Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MIA A Little Longer

Hey folks. Looks like I'm not going to get any real time to blog anything this week. I thought I would be able to today but I got an email this morning to invite me down to Baltimore for a job interview next month. As part of the pre-interview process they want me to answer two short essay questions, which are basically why do you want this job and why do you think you deserve this job?

Between all of the work related trips I have to keep taking out to disease-ridden Newark or Brooklyn, the random gig up in the Bronx and another thing going on in my life that I can't quite yet write about, I really won't have any other time to write up the answers to those questions this week.

And seeing how future job security might be a little more important than trying to mildly entertain you fuckers, you will have to go a little longer without my witty repartee.

Looking at the previous sentence, I can't help but wondering when the hell I became an adult. Because that doesn't sound like the me I know at all.

Anyway, I'll get back to posting real stuff soon, starting with the next part of my seemingly never-ending Southeast Asia travelogue. I promise (threaten?) you haven't heard the last of me. Hopefully I'll find some time this weekend or early next week.

Until then, I'll leave you with this line from the song O Freedom off the new Billy Bragg album, Mr. Love & Justice (U.S. release date moved up to April 8th, but I got myself an import copy last week), which I think is the perfect motto for the Bush decade:

O Freedom! What liberties are taken in thy name.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jim Crow Strikes Back

I am loathe to write about a topic that has been way over-discussed in the media and the blogosphere, but I have yet to hear an actual sane point of view about the subject of Obama's preacher.

I have not sought out the clips on YouTube, so I have only seen the snippets that have been shown on the 24-hour news channels. But since it is their MO to show only the most incendiary and controversial of anything, I'm pretty sure I've seen the worst that the reverend said.

I won't even go into the speech that Obama gave on the topic Tuesday because better commentators than I have already said what needs to be said on that subject. I will say that I agree with the people whose point of view is that it was the best speech on the topic of race in America since Martin Luther King, Jr. was still walking the Earth.

But I have watched as newscaster after newscaster has referred to Pastor Wright's comments as "hate speech," "racist," "treasonous," "highly offensive" and even "anti-Semitic." At best, the people who have defended him have tried to take the tack of explaining it away as a guy who grew up in the generation of Jim Crow so we should give him a break.

What I haven't seen is someone stand up and ask what exactly he said that was so wrong. And that's my question, what did this guy do that was so bad? From what I can tell, the thing he said that has everyone's panties in a bunch was to suggest that maybe the United States' foreign policy decisions over years, that has helped to destabilize just about every non-white country on the planet, may have something to do with people hating us enough to want to crash planes into our buildings. Granted, he said it in the form of a hyperbole-laden, god-invoking fervor of a sermon which, as a non-believer, makes me uncomfortable. But besides the fact that the argument is better and more calmly made by someone like Noam Chomsky, what did this guy say that was so offensive?

Even from the so-called "liberal" side of the commentators in the media there has only really been a defense of his right to free speech, and a defense of Obama's right to not have to be pegged with these opinions uttered by someone else, but not the actual point being made.

We are a country founded in the ideas of the Enlightenment (not on Christian dogma as the right-wing history re-writers like to claim) and there was a time in our history that intellectual thought was revered.

When did we become a country of platitudes and conformity? When did we become a place where someone making an opposing argument and they are shouted down with false accusations of hate and bigotry? And when did we become a place that being called a racist by the likes of Pat Buchanan or Sean Hannity could be anything but laughable?

The whole patriotic "my-country-right-or-wrong" dogma is just silly. The idea that we should unconditionally love our country because of the happenstance of being born here is one of the silliest parts of American culture. Those of us that try to criticize our government's actions are labeled with the "blame America first" soundbite that the media is so complicit in lending credence. This nationalistic and jingoistic fervor is exactly the kind of thing that helped the Nazis take power in the 1930s.

Once we take away the ability and the right to take our government to task it's all over. The Orwellian world is upon us.

The sad thing about this whole madness is that the people with the racist agenda are the ones being allowed to accuse others of being racists. From Hannity to Buchanan to the Chicago Tribune's John Kass, they are framing this whole thing as an "Afro-racists agenda" and it is probably working.

Our current president and the new Republican nominee have aligned themselves with people that have laid the blame for the attacks of September 11, 2001 on gay people, abortionists, the ACLU and feminism; and even said that Hurricane Katrina was god's punishment for not doing enough to protect Israel. And they have the gall to accuse Obama of supporting bigotry?

Falwell, Robertson and Hagee get half a second of news coverage for their hate-filled bigoted comments, yet the media can't stop going on and on about Pastor Wright's comments, which are legitimate criticisms of our government and not hate speech.

What started with the attacks on Michelle Obama actually having the nerve to suggest that maybe black people haven't had a lot to be proud of in this country in the past, continues with these attacks on a black man who has the nerve to have an opinion.

What they are really mad about is that an uppity nigger has the chance to become President of the United States, and they plan to do everything they can to stop him.

Unfortunately, I don't have any doubt that they will succeed.

I continue to be ashamed to be an American.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Irish Eyes Are Crying

Sorry I have gone so long without posting (don't say I didn't warn you) but this last week-and-a-half has been a beast. I have had to travel out to Newark, shit hole of the universe, everyday and end up getting home pretty late after being gone for over twelve hours. On Monday I had the added bonus of having to go straight from Newark to the Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn for an evening session I run for students at SUNY Downstate Medical School. For those of you who don't know New York, trust me when I say this is no short hop.

And I had that day after spending the night before out at The Pogues show at Roseland Ballroom.

I had originally gotten tickets for the Saturday night show when they went on sale months ago. But last month Billy Bragg was added to the bill for Sunday night, so I found someone on The Pogues message board to buy the Saturday tickets off of me (thank you Internet!) so I could get tickets for the Sunday show. I couldn't let one of my two favorite singer-songwriters swing through town for a one-off show like that and not go.

The show overall was a pretty big disappointment, though. On paper it looked to be one of those magical, tell your grandchildren you were there, kind of shows. It wasn't.

Billy was great, as he always is, but the room was so fucking big. Roseland is a huge, cavernous space that is not a perfect venue for a guy standing onstage alone with his guitar. But Billy did a great job with his 45 minute set. The crowd was annoying at times while he was playing. Sure, they went nuts and loved it when he pulled out "Power In A Union" or "A New England," but when he played a song off his new album (due out April 22nd) most of the crowd became Chatty Cathys. It happens when you are the opening act, but this is Billy fucking Bragg! Show some damn respect.

I guess I'm just not used to seeing him under such circumstances. Fans at Billy Bragg shows are my favorite concert crowds. We're all Socialists, so we are all really respectful of each other. Nobody talks during the performance and everyone there is really interested in hearing the new songs and listen to Billy explicate his view of the world, not just to hear the "hits." He also usually plays an intimate theatre that holds a few hundred people and not a huge hall that holds several thousand.

But he was still great, so I'm glad I exchanged the tickets.

Then it was time for The Pogues. My wife and I had seen them when they toured the States two years ago, our first chance to see them since they let Shane MacGowan back in the band, and they were great. We had first seen The Pogues about 19 years ago (I can't believe I'm writing that) so we have been fans for a long time. Shane could barely stand up that night in Boston two years before, but he could still sing the shit out of the songs. It was really a sight to behold since he probably should have died from alcohol poisoning many years ago. The crowd was pretty obnoxious that night, but I wrote it off as a Boston thing since most people that live there suck.

It wasn't just a Boston thing, and alcohol-ravaged Shane can no longer sing the shit out of the songs.

The crowd at Roseland was awful. Sometime between when the Pogues broke up to when they got back together they picked up a huge asshole frat boy-type contingent of fans. There were so many backward caps on heads that night I lost track. And they were there more to get drunk than they were to listen to a band. Most everyone was double-fisting beers all night, this being a way to do something Irish for St. Patrick's Day - The Pogues and alcohol. The Roseland was packed with drunk pricks and we couldn't really get away from them. They oversell Roseland so much that the crowd was still packed tight even at the very back.

Don't get me wrong, I have done my fair share of drinking too much at shows. But it getting shitfaced was never my goal. It happens because I forget to pace myself. This crowd was made up of people that were obviously trying to get as drunk as they could as fast as they could.

I just don't remember this from back in the original days of The Pogues. These types of guys were the ones who never heard of them back then. This was such an drunken, testosterone-laden, mosh-pit loving crowd that I felt like I was at a Megadeath show. This was so annoying and it has to be somebody's fault.

I blame the Dropkick Murphys.

This dickhead fan base was created by the likes of Pogues-wannabe bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. They introduced their idiot fan base to their weak-ass version of the kind of Celtic rock The Pogues introduced to the world, and now those fans fill up the shows and fall or sway drunkenly on top of my poor wife.

Well it helps The Pogues make a bunch of money I guess. And they don't have to actually be any good anymore to thrill the moron masses that now make up their crowds. They are just phoning it in. The set list from night to night on this tour has stayed exactly the same and the songs just sound tired. They sound more like a band trying to sound like The Pogues than the actual Pogues themselves. At this point a Pogues cover band would probably be better.

And Shane? The tragic genius that is Shane MacGowan is losing the genius part. I mentioned before that two years ago he could barely stand but could still sing the shit out of the songs. Well now he can barely sing the songs and can no longer stand all the time, apparently.

He actually fell down on stage that night. He wasn't dancing around or anything, he just fell down at the microphone during "Turkish Song Of The Damned" and had to be helped up. It was a pathetic sight.

It is really a shame to see a band I really love become something so weak and pedestrian.

But I guess as long as the drunken fools will still dance and mosh along in their green hats at $55 a ticket, I doubt The Pogues give a shit anymore.

And that's the problem.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eggcast? No That's Not It... Cocooncast? Oh Wait, I've Got it... Papoosecast!

Probably not going to get around to writing much this week, I've got a pretty busy work schedule with a long commute on top of it. So instead of sharing my oh-so-entertaining wit and and wisdom on the world this week I will be slogging my way out to the wondrous wasteland that is Newark (our motto: If you say it fast enough it almost sounds like New York!) in Jersey of the New.

In the meantime, if you're looking for some other bright shiny object to hold your attention for the rest of the week I have just the thing. Seems that a couple of guys I know, for the sake of discussion we'll call them friends, have started some sort of broadcast. Not a broadcast per say, that would require some airwaves, but some other sort of new-fangled type of radio show that is not really a radio show. They use the word "cast" in it as well, I can't seem to remember what it's called......I think it starts with a "P" even though the thing you play it on starts with an "i", which doesn't make any sense at all. Anyway, some kind of fancy 21st-century device that helps your music sound like it is coming straight out of your dad's old 8-track or an AM radio. Ah, the future...

They call it The Conversation with Bob Felcher and Karl Baloneypants (psst...those might not be their real names) and you can find it and listen to it here. And here. And at those virtual stores that sell the tunes to play on those thingies that everyone can't stop fiddling with for five seconds while riding the subway. I don't know how to paste to that link. Apparently there are more ways to download their something-cast than there are people who listen to it.

I don't have one of those thingies so I have to burn them to CDs to listen to them (private to Bob & Karl - stop making them them longer than 40 minutes each and I'll be able to fit two episodes to a disc, you jackasses). That may seem like a waste, especially after you actually hear them, but it all works out in the end - I just take them up to 125th Street and sell them off as the newest Jay-Z mix tape for $5. What could possibly go wrong with that brilliant idea?

Anyway, give a listen, they're kinda funny. You know, in a pathetic loser kind of way. Like the rest of the Internet.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day 10 - War Remnants Museum, My New Favorite Hat & Frogger In Real Life

Even though we had just had two really long days of traveling in a row I was up at 7:00am on November 18th. I had to run down to the backpacker area to hit the railway ticket office. It is the only place to buy train tickets outside of the actual Sai Gon station. We needed to get tickets for a sleeping car on a train leaving the next day and the ticket office was already closed by the time we got into town the day before. There really isn't a good way to get tickets in advance for the Vietnam Railway and I was a little nervous we weren't going to get a sleeping compartment. Getting stuck in just a seat for a 19 hour ride to Hué didn't sound too fun.

Luckily we were OK. He had berths available in first class. I pulled out my wad of Vietnamese Dong and started counting out the fare. It was pretty damn funny to hear a total of one million, two hundred and fifty thousand as a price for something. That tells you something about their currency in Vietnam, too many damn digits involved, kind of like the old Italian Lira. 1,250,000d was about $78, which is a really nice price for two berths in first class for that long of a train ride.

I was going to buy our tickets for the daytime train we planned to take from Hué to Hanoi the day after the first train but I forgot to take enough money with me. I wasn't too worried about that, though, because we only needed seats on that one anyway.

Travel arrangements for that day done I went back to the hotel and got ready for the day. The wife and I had breakfast at the hotel then headed out to the streets.

The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, holy shit. Dealing with crossing the streets in Bangkok and Cambodia had seemed pretty hard up to this point, but now those looked like child's play in comparison. It is really hard to describe what it was like trying to cross the street in HCMC and really do it any justice. The best I was able to come up with is that it was like playing a real-life version of the old video game Frogger. On acid.

At least in Frogger the cars stayed in their lanes. Here you didn't know where they were heading as all the motorbikes and cars would dodge and weave to jump at any open space they found in the madness. It is also really hard to capture in still pictures.

(As I recently discovered, click on any picture in my Asia posts for a much bigger version)

It basically worked like this: When you came to an intersection, you just walked out into the traffic. OK, that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. We learned that you couldn't wait for an opening because one would never actually come. The few traffic lights they had in the city were not always heeded too closely. Many times we had to cross by huge roundabouts where the traffic would never cease. What we had to do was find an opening just in the lane next to the curb and step out. Then we would just slowly make our way across as cars and bikes sped by on both sides of us in each direction. There was a lot of faith involved; you just have to trust that they are going to go around you.

We found, as did a lot of other tourists, that a really good method was to stand right next to a local and just go when they go, sticking right next to them the whole way across. If they are from Saigon and still living they must know what they are doing.

We made our first stop of the day at the huge Ben Thanh Market right around the corner from our hotel. One of those huge Vietnamese markets where you can find anything and everything you want. At the outside walls you can find you fresh flowers and produce...

...and inside just about everything else. Somewhere in this area we bought peanut butter to be able to take with us on our train ride the next day.

We went deeper into the market and it was a maze of goods. Shoes, shirts, handicrafts, nick-knacks, luggage, jewelry, ceramics and just about everything else you could think of. Lisa wanted to buy an áo dài while we were in Vietnam so we kept on the lookout for those. It wasn't too long before we found them; they were in the áo dài section, naturally. The market, like most we would see in Vietnam, was set up kind of like New York with its districts for everything. You want flowers in New York you go to the flower district or for Indian food you hit one of the Indian rows. Or for those of you who watch The Simpson's if you want a hammock you go to the hammock district.

We paused slightly in front of one of the áo dài stalls and we got pounced on quickly, as was the standard method of operation if you stopped for a millisecond and looked mildly interested in something.

A pregnant woman at the stand had Lisa in the stall and was putting them on her in no time, ripping open packages and snapping on the áo dài. While I was standing there watching another woman kept trying to get me to look at stuff, and held up a Polo shirt. I tried to explain politely that I hated Polo and she brought something else that looked very American. At one point she grabbed me hard by the arm and pulled me over to her stand. I eventually wrested myself away from her stand since she had mostly American looking clothes so what would really be the point of that except for paying less than I do back home?

Lisa was almost done trying on áo dài and had picked out two different colors and both black and white versions of the pants that go under them. The pregnant woman looked at me and told me my wife had "perfect Vietnamese body" for wearing the áo dài.

We eventually made our way around to other shops and I picked up a Vietnamese flag t-shirt that I would find out later I paid too much for. Then we hit up a hat stall.

Even though we were in SE Asia Lisa wanted to look at winter hats, because she can never find any she likes back home for under $300.

I really needed a hat, too. Have I mentioned so far in these posts that the whole trip up to this pint has been really freaking hot and humid? Well it was. And really sunny. I already got a slight sunburn and I didn't have a good hat for being in this part of the world. I started looking at hats and trying them on. This stand had just an insane amount of hats sitting out and they had even more in another location, because every time I tried one on and wanted to know if they had it in a different size or color the girl would throw it to another girl who would run off and come back with more versions of the hat.

Lisa got herself something for the winter and I scored the best hat in the world. A perfect traveling hat with a great rim that had instant character the second I put it on.

From here on out almost all of the outdoor pictures of me on this trip will have me wearing the hat, much like this one:

It cost me a total of 30,000d, or about two bucks.

And some point during the trip I decided it might be a good idea to find some sandals. My feet were pretty hot in closed shoes while we were walking around and Chuck Taylor's aren't exactly the perfect walking shoe.

I saw a huge sandal/shoe stall and sat down to try some on.

After being told a couple of times that one I was looking at didn't come in my size I had to just ask which ones I could try on. I've got fairly large feet, but I guess for Vietnam I have monstrous feet.

The girl at the stand put a pair on me and really had to shove them so my heal was right up against the very back. My toes were literally hanging over the front of the sandals and she declared, "Fit perfect!"

I took a different point of view, figuring that having my socks off weren't going to make up the difference. She said that was the biggest one they sold so I moved on. This wouldn't be even close to the last time I failed at finding sandals on this trip.

We took our bounty from the market and dropped it in out hotel room. We only had today as our real full day in HCMC so we decided to follow one of the Lonely Planet's walking tours, with some variation. This took us to most of the major sights in one day.

We hit the War Remnants Museum at one point. A very interesting place to see as an American - the Vietnam War from the point of view of the winners. Most of the grounds of the museum were old fighter, tanks and artillery guns left behind by the American military. I won't really go into a whole detailed version of the tone of the museum but up until Clinton re-established diplomatic ties with Vietnam the name of it was the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes. That really tells you all you need to know.

As we walked through the city we saw signs of the one-party state that seemed pretty obvious in what it was trying to say.

And other random weirdness.

As well as the People's Committee Building with the statue of "Uncle Ho" in the plaza across the street.

We walked a ton that day and ended the tour near the Jade Emperor Pagoda. We were going to hit it up but it was on the other side of a major road with about five lanes in each direction. We decided we had enough of crossing big, busy streets that day and we were getting hungry.

We walked a little ways on our way back to the backpacker area but it was taking too long so we hailed a cab. It was like a five minute ride and I had made the mistake of not getting the price in advance. To be fair, this was the one place we'd been that the guidebooks said that the taxis actually used meters so you didn't need to get the price.

When the guy pulled up to the curb he tried to tell us it was 200,000d ($13) even though the meter read 12,000d (<$1). We weren't about to be ripped off by a guy that was trying to charge us about double what it would cost for a cab in New York at the same distance. He changed his tune to 120,000d when I pointed out the meter, trying to convince us that there was an extra zero there. I argued with the guy and finally told him I would give him 20,000d and no more. He acted all pissed but took it anyway. Guy was idiot, though. We probably would have given him 50,000d if he was honest, because we'd been tipping that well the whole trip.

We hit a vegetarian restaurant on mini-hotel row in the backpacker district the stopped for dessert at the cafe in the fancy and Westernized New World Hotel on the way back. Got an apple tort and a mousse to go. Walking into our room after a day of sweating a lot I don't think air-conditioning has ever felt so damn good.

Next - Vietnam's railroad seems to have the same management as Amtrak

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Odd Fellow

I had to run out today for a few errands, which were basically picking up a paycheck and then grabbing a few things from the store.

I'm sitting on the W train on my way down to transfer to the 1 train at Times Square, alone with my thoughts since I didn't bring my book bag that has my subway reading materials. I catch my reflection in the window and kind of size myself up the way one does to strangers on the train all the time.

I'm sitting there holding my reusable, environmentally friendly cloth shopping bag, wearing cheap black jeans from K-Mart, overpriced black vegan boots, my blue Cambodian Landmine Museum t-shirt I got in Siem Reap and my green sun hat from Vietnam with my longish hair hanging out the back and sides.

I've also got on my black corduroy jacket with my CD Walkman in the left pocket. In the player I've got an album by the Americana/Gothic-country band Blanche and I'm grooving on their version of an old Appalachian spiritual/revival number.

At this moment I couldn't help but think to myself, "Man, I'm a weird fucker."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

President Quack

There was an article in the New York Times today, buried on page A18, that I hope will get more attention than I expect it will. It seems that John McCain has decided to offer an opinion on the cause of autism. This is what he said to a crowd in Texas:

It’s indisputable that autism is on the rise among children. The question is, what’s causing it? And we go back and forth, and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.

Really Senator? Exactly what "strong evidence" would that be?

There has not been a study done yet that has found a link between this preservative, Thimerosal, which contains Mercury, and autism. None at all. In fact, autism continues to rise in children despite the fact that this stuff has been removed from most vaccines.

So where exactly does McCain get this "evidence" he claims to have seen or read if not from the Center for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health or any of the other medical research institutions in our country where this kind of thing is usually investigated?

I think I know. I'm guessing he believes there is strong evidence of such a link because Jenny McCarthy told him there is one. Because hey, if you can't believe breast-implanted blond bimbos who posed for Playboy when it comes to medical science, then who can you believe?

This may not look like much of a problem on the surface, a politician spouting off about something he knows nothing about. But this is a slippery slope we will be heading down if this man becomes President. It is bad enough that the home-schooling kooks have already gotten a lot of publicity for their stupid ideas due to the support they now get from the aforementioned bimbo, who has "written" a book on the subject, because big tits get attention. Now there has been a legitimacy bestowed upon an idea that is pure quackery and very dangerous, as there is evidence that more and more parents are refusing vaccines for their children. You know, those "dangerous" things that eradicated polio and smallpox. This lending of legitimacy to these crazies becomes much more dangerous if McCain becomes responsible for appointing the heads of the NIH and the CDC, not to mention the cabinet post of Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Will the "vaccines-cause-autism" crowd control national health policy? Would public schools around the country be forced to stop requiring students to be vaccinated? Wouldn't that possibly lead to an outbreak of diseases like polio, measles, mumps, etc?

Think this isn't possible? Look at South Africa. The president of South Africa has been majorly influenced by the HIV-denial crowd, and look what has happened to that country. AIDS is decimating South Africa and there is no effort on the part of the government to make the right drugs available or to even promote the idea of safer sex practices. The minister of health there continues to promote the silly idea that AIDS can be treated with proper nutrition and vitamins, which, oddly enough, is pretty much the same idea Jenny McCarthy pushes as a cure for autism.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you allow non-scientists with an agenda to hijack scientific discourse. The idea of a presidential candidate promoting their agenda is horrifying. McCain and President Mbeki of South Africa would get along great.

What will come next, President McCain forcing the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History to say that the world is only 6,000 years old?

Haven't we had an anti-science President long enough?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Day 9 - Floating Market Of Can Tho

When you consider the fact that we were in Can Tho for only about 18 hours we really took an amazing amount of pictures. There was just so much cool stuff to see in this Mekong Delta town.

We woke up early in the morning on November 17th and got to see what the view from our hotel room was like. We were not disappointed.

And we had not one, but two balconies.

We were left an assortment of complimentary items in our room, which included a bag of rice and a bottle of rice vinegar. I suppose it keeps the guests from stealing the towels. And just in case there was any question that we were tourists, being white people in an Asian country and all, Lisa could always put on the free hat and confirm it.

We were up early for our breakfast cruise and tour of the floating market, a package that is offered by the hotel. We were met in the lobby by our tour guide and he led us out to the boat dock. We got on a small boat and cruised a little ways down the river to meet the Lady Hau, an old rice barge turned into a luxury boat for the hotel. We were greeted by lovely ladies in traditional áo dài as our waitresses.

We then feasted on a traditional Vietnamese breakfast of...

...made-to-order omelets, coffee and pastries. Well there was some exotic fruit, too, so it wasn't 100% Westernized.

We had breakfast and cruised along the river for a while, taking in the scenery.

Finally we came upon a huge collection of boats. We were at the floating market of Can Tho.

Our tour guide, who had dropped us off at the Lady Hau earlier, showed back up in a smaller boat, as did several other guides with boats. I hadn't realized until that point that we would have a guide all to ourselves. We got on board with our guide and the two guys running the boat. We headed into the thick of the market.

I'll let these pictures do most of the talking, but here is how the market generally works. Farmers come from their fields by small boats early in the morning, from as far away as 40 miles we were told, with a load of produce. The larger boats are the wholesale merchants, they buy the goods from the farmer to sell to the restaurants and shops. No individual buying goes on at the floating market, only bulk.

The merchant boats have long poles running up the front where they hang whatever it is they are selling. Some boats sell one thing only and others seem to sell whatever they can get their hands on. So on some poles we would see a single watermelon and on others we would see the entire produce section of a Whole Foods.

It looked like you could buy anything on the river, from furniture... caskets.

Our guide then took us a little farther down the river where we docked and walked through another market area. One where you could buy a couple of pieces of fruit or a fish and some rice.

We walked through that market and down the walkway, passing the local convenience store along the way.

We ended up in a local rice noodle business. We got to watch the process of rice being boiled down (or something to that effect) to a soupy batter and then turned into noodles. A woman would then take the batter and spread it over this flat, hot cooking surface.

A few seconds later another woman would pick up the now dough-like sheet and spread it out on a bamboo rack to dry.

Later they would be cut into strips.

This was a total family business we were observing. It looked like daughter at the hot plate and mom with the racks. And baby was hanging out, too.

We took the boat again to another, larger market on the river. There didn't seem to be anything you couldn't buy there. Every kind of vegetable and fruit, every kind of thing that swims, flies, or walks and a huge variety of rice. We didn't take any pictures of the living things for sale because it was just too damn depressing.

We boarded the boat again.

We turned off the main part of the river, went under a low bridge and made our way up a small canal.

We ended our tour at the coolest little spot. We ran up against a bank in a small part of the canal and were helped off into a fruit orchard. We sat at a table under a tree, ate fruit and drank tea. There was another group of tourists there when we arrived but they soon left and we were joined by the man who owns the orchard.

He was this wonderful 69-year-old guy who was so nice. We sat and talked with him for a long time. He had actually been in the South Vietnamese army and did a year of training in America in 1968. He was an engineer who went around to bases fixing refrigeration systems. He even showed us his certificate he got from the U.S. military for his training. He kept it all these years and even had it laminated. He had no trouble talking about that period of Vietnamese history and was an infectiously happy man.

As much as we were having such a great time there, so much that we forgot to take pictures again, it was finally time to go. We shoved off after loading into the boat and made our way through the canal back out to the river and the hotel. After packing and going down to the hotel bar for a quick lunch it was time for us to travel again. I couldn't believe it was only the day before that we had gone all the way from Phnom Penh to Can Tho by boat, van and tuk-tuk.

This time we were being met at the hotel by a boat driver that would be taking us to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. We hired a charter because there is no public boat service (at least that a tourist can find) between Can Tho and Saigon, and I'm so glad we did after seeing what it was like to be on the roads in this part of the world.

The ride to Saigon was uneventful, just taking in the scenery and watching the amazing amount of commerce that goes by on the Mekong River. I can't even begin to imagine what they could possibly do with that many barges of sand. We made it to Ho Chi Minh City in about 4 hours, disembarked and caught a cab to our hotel.

After a night at the Victoria Resort in Can Tho, the Ha Hien Hotel in Saigon seemed like a Days Inn. And the view from the room was definitely not quite the same.

It was already after 5:00 by the time we got in to Saigon so we basically walked around for a little bit in the ABSOLUTELY INSANE traffic of the city. We found the backpackers district where all the tour offices were and bought a Lonely Planet guide from a girl selling them on the street. Young guys and girls selling books on the street would become a common sight the rest of our time in Vietnam. The Vietnam guidebook we brought with us, Fodor's See It, turned out to be a pretty worthless piece of crap so we needed an upgrade. We only had to pay $7 for the Lonely Planet on the girl was selling, and we soon learned that it was because it was a pirate copy. It was still good, it was just obviously photo copied pages of the Lonely Planet guide. Sometime the pages were crooked or had shadow lines from a copier. A great deal for seven bucks. You know, for us, not for the people that put all their work into the Lonely Planet guides.

We went and had some Indian food then dodged cars and motorbikes all the way back to the hotel. I'll write more on the crazy driving and traffic in Vietnam later, but I was already worn out by it and had only been in Saigon for a few hours. After the day we had it took us no time at all to fall asleep that night.

Next - War Remnants Museum, an awesome hat and the fruitless search for sandals that fit