I shot an arrow in to the sky…

Posted: February 14, 2008 in Uncategorized

…and when I woke up, I was in Hanoi.  More on that soon… but first, some words on international language:

Smiles
Truly the most widely accepted “international language”, the smile is simple, unwavering, and requires only 17 muscles in your face.  It’s relatively contagious, occurs widely in children, and (at least in Beijing) is a virtual sign of respect… at least to us North American scum.

Car Horns

Spend some time outside of North America, and this language will creep into your head like systemic brain abscess.  Even as I write this, roughly 14 horns are being honked at any given second… and that means it’s a pretty slow day (figures; it’s Tet, after all).  I can use them as a fully functioning clock now; not just as an alarm, but sort of like a sundial — the more honks per second, the closer to noon it’s getting; the louder the horns, the more trucks are out, meaning 2pm-5pm, and so on.  As I don’t own a watch or an alarm clock, this is very useful.  Also, in Asia, the horn is almost artistic — In US cars, all horns are in the key of F.  Here, there are a whole galaxy of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, ascending and descending sine waves, even songs.  Yesterday in Hanoi, I ever heard “La Cucaracha” (you better believe I audibly gave a little “woo hoo”).

Dancing

I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?  It’s pretty obvious that anything with hips can communicate just fine between 72-120 BPM…

And my personal favorite:

Explosives
My last night in Beijing was February 6th… Chinese New Years Eve.  This is mostly a family Holiday, but believe me — these people know how to blow shit up.  In America, the mortar is pretty much the holy grail of fireworks, and rightfully so… but that shit is old hat over here, and basically everyone buys a few bazillion of them (and I mean everyone — after 6pm, it’s 360 degrees of sky-flowers anywhere you go), along with your general variety of powder-filled awesomeness.  M-80s are pretty cool, sure… but I saw some shit here that just dwarfs them completely, things that leave 15″ divots in concrete, set off car alarms 5 blocks away, and have a shock wave you can feel inside the 6th floor of a building — literal half-sticks, I figure.  But that’s just the beginning… the smallest string of firecrackers I saw/heard was a meter-long roll, and they are not shy about lighting them and just tossing them in the street/parking lot/out of a window/on to your feet.  Then it gets to be about 11pm or so, and the 360 degree thing I mentioned just.. keeps… coming…

Around 11:30 or so, we rolled out of Bills house, after a fantastic Atlantic-to-Pacific smorgasbord of delightful food (8 people just formed like voltron and started cooking — the pasta and garlic bread was mine) with plenty of Yanjing /Jim Beam in tow, and hiked over to the lake near Bill’s house, Xi Hai (it’s like Hou Hai’s little cousin).  Here, you get a pretty good view of the second-ring of Beijing or so, without the obstructions of buildings… and the scene is absolutely astounding.  The sky is lit up for two hours — in every direction you look, at any given second, mortars are going off, and going off, and going off…. the atmosphere is amazing.  Someone 5 feet away will light up a 20-tube 40-shot orgasm of fire and sparks; ash and noise rain down like a torrent.  It’s virtually impossible to capture it on film — although I tried as best I could — but it makes the 4th of July look like a pithy little joke, like .005% what it could/should be.  And it’s cheap, too!  In order to meet stringent Chinese Anti-Safety regulations, they’re made in quantity, not quality… so hey, they may go off only 40-50 feet in the air, but no worries, ’cause they’re only 25 cents a mortar and you’ve got plenty more where that came from…

We were standing there chilling and drinking for a couple hours.  You keep thinking “okay, this is the finale — it’s gonna slow down soon”, but that threshold never comes… it just keeps blowing up more and more.  How many mortars did I see?  Thousands for sure… maybe tens of thousands?  A hundred thousand?  It’s hard to say — like I mentioned, it’s 360 degrees and it just keeps coming.  And this isn’t just around the lake, mind you — the whole city, every city is like this (I’m told it’s particularly dense and spectacular in Pingyao — not sure why).  At some point, Bill and I are sliding across the ice, doing “human luge”, and when we get up, I look at my hands — and they’re fucking black.  Not just dirty, but just caked in ash and soot.  The rest of my body is, of course, the same… actually, the rest of the city is like this.  It’s just weird to see ice make you filthy…  That’s Beijing, I suppose…

Even on my flight the next day, flying into Guangzhou, I got to see it all over again — this time from the sky, a sight I’d never seen before.  They look… well, smaller.  But just as amazing; the density of them is really hard to describe…

Vietnam is amazing.  Particularly coming from a grey Beijing, it’s warm, green, lush, there are actually birds in the sky, everyone’s friendly, it’s easy going, no one’s pushing, the language is still a shouting language but the barrier is MUCH easier to cope with, and it’s a bit cheaper.  Welcome to south-east Asia…

But mostly, the people are just amazing… some of the happiest, nicest people I’ve ever met.  My story of getting lost outside Hue (and then found) coming soon…

Pictures —

The crew for dinner

random shots of the crazy hostel driver being crazy — not pictured, the more insane cook who was lighting off M-80s and throwing them at people’s feet from the second story balcony, then laughing hysterically (that guy was rad)


One halfway decent shot from Xi Hai — it’s hard to capture what it looks like without a tripod and way mo’ ISO…

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