Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Month: December 2011 (page 1 of 3)

Saigon: BBQ Ostrich, Boats, Bun Bo Hue

We’ve made it to Saigon. I call it Saigon because it is easier to type than Ho Chi Minh City. The Khmer call it Prey Nokor since it was Cambodian until the 1700s, but I won’t get into it.

We took the Sapaco Tourist Bus, which leaves from Sihanouk Boulevard near Olympic Market, and it was relatively painless – clean enough bus, something approximating leg-room, and a fairly painless border crossing experience. $12 each. I would use them again. They also showed us Terminator 3. A Vietnamese woman with a high-pitched voice did all of the voices, including Arnie.

We’re staying at the Ngoc Minh Hotel, which is just as nice as advertised on TripAdvisor. It’s clean, small, quiet, and tidy, and in a very convenient location. I can’t think of any witty complaints.

For lunch, we stumbled down the street and upon Mitau, a restaurant that specializes in food from Hue, the historic central Vietnamese city we’re going to end our trip in. I like Bun Bo Hue – we get this stuff back in Sacramento, which might as well be a Vietnamese annex in some spots – and this was tasty stuff. I especially appreciated the fish cake. We were served free jasmine tea and fantastic candied ginger chips for dessert. The lady who owns the place has a championship golfer son and the place is decorated in golf-Christmas-tea-shop kitsch which I found extremely charming.

It was nap-time at the model boat store. I love model boats and Saigon seems to have a curiously large number of speciality model boat stores. I really would like one but they probably wouldn’t fit well in my crap backpack.

SHARK BOAT IS POSSIBLY THE MOST AWESOME BOAT IN THE UNIVERSE

We walked along the Saigon River and found this large cargo boat being retrofitted. There were also some cannon and some little boys capturing goldfish out of the river – not sure how cute little dime-store goldfish survive in this river but they do. It was a pleasant spot to sit. The hawkers here actually just shrug and walk off when you shake your head “no” which is a pleasant departure from Cambodia.

We walked by a new hotel celebrating opening day. The bell-boys were burning some fake money for good luck. They do this in Phnom Penh but have never had a chance to take some photos. So I did. They were nice about it.

Lucky (fake) money into the fire. No, it’s not real.

We went to the Luong Son Quan BBQ restaurant, an old stalwart of a local grilled-meat joint. Open-air, lots of people drinking 75 cent Tiger beer out of mugs with straws, all kinds of bizarre things on the menu. The food was cheap and excellent. They don’t mark up Diet Coke here like they do in Cambodia. Is that some sort of economic indicator?

People eating tasty animals. Those people being Phill and I.

The menu at Luong Son is nothing if not creative – and extensive. We passed on the Steamed Penis and Ball of Goat with Chinese Medicinals. Maybe we made a dire mistake for our love life but I’m sort of doubting it. We did get ostrich, which was fabulous. Like the love child of chicken and beef.

Inside Bo Tung Xe. Thanks for making my photo more amusing without me noticing, random guy.

Saigon by night. The traffic is bad but not as bad as Phnom Penh. People drive mostly scooters here instead of exceptionally old bikes. People also sort of follow traffic regulations in Saigon, which they don’t in Phnom Penh. As Phill noted, security guards here are usually grown men instead of 16 year olds playing Angry Birds on their cellphones which may be another economic indicator.

It’s sort of impossible not to compare and contrast when you’re from a country that is constantly engaged in a sort of one-upmanship battle with the other (and very different levels of development). That’s one of the reasons I came to Vietnam.

Well, that and the food. The food is awesome.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Indian Delight: Best Damn Indian Food in Cambodia

Indian Delight
115e0, Sisowath Quay
023 724 885
Phnom Penh
 I’m an Indian food snob. I lived in Bangalore for six months back in 2008 and went back in 2010: I’m no fan of the uber-heavy, cream-rich Muhgali food that’s favored outside the Subcontinent. However, I was very happy to discover India Delight on Sisowath Quay, which turns out Indian food much closer to the non-coronary-inducing masalas and curries I remember from India. They even pay attention when you ask for your food spicy. Furthermore, there isn’t a heady layer of grease hanging over everything you order.
I find chicken tikka masala way too rich the way most places make it, but Indian Delight’s version is just about akin to crack for me. You know what this stuff is (hint: it was invented in Britain) but I’ll describe it again: pieces of roasted tandoori chicken cooked in a very spicy, slightly creamy sauce with a profusion of fresh spices. This is definitely the tastiest tikka masala I’ve had – hell, ever, I think – and it’s only $5.00. I sometimes wish I could just eat this for lunch every day. It’s especially good with the yellow rice peas pulao they serve here, which has a bit of saffron in it.
There’s also a rich version of vindaloo, the Portugese-inspired Goa dish of curried chicken with plenty of vinegar and meat, as well as potatoes. My boyfriend is rather fond of the stuff and orders it regularly. I haven’t ordered it myself – the tikka masala has its siren song – but it is decent stuff.
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Christmas in Cambodia: Vintage 2010

Christmas in Cambodia 2010 

I did a photo-essay on Christmas in Cambodia last year and had a rather fabulous time doing it. The melancholy-expat blues have whomped over over the head this year and my heart wasn’t quite as in it in 2011, but hoping to get a few decent shots tonight and tomorrow to reassure myself I’m not a total bum. Anyway, enjoy.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

North Korea Video Hi-Lites: Kim Jong-Il’s Only Public Speech, Dear Leader Impersonators

The Dear Leader only gave one public speech during his time as ruler of North Korea, and it wasn’t exactly lengthy. In fact, all he said was “Long Live the Heroic Korean Army,” according to journalist Nate Thayer, who was present at the time.

It’s kinda like the King’s Speech,  but 80% less touching.

Gentleman: are you short, squat, and toad-like? Capable of rocking a pompadour and push-up shoes? Have I got a growth industry for you. It’s like Elvis without the singing or charisma.

I’m not entirely sure WHY Kim Jong-il lying in state in a glass coffin reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Trying not to read into it too much. I love the quavering voice of the commentator. Also, the “Circa 1942-2011″ insignia on the coffin, in case you were confused.

Kim Jong-Un looks absolutely terrified. I would be too if I were him. He reminds me of nothing more than that nerdy fat kid in middle-school who drew anime cartoons at his desk all the time and refused to make eye contact with other people. And now he’s suddenly running a nuclear power. At least there’s perks. Running the DPRK comes with perks.

It would be remiss to leave the now-classic Vice Guide to North Korea out of this post, I reckon. One wonders if the DPRK’s supposed legion of highly-advanced computer hackers have figured out the dark art of Google when it comes to screening visitors – hell, Myanmar has got that one under control.

If you are reading this, North Korean hackers, let me say I have nothing but admiration for your beautiful country, and would love to visit soon so I can say all kinds of snarky things about it. Regards.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Rahu Phnom Penh: I Forgot I Kinda Like Hipster Sushi

Rahu
Sisowath Quay
10 Sisowath Quay
Tel: 023 215 179
Hipster sushi makes up roughly 80% of the diets of Northern Californians, and I’m pleased to announce that Phnom Penh now has an entry into the field. Restaurant chain Metro has opened a sushi outpost next to Harem Shisha Bar and the Riverhouse Lounge, with sushi and Japanese specialities added on to the standard Metro menu.
The dark, moody, and aggressively hip decor – yes, I’ll mention the Angry Monk Kid painting in the back corner, let’s stop talking about it now – is set off by extremely attractive and somewhat attentive wait-staff. Where Rahu really shines is after 11:00 PM, when the sushi menu is discounted by 50%. In fact, I’ve never actually eaten at Rahu before the discount hit.
In a city where late-night food can be limited—if you’re not brave enough to risk food stalls and gastrointestinal ruin—this late night sushi can be something of a blessing, especially if you’re not really that into greasy hangover prevention chow. Rolls top out at around $5 and most are in the $3.50 area. It’s a pretty good deal for the tastiest sushi I’ve had in town. The menu is not particularly extensive, but all the bases are covered, with sushi rolls, sashimi, and some other Japanese classics on offer.
The spicy salmon rolls are my favorite here. The legitimately spicy salmon interior is wrapped in rice which is studded with small, crispy tempura bits. It’s finished with a not-excessive drizzle of wasabi mayo and is really a pretty perfect light meal or late-night snack. I used to bitch about California sushi’s obsession with sauces, but now I miss them. I miss them a lot.
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Another Christmas in Cambodia, Insert Dead Kennedy’s Humor Here

My second Christmas in Cambodia is coming up in a few days. I thought I’d be going home for the holidays this year, but other responsibilities intervened, and now I’m spending another December 25th in Phnom Penh.

Christmas is just a day, and furthermore, a religous holiday celebrating a religious belief I don’t adhere to – but my family’s secular Christmases are always pretty good fun. I mostly miss cooking inordinate amounts of unhealthy food and uncorking a lot of high-end champagne, under the all-powerful and all-encompassing pretense of It’s the Holidays, Dammit.

Shut up and drink your champagne and eat your prime rib, your left-overs, the candy your parents were kind enough to hide in your stocking even you were well past your sell-by date and should have known better.

There was also the drive-into San Francisco either a couple of days before or after Christmas – this a tradition I am fully in favor of, crowds in Union Square and overpriced household goods be damned, in the grandest tradition of smushing one’s face against the Williama’s Sonoma display and complaining about the fact that the department stores have done a lousy job with their blow-out display windows for a while now, which can be blamed on the recession.

Back in the days when I used to want cooking goods for Christmas – having had no kitchen for a year and a half, it’s a bit more of a hazy concept, like a sort of vestigal limb, if a skill can be called “vestigal.” These San Francisco holiday visits would usually end in Chinese food somewhere in the vicinity of Chinatown, which had red and gold trim and was sort of Christmasy no-matter what time of year it was, what with all the sparkly lights.

Feels a lot less like Christmas here this year than last year. Not for lack of trying on Cambodia’s part. Even as compared to last year, the decorations and the tinsel and the trees and the Santa outfits and everything else are all stepped up. Santa visits children outside the Canon store on Sihanouk, I swear to God the gigantic inflatable Santa on Monivong is BIGGER this year, and seemingly everybody has got a Christmas tree in their shopfront or restaurant.

The religions meet, intertwine: people loop colorful lights around the family spirit house. Christmas is a secular holiday for me and it is a secular holiday for Cambodians: this I understand. What do Cambodians do on Christmas? According to a few people I have asked, about what my family does: “We get together and we eat a lot of food, and we drink a lot. We give presents.”

It is a congenial holiday. I just got around to listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole today out of a rather faded sense of duty. I seem to be forgetting the words but it is likely I will re-learn them.

I’ll be adding photos to my Christmas in Cambodia gallery up until the day, and probably after as well.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Cambodian Landmine Clearances Badass

Just another day in the uniquely nerve-wracking life of a mine-removal expert in Cambodia. These guys are real heroes – and completely fearless. The closest I’ve ever been to bonafide Land Mine Country is Koh Ker, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the stones to walk in the footsteps of a landmine clearance pro.

Mr Ra has also been given the distinct honor of being named Badass of the Week on the Internet.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Kim Jong Il Invented the Hamburger, and Other DPRK Culinary Highlights

No, the hamburger was not invented in Hamburg. It did not first appear in New Jersey at Louis Lunch.The hamburger in fact first appeared in 2000 at the personal behest of Kim Jong Il, who really wanted top university students to be fed top-quality fast food in-between classes.

Eternally enterprising, Kim Jong Il decided in 2000 that he’d introduce “double bread with meat” to DPRK university students – and according to state media, seemed to take credit for the very invention of the internationally beloved specialty.

“I’ve made up my mind to feed quality bread and French fries to university students, professors and researchers even if we are in hardship,” Kim is reported to have said about the “double bread with meat” innovation, according to the New York Times.

The Dear Leader’s eating habits are described in somewhat nauseating detail by his former personal chef, Kenji Fujimoto, in a fantastic Atlantic article.

According to Mr Fujimoto, the Dear Leader deployed his minions at great expense worldwide to places like:

“Urumqi (in northwestern China) for fruit, mainly hamigua melons and grapes
Thailand for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Malaysia for fruit, mostly durians, papayas, and mangoes
Czechoslovakia for draft beer
Denmark for pork
Iran for caviar
Uzbekistan for caviar
Japan for seafood”

The Dear Leader apparantly failed to notice – or care – about the mass famine that gripped the nation in the early 90s, but he was more than happy to deploy his squad of minions world-wide to get grapes, expensive fish, luxury fruits from as far as Western China, and sacks of McDonald’s burgers for him whenever his dark little heart so desired.

According to chef Fujimoto, whose memoir, “I was Kim Jong Il’s Personal Chef” tragically has not yet been translated into English, Kim Jong Il really did have a thing for burgers.

After the Leader’s sons came back from a stint at Swiss boarding school, they reported cheesburgers were delicious – and Fujimoto was promptly deployed to acquire some of the exotic treats from abroad. From the New York Times article:

“So I flew to Beijing, and went to McDonald’s and bought a bag of hamburgers,” the chef recounted. “Of course by the time I got back to Pyongyang, they were cold. So Kim Jong Il ate cold hamburgers.”

Kim Jong Il’s culinary exploration was not limited to food – he also maintained a massive wine and alcohol collection. Indeed, Hennessey earnings have dropped 70% as of Monday (not really) – after all, Kim Jong Il reportedly bought up to $720,000 of the stuff a year.

Considering Hennessey’s incredible popularity among the moneied set here in Cambodia, the cognac does seem to have a certain appeal to too-rich-for-their-own good despots of small, unimportant nations.

State-sanctioned entertainment at Pyongyang Restaurant, Phnom Penh.

From all accounts, Kim Jong Il enjoyed a remarkably elaborate diet for the supposedly salt-of-the-earth leader of the most ardently Communist nation left on Earth.

Although the people may be fed state propaganda about Kim Jong Il’s fondness for rustic meals of potatoes, barley, and gypsy tears, it’s widely known on the outside that Jong Il was dining on the finest sushi imported sushi while his people were reduced to eating bark, grass, and insects.

We can only hope that all that luxurious food hastened his fatal coronary.

Is saying that going to get me put on some sort of DPRK watchlist? That would actually be kind of awesome.

The North Korean flag is at half-mast at the DPRK Embassy located a mere 10-minute walk away from my home in Phnom Penh. The Pyongyang Restaurant here remains shuttered for a “period of mourning.”

As a hobby restaurant reviewer, I’m always interested in the culinary habits of the rich, famous, and profoundly evil – and Kim Jong Il is a fascinating subject indeed.

Also: 10 Management Secrets of Kim Jong Il – INC

This gem of an article focuses on the marvelous management abilities of the recently-departed Dear Leader. It does all make a perverse sort of sense. Especially the stuff about charisma, quality control, and “embracing new technologies.”

Does this mean Kim Jong Il was like the alternate-universe evil Steve Jobs of shitty third world dictatorships?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Incredibly Overwrought North Korean Mourning, Rumination on the Future

No one can mourn like a North Korean. At the very least, no one can PRETEND to mourn like a North Korean.

In a country where not writhing on the ground overcome with emotional pain over the loss of a political icon may land you in a freezing work-camp, the ability to weep on command is a survival tactic.

Than again, all that overwrought weeping may not be faux for many present in the thousands laying flowers at the just-about-religious shrines to the younger and elder North Korean despots.

This is a nation where party messages are broadcast into your house via loudspeaker, party portraits must be kept spit-and-polish clean lest you be reported to authorities with the power to ruin both your own life and the life of everyone you love, and where every good thing that happened in the past hundred years can be directly ascribed to the North Korean leadership.

It’s likely at least some of these people really do feel as if the entire world they knew and trusted has come to a grinding, horrible halt.

Barbara Demick’s account of North Korea’s mass-grief over the passing of Kim-il Sung is excellent – and the overwrought, often forced hysterical grief she describes seems to be being repeated with the death of his Bond Villain like son. (Except not one of the cool Bond villains).

Now, the world waits with bated breath to see what happens next. Will sucessor Kim Jong Un take an even more extremist path and take on the world in an attempt to prove he’s a worthy successor?

Of course – the non-entity Kim Jong Un, merely 27 and apparantly even less charismatic than his father (who did have some dark, nerdy semblance of style) will probably be controlled behind the scenes by some savvy handlers until he either attains some margin of independent spirit.

Either that, or we can await a military coup – which may be either good or bad for the rest of the world, depending on who comes to power in that particular shuffle – or (less likely) some sort of profound liberalization of the DPRK.

South Korea watches from behind the DMZ, perhaps thinking “Oh, Christ, are the hillbillies going to finally want back in?” Reunification will be both economically and culturally brutal for both nations—but then again, the starving, belagured people of North Korea deserve better. They’ve been suffering long enough.

I should add that if allegations that the 1990’s famine killed 2 million in North Korea are true – and I’m inclined to believe, though North Korea isn’t talking even if they DO know – well, that’s a human tragedy on par with the deaths that occurred under the Khmer Rouge.

Maybe the DPRK is a *little* less execution happy – but slow deaths by starvation and overwork in prison camps? Is that really much better than being shot in the head? It’s a dark question, but one the leadership of North Korea would, in a better world, have to answer.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

YouTube Reacts to Death of Kim Jong Il, as World Mourns Death of Punchline

As Kim Jong Il’s death permeates the public consicouness, expect public displays of exceptional cheesyiness for at least the next month out of North Korea. And public upheaval. Lots of political upheaval.

The response of my fellow foreign policy nerds? TAKE TO THE INTERNET, BRETHREN.

I am accepting educated guesses (or total guesses) vis a vis when Kim Jong Il actually died. Considering the North Korean’s penchant for big and orchestrated announcements of the death of leaders, I suspect the Dear Leader has been on ice for at least a week, perhaps longer. I await news of plans for the embalming with bated breath. (Does anyone do that anymore? We’ll find out soon.)

I will add that the number of tribute videos to the Dear Leader on Youtube – some set to “I’ll Be Watching You” - is already truly impressive. One of the era’s finest punchlines has died.

Some  maintain Kim Jong Il in fact died of roneriness.

There are also some concerns that he in fact passed following complications from a rap battle with Hulk Hogan.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Older posts

© 2014 Faine Opines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php