Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Somewhere in America a Woman is Saved From A Bout of Domestic Abuse by Hank Williams

Somewhere in America, a disgruntled, overwrought man and his booze-pickled wife listlessly marinate on the decaying front porch of their foreclosed double-wide.  Silently pleading for an apocalyptic boulder-shower to cascade from the heavens before the bank shows up, her vacuous sneer belies the fact that her mind has been running in circles for the extent of the evening. 

"Go down to the mart and git me another six-pack, Margaret," he roars as filthy locks of unkempt, sun-weathered hair drift down past his addled, red-rimmed dog-eyes.  In lieu of a verbal response, she slowly re-directs her reptilian gaze towards the man she once loved and unleashes a scathing, atavistic scowl. 

After a long pause, inchoate sentiments bubble from the depths of her bile, slowly form into words, and begin to recklessly tumble out of her like gumballs from a faulty confectioner's dispenser. "I will do... no such thing... for a low, low man like yerself.  In fact, Robert, you can git your ass unglued from this here porch, find a rusty blade, and fall on it for all I care."

Immediately following the outburst, Margaret clenched her fists and prepared for the worst.  Robert had a penchant for vintage violence, but this stream of unexpectedly passionate vitriol didn't infuriate him.  In fact, it elicited no response.

Immediately succeeding his terse demands, her derelict husband had drifted away into a moment's revelry as a passing Oldsmobile lurched by on the unpaved path; sending pieces of errant gravel shooting into the ether as a familiar tune escaped from aged, stubborn windows that refuse to roll up.  Crooning along with the ecstatically swift, pitter-patter cadence of the Hank Williams classic, Robert hadn't even digested her proud moment of unabashed defiance.

Simultaneously bullying, demanding, and aloof, the proud husbands of America sigh, crack open yet another can of lukewarm beer, and patiently wait for the end of the world.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bukit Lawang: On the Edge of the Jungle

Bukit Lawang is a village in North Sumatra.  It's located on the edge of Gunung Leseur National Park and is a destination due to the success of its orang-utan rehabilitation program and its proximity to both river and jungle.

After an early morning flight to Medan, a dusty, traffic-choked city, we made our way by becak (Indonesian tuk-tuk) to the hectic bus depot street.  Organizing a ride was slightly challenging, but we managed to get ourselves (and our bags) onto a public mini-van going in the general direction of Bukit Lawang.

Preparing for a 3 to 4 hour drive on pock-marked roads, we made sure to snag a seat together in the front (leg room!).  These shared vans ideally sit about 10, but Sumatrans are pragmatic souls and regularly cram about 15 humans into these rambling death traps.

We swerved, bumped, and clattered through the countryside.  What was dense, old-growth rainforest a mere decade ago, was now primly cleared and plotted to make way for palm oil plantations.  The frenetic pace of deforestation in Indonesia is unrelenting as both the demand for processed foods containing palm oil (nearly half of the products in the average consumer's shopping bag) and the demand for biodiesel increase.

The van slowly let off one passenger at a time as we moved from claustrophobic urban sprawl to roadside villages and neatly coiffed plantations.  Around two hours into the trip (86 km), it was suddenly just the two of us and our driver was pulling up to a decrepit gas station inhabited by a herd of louche young cowboys with earnestness and sincerity emblazoned across their million-dollar grins.  We were ushered out of the van, unsure and stiff, but relieved to be off the road. 

After another jaunty motorbike ride for a km or so, we were plopped down in Bukit Lawang proper.  To get to the quieter (and arguably nicer) end of the town, we hauled our bags along the riverside path, eye-balling our new, lush surroundings.

The town of Bukit Lawang consists of wooden structures built up along the rocky banks of the Bahorok River.  At one time, it was supposedly quite the happening place (the story of Sumatra).  Full of backpackers and booze-soaked revelry, with guesthouses sprouting on top of each other.  However, after a devastating flash flood in 2003, which wiped out most of the infrastructure built along the river (35 hotels and guesthouses, 8 bridges, 3 mosques, 400 homes, and 280 food stands and restaurants) as well as killing 239 people, Bukit Lawang has a more staid, sleepier vibe about it.  

From your guesthouse veranda, one can gaze across the river into the towering jungle canopy.  Troops of macaques patrol the riverbanks and gibbons can sometimes be spotted swinging from branch to branch in the upper reaches.

At the far end of town, just a minutes' walk to the Gunung Leseur National Park entrance, we stayed at Sam's Place and would highly recommend this family-run guesthouse.  We loved the easy river access and the fact that on the days we didn't trek we could swim and relax in the water with not another soul in sight.

Our friend at Sam's (above) and her pet lizard (below).

While most of the food we had in Bukit Lawang was nothing to write home about (read= typical tourist fare), we did enjoy our guest-house's grub.  Below is the ubiquitous Gado Gado (tofu salad with peanut sauce) and "Jungle Food", a helping of whatever was prepared for the kitchen staff's meal that day.  Noodles, crispy baby fish, rice, and a fiery sambal. 

We also had a few good meals and good times next door at The Jungle Inn.  Make sure to take a dip in their on-premises waterfall. Below is their colorful rendition of Muesli with Fruit.

Bukit Lawang (Practical Info.):
Onwards to Bukit Lawang: Flight to Medan from Banda Aceh on Garuda Airlines @ 11:30 am (Rp. 450,000 each ticket). (Can also take a night bus to Medan) When we arrived in Medan, walked out of Polonia Airport past taxi touts and took a becak to Bus Station (Rp.50,000). Grabbed a public shared van at station (we overpaid Rp.50,000 per person, should be about Rp.30,000) to Bukit Lawang.  Essential to grab the front seat as vans are crowded and uncomfortable. Expect a 2 to 3.5 hr journey depending on traffic.

Arrive in Bukit Lawang Bus Station. Take a becak one km into town proper (Rp. 10,000). Stayed at Sam’s Place (Rp.80,000 per night for nice bungalow with private, open-air bathroom and fantastic view of towering jungle canopy). Long walk as it’s near the national park entrance, but highly recommended. Take a jungle trek (Rp.300,000 for one day) – orang-utans are plentiful! 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

D' Nyonya Penang: Malaysian Cuisine in Saigon

Roti Canai w/ Chicken Curry
D' Nyonya Penang @ 56 Dong Du, District 1.  Nyonya is a regional Malaysian cuisine that originated in the Peranakan Chinese communities in the port cities of the Strait of Malacca (Penang, Malacca, Singapore, etc).  We first experienced it in KL and we're ecstatic to encounter it back in Saigon.
The national dish of Malaysia: Nasi Lemak
Tofu Telor
Char Kuey Teow
Orange Chicken

We just can't get over how good Malaysian food is.  D' Nyonya Penang is a chain eatery with branches across SE Asia, but don't let that deter you from patronizing this fine establishment.  This place is delicious.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What We're Listening To: Purity Ring

Purity Ring 
4AD; 2012


Canadian witchhouse-lite.  If Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser had been born twenty five years later, they might have sounded like this.

Mosquito Band at Xom Cafe

Mosquito Band plays startlingly accurate renditions of flamenco standards.  Incredible musicianship without an ounce of arrogance.  We saw them at Xom Cafe @ 113 Dang Dung, Tan Dinh, D. 1.

DJ Samurai entertains the crowd with Japanese hip-hop stylings and humorously unintelligible asides.

With hunger gnawing at our insides it was time for yet another late night post-party.  The quintessential Saigon experience: passing time under the stars at an outdoor eatery.

Regaling eachother with beery tales of the sacred and the profane, the profound and the absurd...

Hilarity ensued.

Then balladry.

Our transgender waitress was a bit camera shy (read: downright perturbed).

There is no better time for a late-night mobile lamination than now. Long live the overhead projector!

 What's your best impression of Gavin?

And to top it all off... a mouth-watering group dessert.  The undisputed king of streetside delicacies - Bo Bia Ngot!  Fresh shards of coconut, sesame seeds, and sugar cane wrapped in a tiny rice pancake.

This Saturday night (July 28) DJ Samurai and the Xom crew will throw a big, loud party @ Xom Cafe. You are invited.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Afternoon at Cuc Gach Quan

Spending another late afternoon in the front courtyard of Cuc Gach Quan (10 Dang Tat, Tan Dinh, D.1) reaffirmed for me that it's by far the most comfortable high-end Vietnamese joint in town.

Seabass with Passion Fruit

Prawns in Tamarind Sauce

Eggplant Stir-fried with Garlic and Betel Leaves

 Succulent Lady-Fingers (okra) sauteed in Garlic and Green Onions.

A little company on the veranda was provided by this gregarious ant.

This scarecrow a reminder of past conflicts.