In March, 2016, my third attempt to see Ho Chi Minh was a success. I’d tried twice before then, but the first time I wasn’t wearing pants or close-toed shoes, and the second his mausoleum was closed. An intrepid young lady and I had left our Hanoi hostel early in order to arrive a few minutes before the shrine officially opened. We got to the grounds, walked through the unoccupied ticket booth, along the paved lanes, out into a large courtyard, and up to the very front of the line.
To our left rose the leader’s black-marble resting place. Ceremonial guards in white uniforms stood at its corners, guarding the entrance too. A man with a clipboard who was setting up queuing barriers looked over at us, glanced briefly at our clothing, then gestured toward the entrance, which we took as an invitation for us to enter.
Moving from the bright hot morning sun to the cool dark interior was fairly shocking, but we kept our composure and climbed the marble stairs. At each landing stood two white-clad guards at rigid attention. We took a right into the central chamber and caught our first glimpse of the deceased patriot lying within his glass and metal sarcophagus. In the viewing chamber with us were at least six guards. My companion and I were walking around the preserved statesman when an urge came over me and I paused, briefly, to give Ho Chi Minh a full bow from the spot where viewing him seemed best. As I was closing my eyes with my hands at my chest and beginning to bend forward, I saw the eyes of all visible guards go wide and snap onto me. The need to honor Vietnam’s erstwhile leader satisfied, my friend and I then quietly exited and went to find breakfast
americanifesto / 場黑麥 / jpr / urbanartopia / whorphan
On my trip through Vietnam last Spring, I went out of my way to eat primarily local food, specifically roadside bánh mì đặc biệt - bread filled with a special combination of ingredients. Whenever hungry I would seek out a person selling sandwiches from a push-cart and let him or her pile on the ingredients, whatever happened to be on hand that day. If they had spicy sauce, I would ask for it, although I have since forgotten the word. A local sandwich of this type usually cost less than two dollars.
It is difficult to describe the joy that would overcome me from quieting my hunger on the side of a busy Vietnamese street whilst eating a slender baguette filled with liver pâté, sliced meats, slivered carrots, parsley, &c. If the vendor spoke some English, we would chat. Otherwise I would eat in contented silence, my presence occasionally drawing in additional customers, it seemed.
My most memorable bánh mì experience occurred in Hoi An, an ancient seaside city of culture and beauty. The evening before my bus left I had come across a woman selling sandwiches from a cart parked in a quiet side-street a few blocks from the farmer’s market. I had parked my rented bicycle and ordered a sandwich, eating it on the sidewalk whilst sitting on a colorful, child-sized plastic chair. The next morning I had checked out of my hostel, gathered up my ruck, and was waiting for the sleeper bus near the market when a pang of hunger hit. Walking down the block I discovered the same cart parked in the same spot, recognizing it from its unique banners and construction. Since the bus had not yet arrived I went quickly to it. The woman’s bánh mì had been the most delicious I’d tasted to that point, and I was excited to sample another.
Rounding the cart I found a man standing there, roughly the same age as the woman of the night before. I greeted him in his tongue, bowing to him respectfully. “Bánh mì?” he said to me, his eyes twinkling merrily. I nodded emphatically, answering him accidentally in Indonesian. He didn’t seem to notice but raised his right hand, first showing one finger, then two, his face mischievously crinkled, a pantomimed query. I raised two fingers, whereupon he nodded and bent to work, using the same hand to grab a pair of short baguettes from a wicker basket resting in the glass case in front of him. After putting the baguettes on a cutting board he picked up a chef’s knife in his right hand, then bent forward so that the stump of his left arm, which had been crudely severed below the elbow, could keep the baguette from rolling away.
Upon seeing the numbers tattooed into the skin near the stump I was instantly reminded of images I had seen in of War Crimes museums of Hanoi and elsewhere that chronicled the punitive, wartime practice of hacking off hands. Since my bus was set to arrive shortly, and figuring it would be rude to do so, I did not inquire as to the nature of the man’s wound. Given his age of roughly 65 years he would have been in his twenties at the start of the American War, however, meaning that he’d been tortured, branded, and disfigured by the invading forces, their allies, or the North Vietnamese Army. The sandwiches he made were as delicious and fortifying as any I have ever tasted. Memories of his twinkling smile, though, and willingness to engage kindly with an American tourist, will nourish and sustain me for far longer.
americanifesto / JPR / whorphan / 場黑麥
In Hoi An, Vietnam, I learned to balance a bottle on my head - while bicycling. The year was 2016. Before then, I’d trained myself to balance things on the top of my head while just standing or walking slowly around. The stars aligned, however, in that ancient and beautiful port city when I moved my halfway empty 1.5 liter bottle of drinking water from the bicycle’s front basket up to the top of my head on the last turn before reaching the local market, down by the river. Riding slowly through the milling crowds, I drew cries of praise, looks of astonishment and dull stares alike. I waved to a few people then kept riding, crossing a busy intersection before pedaling some kilometers out into the suburbs. Occasionally, kids’ minds would be blown upon seeing me cycling past with the bottle balanced on my head; the children, almost always boys, would come running out into the street, pointing at me and laughing, shaking their heads, and giggling as they tried to emulate my efforts with their own bottles. In my experience, there are few methods for bridging cultural gaps as effective as lighthearted self-denigration; people around the world quickly accept into their midst someone who can prove he doesn’t take himself too seriously. And, the day after my discovery, I noticed that the residents of Hoi An seemed to recognize me personally. One or two got my attention, pointed to the tops of their heads, and smiled. A handful of others seemed to nod at me. Of all the things I’ve learned whilst traveling, this skill is both useful and useless, depending on the situation at hand; it’s helpful for making friends with kids but should be avoided around police officers and when wooing attractive young ladies.
© JPR / whorphan / americanifesto / 場黑麥
While preparations for the impeding military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran reach a fever pitch, spokespersons for what was formerly known as the Department of Defense (DOD) of the United States of America have traveled to nations across the globe to spread news of their employer's nominal re-branding. Now called the Department of Wars of Aggression, the government agency formerly known as the DOD decided to change its name to reflect America's new role in the world, that being no longer a nation that defends its own borders or those of its friends but one that frequently violates its own laws and the laws of various international charters by entering into wars of choice against sovereign foreign nations. “Ever since its disastrous police action in Viet-Nam, the American military has been continuously involved in hot conflicts in places such as Nicaragua, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” said Geraldine Fuchs-Kleimman, a former Navy pilot in her 30s who spoke to us from Nigeria via satellite-phone. “Since our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent illegal invasion of Afghanistan not long thereafter, my fellow peons and I have been hearing rumors that this name-change would occur; we're just happy that the Secretary of [previously Defense and now] Aggression finally got his shit together and filled out all that paperwork.” A nation once hailed as the savior of mankind for defeating the Nazi plague that had threatened to grind all of Europe under its murderous jack-boot, America has plummeted recently in the estimation of her fellow nation-states. Having succumbed to the demands of a massive military-industrial complex and allowing nearly her entire society to be controlled by the narrow-minded policies of avaricious, for-profit corporations, however, once-fair Columbia has so drastically changed her tune that she barely resembles the nation she was just a few, short decades ago.
“I remember when we Americans minded our own business and let other peoples figure things out for themselves, enticing them perhaps with our goods and trying to get a toe-hold in their markets but not actually killing them and stealing their oil,” said 75-year-old farmer Henry James Wainschott Jr., proud tiller of soil, from atop a museum-worthy John Deere tractor. “I was reading that nearly $400 billion dollars of the current war budget is used to pay private military contractors. These contractors are the self-same motherfuckers charging two hundred dollars for a single sheet of dry-wall and lobbying like crazy to keep the illegal wars going, bankrupting the American Dream for nine-tenths of Americans with their abject, damnable greed.”
“Truth is, we're running out of foreign nation-states upon whom to wage wars of choice, and aggression,” said 47-year-old Maryland resident and senior analyst Vishay Utilanad, who works indirectly for the Secretary of Aggression [SecAgg]. “Once we give Iran a good drubbing, North Korea and Cuba will be the last things standing in the way of us dealing death, destruction, woe, and torment against the American population itself. Believe me, we've had a lot of practice subjugating unruly populations in the last decade: dust off your slave-shoes, folks, pucker up those suck-holes, and prepare to have all of your remaining constitutional protections revoked, because, like fucking idiots, y'all gave up your rights a long time ago.” The United Nations has issued a statement tentatively praising SecAgg's honesty.
mentiri factorem fecit – 場黑麥
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I bicycle, write, surf, and strive.