atrocities in Vietnam, one thinks mainly of American atrocities such as the massacre at My Lai village.

The methodical murder of Cambodians by their own Khmer Rouge began one year before and a couple hundred of miles from where I was born. But until this trip I knew so little of what happened. This realization takes me to thoughts about Africa and how little I know about countries like Syria. All I do know is that I was lucky. Though my parents gave up everything to come to America, they at least made it out. My life has been blessed and I don’t take that for granted.

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Categories: Cambodia, Vietnam Tags:

Gay Kamp(uchea)

December 21, 2013 Leave a comment

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Hearing about the legalization of gay marriage in Utah and New Mexico has gotten me excited about returning to the States. But it occurred to me that even developing countries like Vietnam and Cambodia are dealing with gay marriage rights and recognition.

Vietnam was supposed to vote on the measure last year. Though the vote was delayed the communist country agreed to legalize gay weddings and to change the constitution to allow marriage between “two humans”.

Cambodia is not quite there yet. Interestingly the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk made an open comment in 2004 in support of gay marriage, but the parliament has yet to agree. The society here seems to be accepting of it. The lack of Judeo-Christian values is probably a major contributor. Ultimately I think Cambodians are just practical people. And despite the communist rule, capitalism is king. I’ll write more about the homosexual tradition here when I visit Angkor Wat. In the meantime I was able to experience a different homosexual tradition: the token drag show. Complete with drag beauty contest.

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Categories: Asia, Cambodia, LGBT Tags: ,

Fresh Food, Fresh Moves

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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For any visitor of Vietnam, Hoi An is an absolute must. Though the riverside scene is reminiscent of Epcot Center, the rest of the seaside town boasts an authenticity that few tourist destinations can claim.

Skip the big hotel chains and stay at the Hoi An Historic Hotel as it is a beautiful and quiet oasis, only foot steps from the winding and bustling markets near the river.

Foodies can take any number of traditional cooking classes. Our chef took us to a local farm and showed us the origins of our ingredients. Organic is not a marketing point for the folks there, it is a way of life. The menu that night included paleo-friendly spring rolls, papaya salad and Vietnamese crêpes (bánh xèo).

By evening the town is lit by lantern and motorbikes (albeit far fewer than Hanoi). We were lucky to witness a break dancing dance-off on the other side of the river. These B-boys have more street cred than many I’ve seen in Brooklyn.

So if you like eclectic and charming be sure to drop by this ancient meeting place. 20131216-092342.jpg20131216-092546.jpg20131216-092603.jpg20131216-092618.jpg20131216-092625.jpg

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Categories: Asia, Food, Vietnam Tags:

Cinderella Syndrome

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Hanoi is an early city. Everything shuts down at midnight…literally everything. As the capital of the communist/capitalist hybrid that is Vietnam there is strong pressure to act according to governmental expectations. From my previous experience this is in stark contrast to Vietnam’s largest city Ho Chi Minh (former Saigon and birth place of yours truly). At my age, you would think that the midnight curfew is a welcome change. In fact, I appreciate the freedom to make bad decisions well into the morning.

The northern capital is a bustling city with winding streets and grand boulevards. Of course the French influence is obvious but Hanoi is surprisingly Chinese as well. Confucian images and characters appear through out the city. Street vendors are ubiquitous, hawking shoe shines to road side hot pot meals. If anything, Hanoi is a gastro-adventure to be enjoyed from early morning to shortly after the last metal grate is locked shut.

 

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Categories: Asia, Vietnam Tags: ,

Global Values

December 10, 2013 Leave a comment

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Besides the hazardous air quality this week in Shanghai my time here has proven why I belong overseas. We Americans may not want to believe it but there is a markable shift away from American cultural, political, and economic hegemony. This is not meant to be a criticism of America, but rather affirmation that I long for a global community.

The value of living in a truly global city like Shanghai is immense. In eight days I’ve communicated in three languages and listened to conversations in at least nine, ne’er a mention of Kardashians or Jersey shores.

But what draws me in is the conversion of people to these meccas of internationalism. Though we come from different countries and speak different languages we long for a perspective that goes beyond our immediate knowledge. This is a value that I hold close. This is a value that I miss.

As a child growing up in Texas I often felt embarrassed when my parents spoke in one of four languages, non-English (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hubei Hua, and Vietnamese). I felt like an outsider because American society in my circle de-valued foreign language. Now I feel blessed that my parents trained me to listen in a slightly different way. So when I travel outside the US I listen for different tones, syllable/vowel combinations, and ideas that will help me grow to become a more global contributor.

Categories: Asia Tags:

Asia Redux

December 2, 2013 Leave a comment

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It’s been five years since my last trip through Asia and only then was it a week of shopping in Tokyo. A lot has changed since then, new career, new house, new city.

I suspect a lot has changed in Asia as well. This is how it all stacks up:

Shanghai, last visited in 1997.
Hanoi, never been
Hoi An, never been
Ho Chi Minh City, last visited in 2003
Cambodia, never been

Though I have no set plan each destination will serve it’s own purpose. It’s no surprise that I am starting with the most developed country first. I’m taking a figurative journey through the past, ending in Cambodia’s most ancient site, Angkor Wat.

So as to allow myself an unencumbered journey I only packed one 30 liter pack and a day pack. The next five weeks will challenge me to be resourceful as I traverse Shanghai’s winter, Hanoi’s fall, and Cambodia’s perpetual warmth.

But of course I will do it in style. YSL Wyatt jodhpur boots, Beauty and Youth motorcycle jacket, Jack Black grooming products to name a few. One night in Shanghai so far. And so far so good.

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Categories: Asia Tags:

New NOLA

June 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I was wrong for saying New Orleans was over-rated. Such an assessment was made based on the few times I traveled to this tourist hotspot hanging out mainly in the French Quarter. Though rich in history, festivity, and debauchery it hardly painted a complete picture of what NOLA is all about.

Choosing to spend 3 days off the beaten parade path served to prove that New Orleans is a city with much more to offer. Marigny is a section of NOLA just west of the French Quarter. Peppered with multi-color homes, worn by the bleaching sun, Marigny is a truly inspirational visual display of architecture. Sitting slightly above sea level, much of this neighborhood survived the flood, causing a quick gentrification post Katrina.

Frenchmen Street serves as the heart of entertainment off the beaten path. Whether eating mussels and crawfish at the Italian/Creole restaurant Adolfo’s or listening to Zydeco at the Spotted Cat, one can appreciate the more local flavor without the nauseating screams of young tourist troops. The best part of the trip was spending the day at the Country Club in Bywater, just on the other side of the proverbial tracks. The Country Club features a lovely pool area and all the usual amenities. Though clothing optional, the crowd is a mix of hipster gays, straight couples, and the regulars who came when it first opened in the 70’s.

Needless to say, I have found a new appreciation for a city that I judged too harshly. Spending time in NOLA during the off-season is actually a more fulfilling time than during the other 9 months of the year.

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