RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 recaps

The shadiest Drag Race recaps on the web. Get ready to death drop, queens!

The Bachelorette Australia recaps

One woman, 14 desperate men, mucho LOLs. Oh, and Osher Gunsberg.

The Bachelor Australia recaps

Sequins, spray tans and sex - it's season 3 of the world's stupidest dating show.

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 7 recaps

YASS, HUNTIES! Every episode of season seven recapped for your reading pleasure. Let's get sickening!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Honky rappers - spot the difference.

misc_rantsbitch_eryWas recently stunned to discover the similarities between honky boy rappers Vanilla Ice and Eminem as illustrated in their police mug shots, found on the smoking gun.


Vanilla Ice



Eminem


Apparently one is cool, and the other isn't. Can you tell which?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Wolfmother lead singer has a bigger problem than his hairdo.

Now, as much as I dislike Aussie rip off merchants rockers Wolfmother, this posting is not brought to you in malice, but with the simple aim of raising awareness of a crippling new physical condition that deserves our understanding and support - Dodgy Rock Leg Disorder (or DRLD).

In what is a bittersweet 'victory' for the National DRLD Association, Wolfmother's lead singer and guitarist, Andrew Stockdale, is a chronic sufferer of the disorder, something which has gained DRLD national exposure in recent months.

The main symptom of the disorder is an insatiable desire to lift one's leg at odd moments, effecting what is often described as a "faux rock" pose.


Andrew Stockdale in a particularly debilitating moment at the Big Day Out.
Photo source: http://www.smh.com.au/ftimages/2005/01/27/1106415711784.html


Sufferers are often subjected to humiliating abuse from members of the public and are accused of "trying too hard" when on stage or playing a musical instrument.


This photo clearly shows Stockdale suffering under the effects of the disorder.
Photo source: http://www.theage.com.au/news/music/fans-just-go-with-the-fro/2006/01/29/1138469606447.html

Despite DRLD being a relatively unknown disorder, support group numbers are growing as awareness of the affliction increases. Sufferers like Stockdale regularly attend meetings where they can learn how to manage their symptoms.

 
Stockdale's symptoms have noticeably lessened since he started attending his local DRLD support group. "Now I don't always feel the need to lift my leg the whole way up," he said.
Photo source: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/gallery/homebake2004/html/photo8.htm


One of the most difficult parts of the disorder to manage, says Stockdale, is that it can manifest itself both on and off stage.

"If it happens on stage, at least I can make it look like I was MEANT to do it, you know. Especially if it happens on a power chord," he said.

"But it's really annoying when I'm just down the shops or something, and suddenly I'm kicking over magazine stands or kneeing someone in the back. It's really embarrassing."

Stockdale in the grip of a DRLD episode backstage.

An all-too-frequent DRLD episode on the red carpet.

Stockdale has taken to natural therapies like yoga to treat his DRLD.

Now Stockdale has been taken on as the national face (or leg) of DRLD, his Wolfmother bandmates are joining in the support.

"We hope to start up a National 'Shake A Leg Day' or something like that," said bassist Chris Ross.

"The slogan could be 'Help the NRLDA - or they won't have a leg to stand on," said drummer Myles Heskett.


Rock on, boys.

NOTE: this posting is entirely fictional, and the author bears no ill will to Stockdale or the rest of Led Zeppelin Black Sabbath Wolfmother.

Friday, January 27, 2006

More strange attractions

Following on from my previous post about unconventional men I would be happy to shag, I bring you 'Strange Attractions Part II'.

1. Joaquin Phoenix


Even with a harelip and a funny name, Joaquin joaqs my world.


Normally I wouldn't have thought darling Joaquin would qualify as 'unconventional', but after mentioning his name followed by "is so hot" and being met with strange looks, I have realised that clearly I am in a minority of worshippers. From the first time I saw him in a poncy toga and laurels in Gladiator, I have nursed a small crush which has only gotten worse now that he's starring as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Gosh darn. I'd fight lions for him ANY time.

Point of interest: my friend Ben looks startlingly like him:


...but possibly not here.


2. Courtney Taylor-Taylor of The Dandy Warhols


The man so cool they named him twice.


He's got a face that looks like it's been kicked in by a Dunlop Volley, he's skinny (and judging by this photo - quite hairy), but when he sings about heroin addicts it's all I can do to stop myself from licking the stereo. One of the most disappointing moments in my short career as a waitress was when the Dandys went to my restaurant for dinner on my night off, and no one knew who they were. Possibly a good thing, as had I been there I might have embarrassed the establishment by trying to grab Courtney's bum (not to mention run them out of business by giving the band free drinks all night).

3. Jack White of The White Stripes


A seven nation army couldn't hold me back...


Yes I admit, he does look rather like Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, but at the moment I am nursing a rather unhealthy obssession with all things White Stripes, and Jack is the focal point. From what I've heard he's quite tall, which is always a good thing, but I guess for some this doesn't outweigh the fact that he looks...well...like a bit of a weirdo. Lucky I'm a weirdo too. I love the pale, sickly skin, the limp black hair, the weird little moustache and the whole crazy Spanish thing he's got going on. Not to mention his bizarre yelping voice. Fell in love with a boy, and yea, 'tis Jack White.

4. Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit


Um, yeah...


The only interesting part of Limp Bizkit (when he was actually IN Limp Bizkit) Wes is recognised as one of the best guitarists in the world. And he wears weird contact lenses that make his eyes black. And quite often, freaky makeup and masks. Quite clearly I am obssessed with pale men with creepy black hair and eyes (see Jack White above). Perhaps I should move to Japan, I've heard there's a lot of guys like that there.

5. Chris Martin of Coldplay


I married WHO?!

For a change - someone who's not pale, dark and skinny. Ok, so he's pale, blonde and skinny - what are you doing, keeping tabs or something? Words can't describe how appealing I find this man. I guess that's how THAT BITCH GWYNETH felt when she married him. Sigh. Still, at least she'll give him lots of material for more slit-your-wrists songs - if he's feeling happy and well-adjusted all he has to do is sit through her atrocious English accent in Sliding Doors and the misery will return.

Honourable Mentions

Jake Gyllenhaal, who I got a crush on in Donny Darko back when he used to be unconventional and weird but is now mainstream and officially "hot" and therefore can't be included in the list proper.


Oh. My. God.

Joseph Fiennes, who lived in the shadow of his less appealing brother, Ralph, until he rocked up in Elizabeth and then wore THAT JACKET in Shakespeare in Love. Still possibly qualifies as an unconventional pick, but...DAMN!


In love with Shakespeare.


After a reminder from a friend, I have decided to include Adrien Brody in this list. Dark hair, pale skin, skinny - yep, he meets all the criteria. Unfortunately lots of people think he's hot now, so he has to be an honourable mention, but do we mind? Woof!


Hellooooo!

Monday, January 23, 2006

For no reason, a costume that scares me

misc_rants

Why?


It's not quite as good as the SPAM costume, which is still my favourite, but it's still rather entertaining.

By the way, if you want to buy this thing you can at www.marylen.com. Although why you would want to is another matter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

HALONG BAY: When it comes to boats, more is more.

A full 48 hours after my last Nha Trang jam jar I was finally able to function normally again (ie: breathe, walk and sleep without wanting to vomit) and so felt prepared to hop on a boat and cruise around Halong Bay for an extended recuperation.

With the benefit of hindsight, I now present to you the golden rule of selecting a Halong Bay tour: don't cheap out. Don't even try to get a deal. Prices for these tours start at US$20 and go up to US$300 FOR A REASON. I discovered what the reason was when we got to the dock at Halong City.

Parading us past dozens of glorious looking junks with carved lions on the bow, sundecks and fairy lights, our tour guide led us along the pier.

"I hope we're on that one," said a guy next to me, eyeing off a luxurious looking barge with potted plams and sun lounges on it.

Lo and behold, a gangplank was thrown down and onto the great vessel we walked, following our guide, Hoang, which means 'king' in Vietnamese.

King of Disappointment, apparently, as he promptly threw another plank across to another boat next door that looked like it was made of toothpicks, and motioned for us to get on it. Grudgingly we all followed. And so it was that 16 tourists on a leaky boat set off for the misty waters of Halong Bay.


I get misty, just floating around...

Even in the wintry cold (and hampered by the fact that I had brought entirely the wrong type of pants for the journey) I did like Halong Bay. The Vietnamese believe its 2000 or so islands were created by a dragon descending into the waters (Ha Long means 'descending dragon') and I can only imagine what it must be like at its best - crystal clear waters, craggy rocky casts everywhere, and the sun for bathing in. Except on our boat, where most of the sun lounges were broken and others just damp from the cold.

At lunchtime they put us at tables of five and served up a plate of cucumber slices.

"Is this it?" we asked, wondering if we hadn't accidentally signed up for the Vietnamese army by mistake. We weren't far wrong.

A tiny grilled fish was produced, a small plate of chips and spring rolls and some stir fried tofu which everyone ignored. For dessert we each had a week old orange that tasted like a blackboard duster. Well, all of us that is except for the four year old French boy who I had been impressing on the bus ride earlier by attempting to translate the Spiderman theme song into French.

"Where is his orange?" his mother demanded.
"You no pay him ticket, he no get orange," the guide helpfully explained.

Because he was only four his mother had paid a half price ticket for him, but apparently this didn't cover him for food, and especially not for this orange. I don't know what they expected him to eat for two days.

"But he wants an orange! Why you cannot give a child an orange?"
"You no pay ticket, he no get orange."

This went on for some time until I began to realise that this wasn't like being in the army, it was more like being in a prison camp. Arguing over an orange? But of course everyone else was so hungry no one wanted to give up their own rations.

We arrived at an island and were shown around a cave by Hoang, who was desperately trying to rekindle everyone's spirits after the crappy lunch by pointing out various invisible rock formations ("Look! A mermaid!... See the dragon head?" "No.")


Seen one cave, seen 'em all...

Leaving that excitement behind we were directed to a path carved out of the mountainside that led to another thrilling cave. As it looked like you needed a degree in P.E to climb it, I told Hoang I'd rather sit and wait, to which he gave me a wounded look as if I had just spat in his Pho.

"Fine," he said, and trudged back to the boat.

Back on the boat I kept myself amused talking to a young English couple travelling in their 'gap year' as I had finished my book and was running out of interesting things to read in my Rough Guide ("So THAT'S where the post office is in Da Lat...").

Jenny and Ryan were both 18 and very sweet, if not a little dim. Ryan presented me with a battered quarter-read copy of a book about the Cu Chi tunnels and proudly stated it was the second book he'd ever read. Although he hadn't read it yet.

"I did write my English thesis on To Kill A Mockingbird but I didn't really read that either," he said.
"Did you just watch the movie?" I asked.
"No, my mum read it to me."

I shit you not, gentle reader. (Note: I was going to give Ryan a pseudonym to protect his dim wittedness, but given his track record I doubt he'll ever read this anyway.)


Messing about in boats

We played a short lived game of 20 questions, where it took them about 102 to work out "phone book" ("It's a book, and everyone has one, and you use it to do things, and they distribute them to you?" - Jenny, "A photo album!" - Ryan) which we abandoned because Ryan couldn't seem to get the hang of the rules ("Does it come in many colours?" we asked. "Hmm. It does but it doesn't." It was a dolphin.)

Dinner came and was much the same as lunch but with more tofu, which we all ignored again, and a quarter of an apple each. Not a whole apple, ONE QUARTER EACH. None of us could fail to notice the boat's crew seemed to be enjoying a VERY HEARTY MEEL INDEED at the table across from us - a massive steamed fish with chilli and garlic, beef stirfry, mountains of rice. I bet they enjoyed it.

We had been joined by a young Israeli couple, Emil and Sylva, who weren't keen on the boat food. In fact, Emil didn't really care for any Asian food, proclaiming it "uncivilised". And he'd spent three years in the Israeli army.

He was probably better prepared than the rest of us for the trip, given that all the electricity went off at 9pm and we had to stumble to bed in pitch blackness, tripping over the heads of the sleeping crew in the dining room, but not before enjoying magical and highly romantic views of the bay lit up by a full moon.


By the light of the silvery moon

After a semi-comfortable sleep in a bed that could have passed for an ironing board in a room whose walls were so thin I could hear Emil and Sylva breathing next door, I awoke at 6.45am to the sound of the boat's generator, which was conveniently placed right next to my head.

"At least I can have a hot shower," I thought, before remembering that I had only paid $33 and thus the hot shower would probably not work. It didn't, but it did fill the room with a lovely smell of gas instead. In an effort to not blow up the boat (although I possibly would have been doing everyone on board a favour) I suffered a cold shower, ever reminded of the Israeli army as I did so.

"Hurry! You come eat bekfash NOW!" barked the captain as he banged on my door.

Suffering a momentary lapse of reality and thinking I must be missing an extravangza of bacon and eggs or noodle soup, I rushed to the table to discover three slices of plain white bread, a tablespoon of jam and a small cube of watermelon. A CUBE. I nearly cried.

Brow beaten, I ordered a coffee and was presented with a cup of instant, with powdered milk.

It was then that I realised I was on the Viet Cong "Punish All Westerners" tour (it was probably mentioned in the small print of my ticket) and that it wouldn't stop until we were all communists. Or too tired to complain anymore, whatever came first.

Looking around the empty dining room I began to hope that some of the other passengers hadn't made it through the night, so I could eat their breakfasts. It was not to be.

Desperate for something more, Sylva asked for some cookies ("Biscuits, food, anything?") and a 3 year old packet of Oreos was produces, the only other foodstuff on board. Clearly the crew had brought five apples, one watermelon and a fuckload of tofu for the whole two day journey.

So we began the trip back to Halong City, this time with no lunch (obviously the ONE esky they had brought all our supplies in was empty), although we did pick up some more passengers at Cat Ba island (many of whom enjoyed telling us how nice their hotel and dinner had been) including the chipper American couple from my minibus-of-death. They actually turned out to be Canadian, which made me warm to them a bit more until they began a discussion of the Canadian tax system that lasted the rest of the journey.

It's nice to be back in Hanoi.

CHOOK MERNG NUM MOY - Happy New Year, and see you on the weekend. :)

xx

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NHA TRANG to HANOI: One too many massages, and a thousand miles behind...

I arrived in Nha Trang after a fairly uneventful flight from HCM and was immediately being outrageously ripped off by a taxi driver. At least, I thought I was. He wanted 170,000VND (about $17) to drive me into town, which according to my Rough Guide was about 250m away from the airport. Being a street-smart traveller I guffawed in his face and showed him the map in the book, making sure he understood not to mess with me BECAUSE I KNEW NHA TRANG, BUDDY. As it turns out, I didn't know Nha Trang and neither, it seemed, did my Rough Guide, which even though is only 2 years old was already out of date. He guffawed in MY face and said "No no... is OLD airport. This NEW airport. 35km to Nha Trang."

Bugger.

So I hopped on a minibus instead, which cost me the princely sum of $3.50 and turned out to be a taxi anyway as no one else got on and they drove me straight to my chosen hotel on Biet Thu Street, Nha Trang's backpacker strip. Actually, they drove me to the place next door, assuring me it was much better. Sigh. As I pulled up I tried to explain to their enthusiastic doorman that I actually wanted to go NEXT DOOR but he didn't seem to hear me as he lugged my heavy bag up the stairs to reception. Souble sigh. So I was forced to look at a room, which was actually quite good for $12 - air con, TV, fridge, swimming pool AND A BATH! I was most excited. But all in all the place felt a bit sterile and soulless (it was quite a new place) so I said "Maybe later" and trudged next door instead, which was where I had wanted to go all along.

The Perfume Grass Hotel thankfully didn't have the perfume of grass wafting through it (although with all the hippies hanging around it might as well have) and was really quite groovy. I got a room for $9 - no air con or bath, but the weather was cool enough to get by with just a fan, and they had free internet in the looby. Plus the staff were so friendly and the room was so cute that I took it.


Completely unrelated photo, but look how good this Pho is!

I spent my first night just wandering around. Took a walk along the famed beach, which actually was disappointingly crap - brown, pebbly sand, choppy water and rubbish everywhere (more plastic bags on the sand than people at that stage of the day). Sat down on the esplanade, the coconut palm-lined Tran Phu, and watched the world for a while.

It appears the Vietnamese are obssessed with knowing their height and weight at all stages of the day. Or perhaps they're just curious about how fat us Westerners really are. I say this because everywhere you go there are men and women pushing around these bizarre contraptions that look like bad Dr Who props - a sort of electronic shower head on a pole with wheels. You stand on the base and a laser reads your height through the shower head, and it's displayed along with your weight on an electronic screen on the side. I can't imagine someone like me being able to complete this process without a crowd of Vietnamese onlookers standing around waiting for the results. Yeah, like I need the whole of Vietnam to know how fat I am.

Not surprisingly these guys don't get much trade from the tourists, and you see them standing on corners, completely baffled as to why they're not getting any business. In a country where putting on weight is seen as a good thing, you canperhaps understand where they're coming from. It's just that we do't join them intheir enthusiasm.

Although it could be more to do with the fact that the machine breaks into an electronic version of Celine Dion's 'My Heart Will Go On' every 30 seconds. The theme from Titanic? What are they trying to say?

The other trade that doesn't do so well with the tourists are the street vendors who sell dried flattened squid. They walk around with them hanging up, pinned to wires. At first i thought you were meant to use them in soups or stews, to reconstitute them. Then i noticed the squuezy bottles of chilli sauce in the vendors' baskets, and realised you're just supposed to eat it as is. They hang around outside the backpacker bars at night - presumably hoping to cash in on drunken young men in displays of bravado ("Wey hey, let's get a squid Wozza!") but everyone typically ignores them. The Vietnamese alternative to a late-night yiros, I guess.

Anyway, back to Nha Trang. After a night of doing not very much except getting about five massages at various venues around Biet Thu, I spent my first proper day at the Thap Ba hot springs centre. I agreed, as their promotional poster suggested, that "soaking in hot mineral mud is very interesting", so paid about $20 for the privilege. It was well worth it, and then some. I put my stuff in a locker and was shown to a wooden tub under an umbrella overlooking a beautiful tree-lined lake. How's the serenity? The attendant turned a tap and a stream of warm mud flowed into the tub, looking like Willy Wonka's chocolate river. I hopped in and the attendant took a half coconut shell on a stick and ladled mud over my head, and then I sat there, soaking, for about 20 minutes. The mud was very thin and a little sticky, with a very fine grittiness to it. It was fantastic just sitting there, in mud, with such a pretty view from the top of the hill.


I think it's time to change the water...

After washing off in a shower, I was directed to a stone wall that I had to stand in front of. I didn't quite know why, until someone somewhere flicked a switch and water starting jetting out of tiny holes all over it. It was supposed to be a hydro massage, but felt more like I was standing in a broken, cold shower mounted too low on the wall. Coupled with the uncomfortable bed of pebbles I had to stand on while this was happening, I reckon the VC could have successfully used this as a torture device for GIs during the war.

The hot baths were a welcome relief from the jet-wall, and as the friendly sign assured me "Time to take here is endless". Cool. So I splashed about a bit before heading on down to the swimming pool area, surrounded by lounge chairs and bamboo huts. I was pleasantly surprised to find the pool was also heated - 38 degrees to be precise. I don't know why I thought the hot springs would have a cold swimming pool. I lolled about in the pool for a bit, then sat under the heated waterfall for a bit, then toddled off to have a massage, in which I think the masseuse walked on my back. I'm not quite sure, but at one stage she did yank my neck so violently that I heard a ripple of cracks and wondered if I might now enjoy life as a quadraplegic. Fortunately not.

At the end of the massage she handed me a piece of paper that had various boxes on it with 'Good', 'Very Good', 'Bad', 'Excellence' written next to them, which I gathered I had to tick according to her performance. Even though it was one of the most painful massages I've ever had, I ticked 'Excellence' so she wouldn't be taken out the back and shot by the boss. Then she pointed to a dotted line next to which was written 'Tip'.

I had already paid for the service (an extortionate 60,000VND) so I felt a bit annoyed, but also noticed that the dotted line was rather long - did she want money, or advice? I was going to write "Next time don't do it so hard" but instead asked her "Money?"

"Yes, money," she said, as if I was completely stupid (which is probably fair enough - why would they want my advice on how to massage?)

So I wrote 20,000VND, which was way too much, and wondered when I'd have to pay it. As it turned out, never, because I wandered out without anyone so much as looking at me funny. That's the kind of tipping system I like.

I was directed into a 'steam bath', which was one of the most harrowing three minutes of my life (probably another VC torture device turned into a tourist attraction). A tiny room is pumped full of lemon-scented steam so much so that you can't see your hand in front of your face. Or the man sitting across from me, as it turned out.

"Hello!" he said cheerily.
"Hello," I said, not knowing what else to say to a man in a steam bath that wasn't pornographic.

He seemed very relaxed - more so than me, as I could hardly breathe and was sweating buckets. As my eyes adjusted to the swirling gusts of steam, I noticed that this man was actually VERY relaxed, as he had taken off his pants and was sitting there completely naked.

"Lemon leaves, very nice," he said.
"Yes," I said, wondering if this steam bath WAS actually going to turn pornographic.

Fortunately he put his shorts back on and left, and I left soon after, fearing I might die of suffocation and naked man exposure.

After leaving Thap Ba I went to the Cham Towers - massive stone structures built hundreds of years ago (or maybe it's thousands?) but they weren't all that exciting. Took a few photos, ignored the postcard sellers, and then went to the big white Buddha, which is all the name promised it would be.


Guess which Nha Trang attraction this is

Unlike the Cham towers, the Buddha was free to enter. Free, that is, if you discount the sad-faced old women trying to sell you postcards at every step of the way. Ignoring them all I pressed on up the stairs, until a young girl with a laminated nametag approached me.

"It's ok, I won't bother you, I live here with the monks and go to school. I can show you around," she said.

I should have known the only free lunch you get in Vietnam is included in your hotel room, but her nametag was LAMINATED. She must be ok.

After answering various questions about Australia (I was impressed she had heard of Adelaide) I was joined by another boy, also with a nametag, who gave me the same speech.

"It's ok, I won't bother you, I live here..." etc.

Eventually at the top of the hill, just when I thought things were going so well, out came the postcards. Those FUCKING postcards are everywhere in Nha Trang, they're even less easily escapable than The Quiet American in HCM.

"You buy postcards, help our school, we have no money," the boy said.
"You buy postcards, help our school, we have no money," the girl said.

How much?

"You buy two set, 200,000VND."

WHAT THE? That's about $20. You've got to be fucking kidding me. Do they teach you maths at this school? I don't know anywhere in the world where it's acceptable fo pay $20 for postcards.

"It's for our school, we no have money," he said.

I tried to tell them that after $20 for postcards I too would have no money, but they didn't accept this and just kept looking at me with sad faces and making me feel guilty.

I didn't even want any damn postcards, but eventually I gave them 50,000 ($5) just to piss off, and they gave me one set which, as it turned out, is pretty crap. Sigh. Sometimes I think I'm just too nice.

I returned to Biet Thu and began looking around for a place to eat. I settled on a seafood restaurant with long boats of ice and fresh prawns, lobster, crab and fish lying on them - it looked marvellous. it was marvellous actually, despite the fact that the waiters seemed to have immense trouble working out my order.

"A pineapple shake, Vietnamese pancake, some garlic bread and a prawn hot pot, please," I said, carefully pointing out everything on the menu.

Two minutes later.

"You want garlic bread?"
"Yes."

Three minutes later, another girl arrives.

"Vietnamese pancake?"
"Yes."

A minute later, a different girl still comes over.

"Garlic bread?"
"Haven't we been through this before?"

Eventually they brought my food over, but as they put it down they looked rather cautious, as if they still might not have it right. They didn't - I got a fish hot pot instead of a prawn one.

As I waited for the replacement, a street kid comes up to my table. "You want buy postcard?"

GOD NO, NOT MORE POSTCARDS. I couldn't handle it.

"No, I don't want any, go away."
"Maybe later?"
"Maybe."

With a "I wait you, you finish, I come back" he walked away and I mistakenly thought I had gotten rid of him for good. Not a chance. As soon as I finished my meal he was back.

"You buy postcard now."
"No I don't want any."
"You said later," he complained.
"No, YOU said later, I said MAYBE."
"YOU NO SAY MAYBE, YOU SAY LATER!"

Jesus, this kid was getting aggro. I began to get a little worried.

"I said maybe, and now I don't want any, so go away."
"You a LIAR! You no want to be liar, you buy postcard."
"I don't care if you think I'm a liar, I'm not buying any bloody postcards, so bugger off."

He did bugger off, but not before standing out the front of the restaurant glaring at me for 10 minutes, followed by a sulky walk down the street, yelling out "LIAR! LIAR! LIAAARRRRRRR!" as he did so.

Welcome to Nha Trang.

After this exciting day of postcards and annoying kids, I decided to get out of town for a bit and took a boat tour to the neighbouring islands for some snorkelling and R&R. The water was beautiful and warm, but there wasn't much to see in the way of snorkelling - dead coral and a few fish - so I figured time was better spent sunning myself on the boat and going for the occasional dip.

The tour group was a real mixed bunch of old and young, Vietnamese and Westerners. I think Nha Trang is a popular holiday spot for locals, and there were quite a few on the boat, so every notice by the tour guide had to be given in both languages, which took forever. It was like one of those comedy sketches:

"Fernn munng hoy thap hunng buy iot gerr fraam mung mung hut herrg yun bert hung yio poy murng phoo hurry nunng merrhh."

"Welcome."

Typically enough, there was a bunch of young Australian girls on the boat (18 year old North Shore princesses, I think) who were so skinny that even if they all huddled together in a group could still do a passable impression of a toothpick. they spent the whole trip sun bathing and complaining about their "fat rolls". I wanted to throw them overboard but I knew they wouldn't sink, so there was no point.


Well HELLO there, you lovely...oh wait, it's me.


Got chatty with a German guy called Thomas, and a Canadian couple from Korea called Aaron and Michelle, who were very funny. Michelle and I bonded by bitching about the thin Australian girls - go sisterhood!

We visited a few more islands before the tour guide and his friends started setting up instruments so they could "entertain" us with their band. I have never seen a dodgier drumkit in my life - it was covered in rust and looked positively pre war. Nevertheless, the drummer went through the motions of tuning it (at least, I think that's what he was doing) before they kicked off into a rendition of 'Yesterday'.


Yesterday, I found my drumkit in a dumpster

And actually, it wasn't that bad. Everyone was a little bit pissed and sun-happy, so we all started clapping along and singing, and before long it was a right little party. Finally they invited everyone to get on the table and dance, and they played 'Let's Twist Again' while we all bounced around on the table, trying not to smack our heads on the low roof. It was like a scene from one of those crazy 1960s beach movies. I kept looking around for Gidget and Moon Doggie.

After taking us to the final island (a COMPLETELY unremarkable fishing village with absolutely nothing to offer - even though Thomas' Lonely Planet said "not to be missed") we were taken back home. Me, Thomas, Michelle and Aaron agreed to meet up later where I had promised to meet Aussie Peter from Saigon.


The most exciting thing about the fishing village were their groovy saucer boats


We had dinner, then hit the Guava bar which for those back in Adelaide was a lot like the Lotus Lounge, very cool.


The Guava bar


And then after that I don't remember much... We went to the Sailing Club, a very swanky place on the beach with a heaving dancefloor and great cocktails. I remember having quite a few 'jam jar' rum cocktails - they actually serve it to you in a jam jar - and talking to some local guy who said he was from the moon., which went a little like this:

"I'm from the moon, where you from?"
"Australia."
"What you do?"
"I'm a journalist."
"Ahh you write about Vietnam?"
"Maybe."
"You write what you like, ood or bad, I don't care - I'm from the moon."

He then insisted my father must be Vietnamese because I had dark hair, ignoring the fact that I have blue eyes and am almost 6 foot tall, and then danced off into the night. Strange people, these moon men.

When this place closed at 1am (PATHETIC or what?) we carried on to the Y Not? bar, of which I have very little memory, except for drinking something out of a coconut and staggering home at around 4am to wake up the doorman.

I woke the next day at around 11.45am with a STUNNING hangover, the likes of which I have never suffered before. Those fucking jam jars. Given that I had to leave the hotel at noon to catch a plane, I skipped a shower and spent a frantic 15 minutes throwing everything into my bag. I have since discovered I have lost several pairs of underwear, which is only to be expected. (I assume I lost them in this mad panic, but after those jam jars who the hell knows.)

Arrived at the airport looking like I had bird flu, or SARS, or possibly both, and then suffered a horrible flight to Hanoi. Our in flight lunch was the grimmest sandwich I have ever seen, served with warm water. I wanted to take a photo but my hangover prevented me from doing anything other than breathing, so I couldn't.

And so I arrived in Hanoi, looking and feeling like utter shit, and wishing I had somewhere to sleep, or throw up, or preferably both (but not in that order). I wanted to get a taxi. I SHOULD have gotten a taxi. It would have been expensive but it would have been worth it, given my state. Instead I agreed to hop on a minibus, which was empty. I thought I might be lucky enough to get the same minibus service I did in Nha Trang. I was wrong.

Sitting in the corner clutching my water bottle and hiding my bloodshot eyes behind my sunglasses, I was joined by an extremely chipper American couple who were way too enthusiastic for me to stand. I got out my book to make it clear I didn't want to talk and was happy when they didn't sit next to me. I later wished they had, when a Vietnamese woman hopped on and sat next to me instead, immediately getting out her mobile phone and sending text messages to, oh, EVERYONE IN HER ADDRESS BOOK.

Do you know how long it takes to write a text message in Vietnamese? Every letter has about six different accents on it, which I guess has to be selected from a menu inside the mobile phone. Thus I was subjected to "BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP" for almost the entire journey. I was on the verge of turning to her and saying "WHY DON'T YOU JUST FUCKING CALL THEM!" when she did something even more distracting - picking her nose. And I don't mean just doing the sly pick thatpeople do in cars at traffic lights, I mean a full-on nose-mining session. This woman was attacking her face with such enthusiasm I thought she might do herself an injury. This was followed by bouts of snorting, which in my delicate state was enough to make me want to vomit out the window. I have never been so grossed out in all my life.

And so the journey progressed: BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP *snnoooororrrrrrrrt* BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP *snooorrrrrrrrrrt gag spit* BEEP BEEP BEEP....

Jesus H, get me out of here.


Hanoi

Alas, my ride was not to be a short one. The minibus driver attacked the city as if he had no idea where he was, driving around and around until even I began to recognise the places we had been before. What the HELL was this guy doing? Everyone seemed to have paid different prices for the same service (the Americans and I paid $3, a girl in the back paid $6, and two completely clueless French tourists paid 8 EUROS EACH!!), but it didn't seem to make any difference to the driver, who dropped people off at random, and not necessarily at their chosen destination.

Feeling decidedly queasy (those FUCKING jam jars) and getting ever closer to vomiting on the woman next to me, I glanced out the window and noticed we had passed my street.

"Hey, isn't that my street? Hang Hanh?" I said.
"Yes, yes, ok, you get out and walk back," said the helpful bus driver, who by this time had driven about three blocks from it.
"What the hell? I'm not walking, my bag's heavy and you're supposed to drop me off at my hotel," I said, abandoning all niceties in the face of my hangover.
"No, you get out please."
"It's so FAR and my bags are heavy!" I pleaded.
"Ohhh come on, not far, not far. You walk."

Yeah, like what is this? A minibus or something?

Pissed off, I took my bags and trudged off down the street towards Hang Hanh and my chosen hotel, the Win, where I had stayed last time I was here.

Feeling REALLY ill by this time, it was all i could do to suppress a hearty "FUCK OFF!" to all the smiling men on motorbikes who offered me rides, and fell through the door of the Win, demanding a room at any price. At $20, this is the most expensive place I've stayed in vietnam, but I didn't care. I climbed the awful six flights of stairs to my room and collapsed into bed, but not before a healthy spew in the bathroom. Fantastic.

After an hour's sleep I roused myself to go out to dinner (all i had eaten that day was a small tube of Pringles and the grim sandwich) and again, I couldn't be bothered finding anywhere cheap, or good. Anything would do at this point, as my hangover still hadn't gone away (it was 9pm at this point) and wherever I walked I felt like I was tottering on a boat deck.

Found a cafe on the edge of Hoan Kiem lake, Hanoi's picturesque centrepiece, and ordered the worst Margarita pizza I've ever had (this time I didn't succeed in getting any basil) delivered with the slowest and worst service I've ever had. The restaurant was called The Little Kitchen, which may explain why it took about half an hour to get my dinner (perhaps it's so little they can only make one dish at a time) and I have no hesitation in not recommending the place to anyone ever.

I went back to the hotel and passed out watching American Chopper on the Discovery channel, and so passed my first horrible night in Hanoi.

Today I am still not feeling the best (those FUCKING JAM JARS) and plan to wander around aimlessly buying things at whim. Tomorrow I will take a tour to Halong Bay, staying overnight on the boat, and returning for one more night in Hanoi before leaving on the morning of the 19th to come home.

Let's hope things get a bit better in this town. Perhaps I'll get on the Berocca.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

THE MEKONG DELTA: PetStarr does the Delta.

After conquering the Cu Chi tunnels on my one-day tour from HCM, I figured there was time to fit in a two-day sojourn to the delta, so back to TNK (venerable home of the delightful Mr Thong) I tramped.

For US$18 they'd drive me there, feed me lunch and give me a night's accommodation, as well as a tour of the area, which I felt was more than reasonable. As it turned out, it was a bloody good deal.

Our first stop was to get off the bus and hop on a boat to visit a marketplace in god knows where (I have a feeling it might have been the town of My Tho, but no one really had a clue) where we had a generous 15 minutes to look around. You could buy fresh pineapple, cut so that the woody part of the stalk forms a stick to hold it with, or all kinds of crazy fruits you can't get back home. One woman was selling fried bananas with some kind of coconut yoghurt on them - absolutely amazing, and only 30 cents.




Yes, we have LOTS of bananas...


Then we cruised around the river a bit more, looking at the scenery - no tropical forests or picturesque riverbanks here. Thousands of people live in these shanty huts that are so badly (yet ingeniously) constructed you can't imagine how they don't all just collapse into the river. I was hoping our accommodation wouldn't look quite like this.




Travelling on the cheap? Try our delightful riverside cottages...


We cruised down the river a bit more and ended up at 'Turtle Island', a sort of mangrove mound in the middle of the Mekong, where we had lunch - pretty boring meal of instant noodles with tofu or beef, and some fruit (hey, what do you expect when lunch is included?)




A fishing boat on the Mekong.


After that we took a trip to a place where they make coconut candy by crushing the coconut flesh to get the milk and cream, and then mixing it with caramelised sugar before rolling it into lengths and chopping it up. I am crazy for coconut, so I bought way too much of it and consequently have to carry about 2 kilos of the stuff on my way to Hanoi. C'est la vie. We had cups of lemon and honey tea in the coconut thatched hut, and "enjoyed" some traditional Vietnamese music. I'm sorry, I know it's thousands of years old and steeped in CULTURE and you guys love it, but really... to me it just sounds like "Haaaeeyyyyyyy honnny honnnny hunnnnnggggg... AAAEEEIIIIEEEEEEEEEE feeeerrnnnny honny merrrnnnng...." It's just terrible, and explains why no decent pop song has ever come from Asia. Sorry, the truth hurts.

After the coconut craziness the tour guide (Phuc - a very groovy looking guy who never took his sunglasses off) announced we were now "Get in rowboat". Oh dear. Fortunately, it wasn't US who had to do the rowing, but some poor overworked Vietnamese girl who yabbered the whole way to her mates on the other boats (probably about how fat we all were and how she longed for a lighter load).



She's only smiling because we haven't gotten in the boat yet.





PetStarr does the Delta.



The view from the front of the boat as we journeyed down a tributary of the Mekong.


After many hours of "messing about in boats" we finally made our way back to the bus for a wonderful three hour ride to Can Tho (pronounced Can Tur), the biggest city in the Delta and our stop for the night.

On the boat I had gotten chatty with another Aussie from Perth called Bronwen, so when the hotel announced "TWO PERSON ONE ROOM" we buddied up and checked in together. Another aussie from Sydney, a guy called Peter who I had met on the Cu Chi tunnels tour did the natural Aussie thing and became pseudo-guide, yelling out "IF ANYONE'S KEEN FOR DINNER MEET DOWN HERE IN HALF AN HOUR" which seemed like a good idea to us.

And so I met Peter, the engineer from Cronulla ("Don't even ask me about the riots, mate, it was a nightmare,"), Sam, the engineer from New York ("I'm not a REAL New Yorker, I've only lived there a year..."), Casper and Mary, engineering students from Copenhagen ("Why are there so many engineers here?"), Mary, the American economics student from Korea, and Guy, the retired guy from Italy. Or was it Canada? Or France? No one could tell. He turned out to be the group's resident weirdo - there has to be one in the pack. (After we all laughed heartily at the "Chateaubriand with spaghetty" on the menu, he actually ordered it. Enough said.)

On the way to dinner we saw a man being "cupped" on the street - that is, he was lying down on a towel while a woman flashed a lit torch around and stuck glass jars onto his back. Apparently this ancient technique is supposed to suck toxins out of your skin, or relax you, or something. Gwyneth Paltrow made it famous when she rocked up at a movie premiere with the distinctive scars on her back, but I bet Gwynnie never did it like this.




Looks REALLY relaxing, doesn't it?


As we all stood around and took photos of this poor man trying to enjoy his relaxing treatment (well he WAS on the street) the other cupping man says "You want try? You want try?" Our intrepid leader Peter was the first to volunteer. He thought he was going to get a sample - maybe a cup on the arm. We ALL thought he was going to get a sample. Apparently not. 20 minutes later Pete's still lying on the ground, with this guy going crazy putting cups all over his back, bending his legs, standing on his butt and massaging him. It was all rather amusing - especially when the next day the welts still hadn't gone down. Hopefully customs will let him back into Australia and not think he has some strange bird flu variant.

We found a restaurant called 'Mekong', which we thought was highly appropriate, and had a great dinner, getting completely drunk on Tiger beer with Peter leading the charge ("Come on guys, one more, where's your Aussie spirit?") and then I had to mention snake wine and well... I think you can see where this is going.




Good for what ails ya.


After four big bottles of Tiger each, and a shot of snake wine, it was 1am. Given that we had to get up at 6am to resume our tour, we felt it was a good idea to go back to the hotel. Well, a sensible idea anyway.

The next day was much more relaxed than the first (although all the Aussies were nursing extreme snake-wine induced hangovers) - they took us by river to the Can Tho floating markets, where all the local farmers get out on their boats and sell everything from pineapples to lettuce, tomatoes, bottles of beer and everything else, all from boat to boat.




"You want buy pineapple?"
"No, I just want to take your photo."
"HIIYA HIYAA FUNNG MOONG..!!! etc."


After that, thankfully, they plopped us on a lot of smaller boats and just cruised us around - no tour guide spiel, no talking, no hassles, just cruising. Very, very nice. I had a nice little snooze as we breezed down the Mekong, before ending up at a place where they make rice noodles. Not all that interesting really, but we did learn that these people only make US$14 a month. Made us all feel pretty bad for haggling over the price of food back in the city.




I bet SHE doesn't complain about the price of her noodles.





Another contender for CUTEST PHOTO OF THE YEAR. I'm really outdoing myself with these.


Speaking of haggling - I know I've been banging on a bit about the price of things and "being ripped off" etc. but ultimately I know that someone's ended up with money they need more than I do. What really pisses me off are these travellers who come here to "experience the real Vietnam" and then lord it over all the locals. I'm looking at the French here. Guys, you haven't owned this place since 1945, it's time to let go now.

Waiting for our tour bus to go home in Can Tho, I bought an ice cream from a street vendor (mango and vanilla cone, superb). Then some French woman comes over, completely to type - linen pants, long salt and pepper hair gathered back with a tortoiseshell pin and Birkenstocks. She says "How much did you pay for that?"

"14,000," I say.
"Huh. Double," she says, with her nose in the air.

I knew exactly what she meant, but I figured I'd let her have her moment to prove her thorough and enviable understanding of the Vietnamese pricing system.

"Double what?"
"Double everywhere else. It's a rip off."
"Yeah, well to me that's $1.40, so WHO GIVES A SHIT?" I say, and walk away postively loving my ice cream. She really pissed me off.

Finally, thought I'd post this photo of an interesting soft drink they have here that New York Sam ordered on our way home.




Bad marketing ideas #122: calling your yellow coloured soft drink 'Number 1'.


And before I forget - another photo from Hong Kong of a guy I found amusing.




The beasts do what now?

Monday, January 09, 2006

SAIGON PART THREE: In which PetStarr has a weird religious experience and discovers she has claustrophobia.

Phew. I hope you guys are enjoying these photos; it's taken me nearly three bloody hours to put all these postings together (see SAIGON parts ONE and TWO and photos from Hong Kong.) Still, the night is young and many beers are yet to be consumed, so all will soon be well.

Today I hopped on a tour bus and took a day trip out of HCM, under the charge of the fabulous Mr Thong. This guy was a real character, and seemed to have memorised the entire Aussie slang book as every few minutes he'd come out with a "Shake a leg, everyone!" or a "I'm flat out like a lizard drinking today!" or my personal favourite: "So many people on this tour, I'm as busy as a one legged man in an arse-kicking contest!" Absolutely classic. His English, as you can no doubt tell, was near perfect - he used to teach English in the Mekong Delta for 23 years before moving to HCM to work as a tour guide. Now he likes to learn new phrases from his travelling companions, so I taught him "Going off like a frog in a sock" and "To go like the clappers", which he found very amusing.

Our first stop was to the Cao Dai temple of the Holy See - a beautifully ornate temple about 50km out of HCM where monks and followers practice Cao Daism, a small and strange religion that counts for about 2% of Vietnam's religious makeup.

According to Mr Thong (and my Rough Guide), Cao Dai is a mixture of several other religions, inluding Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. As Mr Thong said: "They believe in everything." Nothing like having an each-way bet on getting into heaven, eh?



A worshipper at the entrance to the temple.




Priests outside the temple.




This woman was so old, her little face looked like a dried apple.


If that's not strange enough, they also worship three saints, one of which is Les Miserables author Victor Hugo. What the?



The man himself, author and (apparently) religious leader, Monsieur Hugo.


We had a look around the grounds, into the topiary and bonsai garden and also inside the temple itself, which is what I imagine Disneyland would look like if it were a temple: brightly coloured with statuettes and carvings everywhere, and with sprinklings of glittery stars on the roof. When this dotty religion dies out, this place will make a kick arse nightclub.



Inside the Cao Dai temple. The girl in black was stepping illegally onto the centre aisle, and was later taken outside and shot. Kidding! They just bashed her around a bit.




A dragon carving outside the temple.


We stayed to see a bit of their worshipping ritual which they practice every day at noon. This involved dozens of men and women in white robes and turbans kneeling in the great hall and bowing occasionally, while a band played in the balony with a choir of young girls singing. It was quite beautiful.



The male worshippers before they processed into the hall.




I was lucky enough to capture this lovely moment before the ceremony started. Another contender for cutest photo of the year.


After lunch, we travelled to Cu Chi to see the infamous Cu Chi tunnels. Carved out of the earth by Viet Cong guerillas during the war, the VC used the tunnels to hide from bombings and travel from place to place unseen. There were around 250km of tunnels at the peak of the war; some even went right under the US army base so the VC could gather intelligence by listening under the floor. Now there are only a few tunnels left, and the only one open to the public is this 100m stretch in Cu Chi.

Before you get to the tunnels all tourists are forced to sit through a seemingly interminable black and white video made in 1967 about the VC, that is rather anti-American (to put it mildly). Filled with such insightful phrases as "The G.I's attacked the peaceful village of Cu Chi like wild animals, firing the bullets of Washington D.C into women, children and animals." Hmmm... moving on to the tunnels...

Originally just 60 x 80cm wide, the tunnels have been widened to accommodate fat Western arses - but they're still far from comfortable.



Obviously this one hadn't been widened yet...


Being a big strong girl and not afraid of the dark, I knew I could make the full 100m stretch and enjoy the full tunnel experience. As it turned out, I couldn't, and escaped at the first exit 30m along. The tunnels are an absolute hell hole: incredibly dark, musty and dank. I can't even imagine what they would have been like originally. People lived in these things for weeks on end, only coming up to shoot the enemy before going back down again.

Mr Thong showed us all manner of booby traps set by the VC - horribly ingenious bamboo-sprung traps with 9 inch spikes nailed into them, designed to clamp around your leg or waist when you fell through the camouflaged top. Nasty.

Anyway now I'm back in backpacker land, and after three hours of blogging and uploading photos I think it's time for dinner and a drink.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Mekong Delta for two days, then it's back for one more night in HCM, then off by plane to Nha Trang on the 11th.

Keep sending me text messages, they keep me company and make me feel good.:)

xxx
P