Thursday, March 11, 2010

Southeast Asia Trip - Part Three

It's taken me this long to get this far, and it looks like I am never going to get around to finishing the narration of Vietnam. I will just conclude with a picture show. More awesome stuff coming soon - including playing a hardcore show at a Mormon church.

Part 3 of the Southeast Asia trip - Hoi An. Hoi An is located in the skinny part of Vietnam on the coast.

If you have a chance to go to Southeast Asia - make sure you visit Vietnam - it is awesome!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Southeast Asia Trip - Part Two

Here is the second part of my redux of the Southeast Asia trip - this part, Southern Vietnam! We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon.) The first thing that got me was the craziness of the traffic - there are no traffic laws, very few traffic lights/crosswalks/etc., and TONS of people zipping around on motorbikes. The Communist Party declared that it was seen as unpatriotic and bourgeois to own a car, so everyone bought motorbikes. This is light traffic on a fairly backwoods road. Everytime I had to cross a street I feared for my life. Lauryn and I learned real quick all the unspoken rules of traffic in Vietnam. Which are - motorbikes will swerve to avoid you - cars will not.

Light traffic in Saigon.

Our first night in Saigon was New Years Eve, but we were so exhausted that we bummed around the city, danced to horrible techno in the town square, then went to bed. The next morning we went on a bus tour to the Cao Dai compound and the Cu Chi tunnels.

Cao Daism is a wierd amalgamate religion comprising Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist beliefs, with some random saints and craziness thrown in there for good measure. This is the inside of their main temple, very psychedelic. The tiers of the floor represent levels of englightenment, and during the service everyone sits on their respective tier and mumbles.

This is me outside the temple, you could walk around the compound - which had some cool gardens and buildings.

Next we went to the Cu Chi guerilla tunnels, which are a series of tunnels in Southern Vietnam north of Saigon which the Viet Cong forces used to connect North (communist run) Vietnam with their Southern Communist sympathizers - as well as mount attacks on nearby Saigon. Most of the tunnels (which spanned hundreds of miles and were hand dug!) had collapsed due to bombing or disuse. There were a couple miles of preserved tunnels, one of the entrances seen here. for scale, the tunnel entrance is a little bit smaller than a sleeping pillow. The Cu Chi guerilla forces had huge bunkers, kitchens, armories, and schools connected by these tunnels, and often would live in them for months at a time.

Me in one of the bunkers

We got to crawl around in a widened tunnel (for fat Westerners) and Lauryn and I, being pretty tall, had a difficult time in them! Some of the fatter people got stuck, which was hilarious. Afterwards we had a refreshing snack of hot green tea and tapioca root (like a potato) rolled in peanuts.

Some Chinese tourists wanted a picture of white people, so we made them take our picture as well.

Me by an exploded tank. I tried to ride it Cowboy style but wound up making an ass of myself.

Our guide for the day, Slim Jim, was pretty awesome. He was a teacher from the Mekong Delta (south most part of Vietnam) who became a tour guide to perfect his conversational English, with plans to return to Southern Vietnam to teach English again. He had fought in the Vietnam war against the Viet Cong, and had some hilarious anecdotes. He confirmed Lauryn and I's assumption that all white people look the same to asians.

After the Cu Chi tunnels we arrived back in Saigon at around 6PM and seeing as it was still New Years Day, there was a huge carnival in a park adjacent to our hotel. We enjoyed some delicious beers from a local microbrewery - as a side note, Vietnam has recently seen a large explosion of microbreweries, taking traditional European styles such as pilsners, stouts, and even Belgian beers and incorporating Asian and tropical ingredients. A lot of the microbrews were much sweeter and more floral due to these ingredients.

I wasn't taking a lot of pictures in the city because I was having enough trouble getting around and attracting a lot of attention with my tattoos and piercings. While waiting for the tour bus, I learned from a guy that 'Tiga Numba 1!' which is to say that getting a tiger tattooed on your chest is the most common tattoo in Saigon. Also people would stare at our piercings and try to touch my tattoos. It was kind of creepy but also pretty nifty. In the US, I catch people staring at me, but when I look at them they quickly look away ashamed. In Southeast Asia, people would just stare for minutes at Lauryn and I - initially I ignored it, but after a while I kind of liked the attention. Then, I got really tired of being an attraction and stared back. It was pretty fun!

The next day our plans included bumming around Saigon before we left for Hoi An. We went to the War Surplus Market, which was mostly filled with cheap war kitsch. I did however pick up a Vietnamese Army outfit, which is pretty cool.

We went to the War Remnants Museum - previously known as the War Crimes Museum - which details the US involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1975. It was pretty brutal, not due to any sensationalism (which surprisingly there wasn't much of) but because of the stark contrast between cultural narratives of events. In the US, I never learned the reasons behind our involvement in Vietnam, or even that it started during World War II. Because of the media coverage of the war, there were lots of photos detailing the US atrocities against the Vietnamese people. One of the craziest was an exhibit about Agent Orange and the effect of dioxins on the environment and population - effects that still effect Vietnam in big ways. For instance, the birth mutation rate in areas that were exposed to Agent Orange skyrocketed, and all over Vietnam we saw people that looked like they walked out of Total Recall. We also saw the old guillotine that the US and South Vietnamese forces used to execute suspected communists. Next to it is one of the 2' by 4.5' "cells" made of barbed wire and splintered wood where suspected communists were held for years at a time.

I think in 10-20 years there will be a similar museum in the Middle East detailing US atrocities. After being really bummed out about how fucked up our government is and the ties to the military industrial complex, I needed a fresh coconut.

After that we went to one of the best 'hidden' temples of Saigon. Getting there was half the journey, as our taxi driver did not know how to get to the temple, let alone the region of town we wanted to be in. We wandered around for an hour looking and finally found it in a little courtyard over 600 years old! Everything was coated in a thick mat of incense dust. There was a pond with TONS of turtles. There were turtles riding on the backs of turtles riding on the backs of turtles. It blew my mind, man.

Our next stop, the Presidential Palace, was also a journey due to language barriers and racism (some Vietnamese will not pick up Westerners) which I can understand. We did invade and fuck up their country.

Outside the palace

Lauryn with a solid gold Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh's Office
The Famous 'Fall of Saigon' helicopter. Sometimes they let tourists get a photo with it, but not when we were there. The basement of the palace had a War Room with old hand drawn maps of Vietnam and troop movements, along with old Cold War Era communications equiptment.

Afterwards, we headed to the airport and flew on JetStar (budget Asian airlines) to Hoi An. And that will be covered in the next post!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Southeast Asia Trip - Part 1

It's taken me a while to update due to the start of the Spring semester and Disowned recording a demo - but here is the redux of my trip to Southeast Asia over Winter Break 09-10. My plane flew out from LAX to Beijing, where I had a 12 hour layover until I hopped on a plane to Singapore, where Lauryn is doing research. My plane arrived at 5 in the morning Beijing time.

The Beijing International Airport is REALLY nice - probably just fixed up due to the 2008 Olympic Games. It was pretty odd, however, as the moment you get out of the terminal, you see a picture of Chairman Mao right next to an advertisement for Chanel. This weird juxtaposition of uber high end capitalist stores and communist leaders was a prevalent theme in Asia - as I'll discuss in the Vietnam section.

The many tiered Beijing International Airport - the whole roof is one big lighted dome, the top floor is arrivals and immigration, the bottom two levels are departures and high end shopping stores like Gucci, Armani, Chanel, Lacoste, etc.

One of the departure terminals.

I had seen enough of the airport, and was eager to get to Singapore. After meeting up with Lauryn I was given the whole country tour on the ride from the airport (which was on one side of the country) to Lauryn's apartment (which is on the other side!) It is super futuristic, with a really nice metro and airport and EVERYONE has a really nice phone. After catching up on sleep we went to the Haw Par Villa, which is an open air garden/theme park made by the two brothers who invented and sold Tiger Balm - which is a popular ointment in Southeast Asia.

The entrance, notice the tiger motif.

There were tons of weird stucco sculptures, mostly depicting old Chinese legends with sparse placards in poorly translated English, which is odd considering English is one of the primary languages in Singapore. One of my favorite sculptures was the Rat vs. Rabbit war. There was even a rat with a knife!

One rat you don't want to mess with!


Then there was the 'Tiger Car' which the two brothers would drive around when they were advertising for Tiger Balm. When you honked the horn it roared like a tiger! I bet they picked up maaaad ladies with this clean ride.

The next exhibit was...odd. It was the 'Ten Courts of Hell' of Chinese mythology. Each Court was presided over by a judge, and he would sentence you to the crimes of that particular court if you were guilty of them in life. Here is Lauryn standing outside the entrance of Hell, guarded by Horse-Face and Ox-Head.

The Judge and his Court.

Each Court has its own punishment or set of punishments prescribed for a sin you committed in life. The above punishment was being thrown on a tree made out of knives, I think for neglecting your filial duties.

You could also be chopped in half, ground into a paste, disemboweled, etc. for being a rapist or a litterer. The Chinese ethics system seemed a little skewed in my mind.

But prostitutes went in the Filthy Blood Pond...where they were drowned I guess?

Anyhow, at the end of all your punishments a nice old lady gives you the tea of reincarnation, and you enter the cycle of Samsara (continuous reincarnation until enlightenment) again. The rest of Haw Par Villa had more crazy statues, like frogs and turtles riding on ostriches and a crab lady?

Like I mentioned before, the Metro system in Sinapore is really nice, one of their national prides next to their airport. If you want to know more about the oddities and nuances of the Sinaporean culture feel free to read Lauryn's blog at Lauryn in Singapore. This is me standing next to Singa the Friendly Lion, who advises people in the metro to be kind to one another and to obey the rules lest you get fined! Next to me is a sign about the fines, also letting everyone know not to bring durian fruit on board because it smells like bananas, pineapples, and oranges stuffed in a corpse's rectal cavity that was thrown in a garbage bin in the hot sun for a week. Anyhow, Singa is touching my butt in this picture.

Lauryn and I then had lunch on the quays (pronounced like key) and went to the Southeast Asian culture museum which had cool architecture and artwork from all the cultures residing in Singapore. Then we went to the Buddha's Tooth Temple of Buddha Maitreya or the Future Buddha, which we envisioned being a hovering robot Buddha who shot lasers out of his eyes. I drew a good picture of it, but can't find it at the moment.

That Buddha is about 20 feet tall, and the background is a single piece of embroidered silk. The entire temple was very opulent - the top of the temple had a room made entirely of gold. It was a about twenty square feet and had a gilded golden altar in the middle weighing over 500 kilograms which supposedly enshrined one of the original Buddha's teeth.

We had dinner at a really delicious vegetarian Indian restaurant which was staffed by people enrolled in an adjacent school, and ran entirely on donations! We then bummed around Chinatown (as every city has one...) and retired for the night. Our next stop was Vietnam!

Monday, December 28, 2009

12/20 Show at Owen's House

On 12/20 Disowned was slated to play a show with Active Aggressive, Digne Y Rebelde, and Drugshit (all local hardcore/punk bands) and Malady from Tiajuana, Mexico - but they cancelled. I designed the flyer below, I will scan in a better copy when I get to a good scanner at work.

We had extended our set from a scant five to a meaty eight, plus a holiday favorite - 'Fuck Christmas' by FEAR. The acoustics were pretty off but people enjoyed our new material and extended set.

Fun fact: Owen and Jorge (the lead singer for All Systems Fail/
guy in the background) are wearing the same shirt from this LA
noise punk band Dead Noise we met a couple days earlier at a show.

Michael is hilarious to watch drum - besides being an amazing
drummer he gets really into it and makes faces.

The obligatory shot of me looking goofy and focused.

This picture will make more sense in a paragraph.

Next up was Active Aggressor - a local favorite who play fast, female fronted old school hardcore. Everyone loves them and since they have been around for a while, sing along and get really really riled up.

Which is why while moshing, someone busted through the window that Owen is standing on in the above picture. I fortuitously captured the exact moment of Owen seeing someone go through his ground floor window. Also in the picture - just to the right of Owen - is my good friend Marek, who came up from Austin, TX for the holidays.

Thanks to my quick thinking and Boy Scout training, I was able to make this awesome cardboard sheet by cutting up liquor boxes and interlocking them. Owen is stressed out as hell because it was about -15 C outside and there is a broken window. Marek is also in the picture, looking like a jolly Polack.

Awesomely enough, Active Aggressive kept playing the entire time with people moshing. After the set, and after we had patched up the window, without even asking people got a donation bowl together and in a couple of minutes everyone had pitched in enough to cover the new window and then some. It was pretty cool. It got me thinking about how Salt Lake has a tight knit enough group of people who will:

a) allow a show in their houses for extremely loud, gross, scary looking kids
b) play free shows - I have never been to a hardcore/punk show with a ticket or cover price
c) the moment something goes down - be it someone falling down in the pit, being out of gas/needing a ride, or crashing through a window - there are immediately twenty pairs of hands willing to give everything they have to help out.

I constantly scrutinize people, and can't help but wonder "What is their life worth? What are they doing that is worthwhile to justify their continued breathing?" I am usually pressed to come up with anything. Now, whenever I do that at a show, I can tell myself "These people will be good to each other and help to their fullest extent." It's more than I can say for most of humanity.