Published: July 21st 2008July 20th 2008
The low road to perdition
It is now Sunday morning in Southeast Asia, The Philippines, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Centennial II, strictly for Philippine Airlines. The flight from Frisco to Manila took about twelve hours, direct, without any stoppage in Guam. Now I am sitting here at the Mabuhay Lounge in NAIA Centennial II, waiting for the last leg of my flight from Manila to Singapore to depart. I will be in Singapore for a couple of days to see some friends and just to rest before I fly again to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I plan to just hang out in Cambodia for about a week and wonder at the grandeur of the Temples of Angkor.
I have never been to Cambodia. I’ve only heard about it from a song by the Dead Kennedys, a punk group from Frisco, a bunch of angst ridden youths with very little musical talent. They did have a knack for incendiary political commentary and an appetite for anarchy. They wrote wild songs like California Uber Alles
and Holiday in Cambodia
. They wrote Holiday in Cambodia
during the time when the Vietnam War was just coming to an end. The Americans abandoned the region and
left that part of Southeast Asia - Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos - in utter turmoil. Just to give you an idea of the songs inanity, here’s a sample of the lyrics to Holiday in Cambodia
It’s a Holiday in Cambodia
It’s tough kid but it’s life
A Holiday in Cambodia
Don’t forget to pack a wife
…and so on.
Back in the mid-seventies the idea of having a holiday in Cambodia was as ridiculous as a vacation in Afghanistan today. Nobody goes to Afghanistan for a little R n’ R. They go there to fight the Talibanese and search for Osama bin Laden.
Nowadays a trip to Cambodia is the “in-thing”. Housewives and people from Georgia come to Laos and Cambodia to enjoy the sights and the food and the culture. Now, just a little side note to the haters and detractors of my critically acclaimed and award-winning travelogue out there in the travel world who send me hate mails and telling me to do physically impossible feats to my body. As you can see, I don’t always write
A tempple in Tanah Merah
Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera
about big fat German guys and little Thai girls. Sometimes I write about housewives from Georgia looking for a little holiday in Cambodia.
My trip to Cambodia will be a short one but it will be enough to soak in the essentials: food, language, and culture. I don’t understand their language and have very little idea about their food. Thus I am totally ignorant about their culture. I am hoping to change that by the end of this trip.
When I walked in here at the Mabuhay Lounge at NAIA Centennial II, strictly for Philippine Airlines, at five in the morning, there was not a single soul to be seen other than the lounge attendant getting the place ready for the day. Incidentally the Dead Kennedys got their start playing punk music at the now defunct Mabuhay Gardens in Frisco. The Mabuhay Gardens was a little known Filipino restaurant on Broadway in the middle of downtown Frisco, I think, although I’m not sure exactly where it was. It could have been on Columbus for all I know. Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter where it was because the place was not known for its exquisite Filipino cuisine. It was
The Straights of Singapore
Leaving Singasnore Singabore
known more for the hosting the most raucous punk bands in the area, like the Dead Kennedys. Filipinos’ tastes in music usually run the gamut of the Frank Sinatras and the Carpenters, and never really stray too far off from the comforts of that genre. Thus, a Filipino restaurant hosting a bunch of wild animals thrashing the place causing major disruption to the establishment and screaming to the top of their lungs about deaths to the government and society, promoting anarchy, and being just a total menace to society, is a rather bizarre sight indeed. In addition to the punk bands screaming about death and destruction there were lots of street punks and hangers on doing drugs in the bathroom stall, puking, and urinating just about everywhere, and that was probably all the regular Filipino patrons of the Mabuhay Gardens could stand because pretty soon they all stayed away, and it became less and less of a Filipino restaurant and more of a center for anarchy and decadence. The Mabuhay Gardens eventually closed down. I’m sure the punk scene had a lot to do with it. The Dead Kennedys succeeded in destroying a commercial establishment, and they probably thought that
Last Obligatory Shot
Okay, this is the last pic I'm going to show of Singasnore Singabore. There's really nothing interesting here to write about.
was cool because anything to do with commerce is against their principle. They want to destroy commerce and just have people living like wild animals. Meanwhile, Holiday in Cambodia
became one of the most successful songs in the history of punk n’ roll.
Digression is a significant part of travel writing. Without digression the business of travel writing would collapse. No one would read the great writers in the history of the genre. People like the legendary Paul Thereoux and John Flinn of the San Francisco Chronicle would not be able to put food on the table to feed their families. For that matter the whole business of literature would collapse because literature, like travel writing, depends a great deal of their materials from digression. Because traveling can be frustrating and agonizing most of the time, a great deal of time is spent thinking and writing about how frustrating and agonizing it can be, like now, right here, at the Mabuhay Lounge in Manila, waiting for my flight to depart for Singapore so that I can spend another three agonizing hours up in the air at 33,000 feet before the plane finally touches down on the tarmac at Changi International Airport.
I am now in Holland Village, Singasnore, tea drinking and people watching at The Coffee Bean café, another one of those Starbuckie types of places that are springing up everywhere in the whole wide universe. There are more Haoles here, I think. Expats. Mostly European. Across from The Coffee Bean is the Holland Village Market and Food Center. Hawker Stall. There’s good food to be had at the center, although it’s not one of my favorites. The food stalls around Geylang and Katong are probably one of my favorite places to eat in Singapore, but there’s many more. That’s about the only good thing about Singapore. Cheap eats everywhere. When in Singasnore Singabore, skip the restaurants and head for the hawker food centers everywhere. The food is better and the ambiance a million folds more interesting. You don’t even have to speak Chinese or Malay or Tamil Indian, you just point at what you want and they’ll serve it right up to you.
The Lorong Mambong circle, or whatever it’s called, is the center of Holland Village. As I’m writing this passage a couple of Haole chicks approaches the café, looks up at the menu, and promptly walk away, unimpressed at what they see. They had no clue that I just wrote about them.
Singaporean people are a quiet lot. They don’t appear to be all that opinionated, at least not openly. I’m not sure if they’re opinionated privately. They’ve been raised to keep their opinions to themselves. Americans are raised on radio. Singaporeans are raised on slogans. It’s a slogan state. Don’t Steal
Don’t Offend The Government
Don’t Do Drugs
Stay in School
Don’t have anymore than two kids
Oops, Check That, Have More Kids
Have More Sex, Please, Because We Are Tired Of The Western Media Laughing At Us For Having The Least Amount Of Sexual Activity In The Whole Universe
Don’t Fondle Women In Public, But Please, Have More Sex Because Our Population Is Shrinking
Don’t Chew Gum, Not Ever
Don’t Jaywalk, It’s Punishable By Death
Now, how can you encourage creativity if you keep your citizens’ minds in a shackle? Yet slogans about expressing yourself creatively are ubiquitous in Singasnore Singabore. Yes, express yourself indeed, just not politically, because politics gets people excited. It creates a grass roots movement, and we in Singasnore don’t need that. It would create instability. Better let us, the Government, handle that stuff. We are an elitist nation. The elites will handle all the thinking for you.
Come to think of it, this form of government is the prototype for what the Chinese are doing. As a matter of fact that is exactly what the Chinese Government are trying to emulate. A vibrant economy with no freedom of expression for the masses, only an increase in the standard of living, and for the masses that’s good enough. Who cares about freedom of expression if I’m starving? The government insists that the Western Media just does not understand that their citizenry is not ready for that kind of thing yet. Will they ever be? Who really knows? They might prove the Westerners wrong yet.
I’m tired of writing negative things about Singapore. There are plenty of good things to write about Singapore. The food, for one. The people are generally nice. Mostly Chinese people here. Some Malay, and a little bit of Tamil Indians. Indonesians too, I guess. And the Haoles.
Silly me. The ink in my pen has run dry. The words that you see right before your very eyes is fading fast, from dark blue, to light blue, to …That’s because I changed my position. With my feet up on the table, I am almost upside down and writing up. Thus, no ink was flowing down to the ball point and if I hadn’t changed into a regular sitting position with me writing down with my notebook on the table no words wisdom would appear in the pages right before you. I use a Deluxe Micro uni-ball pen. If you’re familiar with that brand, then you know that you have to point down when you write. Otherwise, if you happen to be lying on your back and writing up, you won’t get shit. Just dry ink scratches on your notebook. Then all those meaningful thoughts that you had would be lost forever in dry ink, like it’s been whited out.
The reason Singapore is so boring is because it’s not a cool place to be. It’s a very unhip place. It’s a place where Paul Anka would fit in, and Paul Anka is not cool. As a matter of fact Paul Anka is going to have a concert here. They don’t allow devil worshipers here. Marilyn Manson would be banned here. Ditto for Slayer. Slayer preaches allegiance to Lucifer, I think, although I’m not sure because I’ve never listened to their music. That’s the thing about rock n’ roll bands who play devil music. Their musicianship is never really that good. I guess the devil is not helping them out in that department. Black Sabbath plays good music but they’ve never really said outright that they worship the devil. Even Ozzy Osborne says he thanks God everyday for giving him his musical talents. What musical talent he’s talking about no one will ever know. But they keep teasing the youths of the Western world with the lure of the dark side, how tempting it is to succumb to the powers of the devil. They sing about this in songs like War Pigs. The War Pigs are the generals, kings, and government leaders, people of their ilk who abuse power and use the common man as a pawn, expendable pieces for the greater goal of ruling the universe with absolute power and impunity.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Sunday, 7:30 PM back home in the Bay Area, Monday, 10:30 AM in Southeast Asia in general and Singapore in particular. Signasnore, Singabore, Singalong back to where you belong. There's a village called Singalong just north of Manila, up in the slums in Tondo, near the garbage dump called smokey mountain. It ain't anything like Singasnore, Singabore though. Quite the opposite. It's dirty, grimy, gritty, and despicable. I have never been there myself but that's what people tell me, people in the know, like the hustlers and pushers in the old Manila district.
This tropical heat can be brutal if you're not careful Jack. When you're out there, exposed to the elements, with the searing heat scorching your body, and then you step indoors to an ice cold, air conditioned compartment, you could easily end up with pneumonia. Last night was terrible, I couldn't get any sleep, I was coughing often, and anything and everything I tried in order to get some snooze resulted in failure. Much hyperbole to describe an otherwise uneventful evening but that's why we have literature as an art. We need diversion. If all everyone wrote was "Jack and Jill went up the hill to get a pail of water then came back down and lived happily ever after", we would all end up in an insame asylum or jump off the Golden Gate bridge. But that's not what we do because we're all human, and as desperate and conflicted peoples trying to find meaning in this otherwise confusing world, we tolerate exaggeration, licentiousness, and even plain old blatant falsification as long as it's interesting and entertaining.
The reason that I am not a published author, nor have I ever been encouraged to pursue the written arts, is because I am not gifted at doing these kinds of things. Taking simple stories and embellishing them, make them appear interesting, entertaining, endearing, or depressing. I simply write what I see, perhaps add a little hyperbole, combine it with some brutal honesty and a little bit of insight and that's all you'll get out of me. But I just can't take a simple event like washing my truck for example, and turn that mundane and boring task into a magnificent piece of literature in the same way that Mark Twain turned one of Tom Sawyer's daily chores like whitewashing a fence into a classic portrait of Americana. Tom Sawyer is regarded as a hero by most, if not all, students who read his adventures in grade school. Yet most of us have known a Tom Sawyer at one point in our lives, and we'd just as well pound his ass to the ground than congratulate him for his cleverness and wit. Such is the power of the written word. It influences people one way or the other and pardon the cliche but the pen can really turn a man more than a hatchet.
Speaking of Mark Twain, he once traveled around the world, following the line of the equator, and thus visited many of the tropical locales which lie along or near it. Many of those were third world countries then and many of them still are after all these years, like the Philippines. He was not for colonizing the Philippines though, and I don't think he had much flattering opinion of the islands. He also visited Singapore but I have no idea what he thought of it. He probably loved it and predicted that some day it will become one of the most resourceful, success, and vibrant economy this world has ever seen. If he had had that opinion he would've been right on the money but if he had said something quite the opposite it wouldn't have mattered one bit to his reputation or his legend because people still would've read him, right or wrong. He was that good!
I wish I could be that good. What it must feel to grab and control peoples' minds. To rule the world, essentially. That's what every writer wants, the dictatorship of the written word. Forget political power, that doesn't inspire people, especially these days. What people want is to be lead to believe that they are in control of their own lives, and that they matter, and see all these things written down on paper as an affirmation of their fantasies. Like I said before, without literature Smith & Wesson would make a killing, literally, supplying humanity with the weapon to blow their brains out.