A photo I took in the mid-1990s of a soon-to-be defunct bar in the south side Chicago neighborhood where I grew up. There was something totemic about this place for me, and a couple of years ago I posted a different-but-the-same picture and some thoughts here.
P : ” I remember driving in M.’s car on the coldest night of the year to go Ciral’s after a long night of bartending at Tuttaposto. Sadly, M.’s car decided to freeze on Lake Shore Drive and we didn’t know what to do. Luckily, one of Chicago’s Finest pulled up behind us and gave us a ride back to River North. “
M : ” Didn’t D. discover she had an allergic reaction to rum there after drinking a Zombie one night, while a rather down on his luck guy played the Star Wars theme on his kazoo ( over and over )? We also had that big dinner there one night after work where the whole staff of Tuttaposto came down. It was surprising that everyone made it home in one piece. $9 Zombies with 7 different spirits ( mainly rum ), followed by the Planter’s Punch with only 6 different spirits in it, both served in the naked lady glasses. Ahhhh, those were the days! “
P : “ I remember the bartender ( who looked like a bearded, shriveled, pipe-smoking elf ) said to D., “Why so glum?” P.S., I still have two zombie glasses. “
Penang, Malaysia. Over the past few months, all across SE Asia, I’ve been sticking to the promise I made to myself to not buy any records. Collecting things is not what I’m out here to do, I have no way of carrying them safely without a lot of hassle, and it’d defeat the whole pack lightly ethos I’ve been successfully living by. But today, I walked down a different street, and I saw, through the dusty window of a junk shop, stacks of 1960s Singapore-Chinese rock n’ roll 45s with brightly-colored picture sleeves, and my resolve went to hell. Besides, I haven’t bought one thing in Malaysia. I sent some postcards, ( well, I got some new socks, because Myanmar did some pretty terrible things to my footwear, but let’s not dwell on that ) but that’s about it.
Besides, they’re 45s. They’re little. If I can get them home in one piece, and if any of them are any good, I’ll transfer and post them for you,. I know I could connect-the-dots pretty quick on the internets and see what these tunes sound like, but where’s the fucking fun in that? Nowhere. I was excited to find an EP by Rita Chao, who I posted about during my Asia-immersive lead-up to this trip. She is go-go dancing on the cover, exactly as she should be.
Penang, Malaysia. “ Thaipusam ( Tamil: தைப்பூசம் ) is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai ( January / February). It is not only observed in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries where Tamil communities are smaller, such as Malaysia. “
” The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel ( spear or javelin ) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. “
” On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi ( burdens ). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with “ vel “ skewers is also common. “
” The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through the tongue or cheeks reminds the devotee constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. “
” In Malaysia, the temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Kuala Lumpur and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top. Thaipusam is also celebrated at Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple along Jalan Waterfall in Penang. “
If you follow here, there are some things you’ve probably figured out about me : I am detail-oriented, and I like old stuff. These are British tiles ( the similar-looking ones you can still see in the French Quarter in New Orleans are Spanish, I think – correct me if I’m wrong ), some as old as the 1880s, in Chinatown, in Penang, Malaysia. I walked on all of them.
Sorry, I haven’t had much time to spend here. I’ve been in places where there isn’t much internets, or riding in a bus all day, or going to see stuff like this. I walked from one end to the other and back. Every so often there’s a person selling owls, the idea being that you buy one and release it. It’s said that the owls are trained to come right back to the owl-sellers after a little bit of being set free. ( a new sight : owls huddled together in wire cages – also, I don’t imagine I’ve ever yet in my life said ” owl-seller ” )
“ Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa in the south. Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, before being finally supplanted by Mandalay 11KM north in 1857. “
“ The U Bein Bridge is a 1.2KM wooden footbridge ( the longest teak bridge in the world ) and was built in the mid-19th century by the mayor U Bein, salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move to Mandalay. The bridge still serves as the most important communication link for the people of his villages. “
Yangon, Myanmar. I said ” OH SHIT! “ pretty loud. This is a big, noisy city, so nobody heard. I would have been too shy ten years ago, but not now, and , anyway, I look like a big scary Viking to these people. I roll up and start taking pictures of this guy, who is, of course, completely mystified. ( Look at the dude. I’m sorry, dude. )
I just got here last night, and I haven’t even learned to say ” thank you ” or ” can I have the bill, please? ” in Burmese, so, after I’d taken a couple of photos, I pointed at his shirt, and then I pointed at myself, and I said, ” that’s me, that’s my band ” in English. It was all I could do, and I knew he wouldn’t understand, and I knew there was no way to explain it. He looked around at all the other people cooking on the street and laughed and shrugged. It would be cool if he had one of the albums and looked at it tonight and said, ” Oh “.
Yangon, Myanmar. ( if you’re thinking about old-timey times, that’s Rangoon, Burma. )
The city’s full of beautiful old colonial buildings, and this is the first Victorian Buddhist temple I’ve ever seen.
Sangkae River, Battambang, Cambodia. About to come ashore after a 9-hour boat trip.
The church is covered with orange lichen.
1. Go to a Hmong village, buy fresh, handmade noodles.
2. Go to a restaurant on the side of a mountain. The restaurant makes the noodles into pho ( pretty much the same as Vietnamese pho, except the Lao pronounce it more like fur ). Eat pho with driver and guide. #nowthisisliving
Also. Mr.Tey, the guy on the right, told me a joke based on an experience he had. Last year, he took a busload of Dutch tourists to a Hmong village. The driver was going slowly and carefully, but he ran over a chicken. They got out and went to the hut the chicken had been in front of.
Mr. Tey : ” Madame, is this your chicken? We are awfully sorry, but we have killed it with our bus. “
.. I don’t know if it’s the zen state of mind I get into when I travel, or what, but that’s the funniest goddamn thing I’ve heard all week.
And so it is that I find myself in a village in Laos.
We are at the workshop of a man who is a farmer, but who supplements his income by making spoons, as well as bracelets and other trinkets, out of the aluminum parts of the bombs, rockets, and downed airplanes that are always turning up here.
War junk’s all over the place ..
.. and I get used to handling things which would seem pretty crazy at home, but are normal in this context.
He is a friendly and hospitable man, and he boils eggs from his ducks and serves them with homemade chili paste, which we eat with the war spoons.
He pours numerous shots of lao lao whiskey, which is infused with some sort of root ( it looks like ginseng, but it’s definitely not ginseng ). We look at the green mountains, and we get pretty fucked-up, and it’s good, and .. what was I saying again?
Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang Province, Laos. I had to go to the police station today to get a permit to do some sightseeing. In front of the station, there are big stacks of mortar shells, machine guns, bombs, warplane fuel tanks, and tank turrets from the Pathet Lao / Vietcong / Hmong / covert U.S. war. We bombed this country every eight minutes during this period, and the results of our foreign policy are quite evident here, even today.
Thursday, December 6, 2012 • on the 12-hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – somewhere in the middle of it, but I’m trying not to look at the clock. There are some Swedish dudes across the aisle from me, watching South Park and Arrested Development on a laptop, alternately both plugged into an iPod, making guitar faces, and I wish I knew what they were listening to. They’re nice guys, but they stink. They smell like dirty balls.
There’s a German couple ( she’s much taller than he is, and that makes me uncomfortable, make of it what you will ) behind me with a kid who’s 3 or 4. He’s singing little songs to himself and he’s got a doll, a full-on babydoll – so I guess his parents are doing the non-gendered toy thing, which is cool.
There’s a Thai family in front of me who have a 2-year old ( I’m guessing – she can walk, but she’s still sucking on a pacifier ) who is playing a learning game on her Mom’s iPad ( she has two Moms : the iPad belongs to her butch, shaved-headed Mom, not her lipstick Mom – her lipstick Mom has a dolphin tattoo on her wrist, and I wonder, what is it with lesbians and dolphins? It is seemingly universal ) and she is deftly pinching and expanding and toggling through windows, and the game’s in English too. Watching her doing it is kind of mesmerizing.
Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Manila, Philippines. You might think, if you’ve taken a taxi in New York City, that you’ve experienced a crazy hell-ride, but you don’t know what that really means unless you’ve been in a cab in one of the anarchic mega-cities of the future, like Manila.
The driver swerves wildly and repeatedly to avoid hitting people crossing the street, and my walk the day before ( a sweaty 5-mile trudge* up Taft Ave., across McArthur Bridge, up Rizal Ave., and right on Aurora to the entrance to the Chinese Cemetery ) showed me why pedestrians are all over the roads : what sidewalks there are, are completely packed with parked jeepneys, cars, trucks, and motorbikes, so that you’re forced to walk in the gutter. You get used to breathing dust and diesel fumes with vehicles whipping by six inches from you, or you don’t walk anywhere. There are few crosswalks, and the traffic never fucking stops, and if you want to cross the street, you’d better run.
He is young and slightly rakish ( ‘rakish’, here, meaning Oakleys and a bootleg Ed Hardy t-shirt ), but there’s a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and he’s very polite, like everyone here. Mass on Sundays and a baby at home, at least one, I betcha.
Me: Is this Linkin Park?
Him: Yes .. do you like this music?
Me: Um, sure. You? ( it seems rude to say anything negative, and I don’t know how to communicate something diplomatic like“ it’s not my cup of tea “ )
Him: Not really. I like Bad Religion!
Me: ( smiling ) Oh, you’re into punk?
( he pauses, not knowing what I mean )
Him: I also like Bon Jovi!
Me: Oh, so, you enjoy music that has loud electric guitars?
Him: Very much!
I spend the rest of the trip gripping the upholstery tightly and contemplating what our music sounds like, and means to, people from other cultures. I try to imagine what rock n’ roll would sound like to me if I hadn’t ever heard it before, and what I’d make of the distinctions between different styles. Not much, probably.
These aren’t taxis, they’re jeepneys ( learn about jeepneys here ), and although I was intrigued ( I’m not sure why shiny sheet-metal with hand-machined chrome parts isn’t standard elsewhere; these things have a sort of 1940s aircraft-aluminum look to them, and it’s wicked-cool ), I didn’t work up the nerve to ride in one.
* To put it in perspective for New Orleans people : imagine that it’s August in the Dirty Dirty., and you’re walking from the Uptown Whole Foods to Molly’s on Decatur, sucking on black fumes and nearly getting hit by a car every 30 seconds. I swear, if I wasn’t hardened to the weather in the Deep South, I would’ve wilted like a little flower. I managed to figure out how to take the Metro back, thank god.