14 December 2010

Empire of Eights

Yet another illustration inspired by thoughts of the sci-fi demise of humankind leading to a global dictatorship of cephalopods. Think Imperial Russia with a hearty dose of pervasive Orwellian paranoia. Or just think of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, it is literally both.

Se also Cephalopod Plutocracy

07 December 2010

Chucksmas 5 Shirt

In honor of our fifth year of Chucksmas fun we came up with a limited edition t-shirt which we used to raise money for Equality Texas, an LGBT organization that we figured Chuck would hate. We sold out in about 10 minutes.
When I came up with this I was trying to mimic, in a crude way, the look of the original Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" graphic.

My Son

The last place of significance that I visited from Hoi An was My Son, the major Cham site of My Son. It reminded me of the Maya sites in Mexico for several reasons. First, I had to get up really early in the morning, around 5 I think, to catch the van that took us first to the rendezvous point, another hotel where all the rest of the round-eyes were waiting to go on the trip. (part of the cost of the trip, 8 dollars, was breakfast. Because I was the penultimate pickup that morning, all the other people at the rendezvous had already eaten and we were already late so all myself and the last couple got was the leftovers which we ate in the van.) Second, when we got there it was a place with a nice entryway with an expansive visitors center. Closed of course. The site itself was in the middle of the woods and partially overgrown. Restoration was slow, minimal and to be perfectly honest without, I hope, sounding like a cultural imperialist, shoddy.

Some restoration had taken place during the French occupation, during the United States war, several bombs fell very close to the My Son buildings causing damage. This crater appeared to be about 8 feet from one of the main buildings. I imagine that when it was fresh it was much closer.

There are not many elephants in Vietnam now, and to my knowledge, none that are wild. But the Champa sculpture attests to their importance in the culture, and Vietnam's old connections to its more westerly neighbors Cambodia and Thailand.

A number of these statues had plaques that said something like "the rest of this statue is in the Musee Such-n-such in France". Again, this reminded me of Mexico because a number of the relics had been partially robbed and put in Western museums. I understand, there are arguments both for and against, but it's pretty disheartening to see a bunch of statues with the heads knocked off and know that a Nation that so vehemently insists on maintaining its own cultural identity would persist in holding another people's cultural identity hostage. This is not surprising in context of the West's long and glorious "civilising" mission.

Incidentally, our guide on this half-day trip was a balding Vietnamese guy who spoke pretty good English. He told us he  had been a war photojournalist with the South Vietnamese press during the U.S. war and had in the`course of his work, been shot in the head, the remnants of which, a large divet in his scalp, he pointed out to us. I believed him because he kept asking people questions about their cameras and commenting on the various pros and cons of each model. He reminded us that just because he was shooting a camera and not a rifle did not mean that his job was easy, many of his friends had died, and yes, he had been shot in other places too. He did not elaborate whether he had suffered for his collusion at the hands of the Communists when the U.S. withdrew.

There were a number of sites in Mexico that also looked like this, grassy and overgrown to the point of near invisibility. I almost like them better like this. It carries a feeling of inevitability and temporaryness of human endeavor which I find comforting and satisfying somehow.

Old Hoi An

In Nha Trang I realized that I wasn't going to make it all the way to Hue City if I kept taking busses. And ahyway, there wasn't anything between here and there that I really wanted to to see. I could have, but Hue was at the top of the list. So, I looked into in-country flights from Nha Trang's Cam Ranh International Airport and found that a flight to Da Nang was pretty cheap, and it was right in between Hoi An and Hue. It was an easy and quick flight, the pilot was a US American, and along the way the only thing of note was the raging US American woman in the seat in front of me who screamed (in English) at the Vietnamese clerks at check in and bitched the entire way to Da Nang. I had planned on staying in Da Nang for a night or two, but while waiting in baggage claim for my pack I met a couple of United Statesian backpacker guys who asked if I was heading to Hoi An. Turns out it's clese enough that you can hire a cab to go straight there, so we split it three ways and were in Hoi An in about an hour for about 6 bucks each.

Hoi An used to be one of the most active ports in Vietnam, but when the Thu Bon River silted up, it was no longer accessible to deeper draft large cargo vessels and trade moved north to Hue and Da Nang. As a result, so we are told, old Hoi An hasn't changed much in the past 200 years. The old portion of the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. I spent 4 days here, so I had a lot of time to walk around and check out all the old, very old buildings. Hoi An has been settled by Chinese, Japanese and of course colonized by the French, so there is a diversity of architecture.

And quite a few old temples which are still in use. I had never been into a working Buddhist temple, and these ones were definitely working. There were coils of incense hanging from the ceiling with prayer cards in the center of each one. So many that at times when the breeze died the smoke made it difficult to breathe.

While in Hoi An I had to change hotels three times for various reasons. The first one, while nice was too expensive at 18 dollars a night and the room literally opened onto the lobby where the dining room and pool was which as you might imagine was rather noisy. The second one was cheap, only 8 dollars a night, but it was on the top floor and had no AC. Most of the new construction in Vietnam is solid, cast concrete and with an average temperature in the mid to upper 80's along the coast; it was as hot room. The last hotel worked out well though and I stayed there the last two nights, but in the process of trying to find all of the hotels, I did a lot of walking around Hoi AN and I saw a lot of Banh Mi carts. Banh Mi are one of the foods I had been most anticipating on this trip, and so it was a major event when I got to have one. I was not disappointed, and at an average price of 60 cents, how could you go wrong.

I went back almost daily until I left Hoi An, but I would soon discover (in Hue) that all Banh Mi are not the same.

I ate a lot of other good food in Hoi An, some of it HERE.

You could buy hand built model sailing vessels at several shops in Hoi An. If you've ever watched the Vietnam episode of Top gear you'll remember the tailored suits and model galleon, both were purchased in Hoi An.

This is where they make your cheap suit.

And these are the people who make it, on their way to work in the morning.

I first noticed the popularity of trash bins, frequently with odd phrases and images on the front. This one was in one of the Buddhist temples.
Because of its UNESCO Heritage status, or at least, the old town is, it is very popular with tourists which is probably pretty bad most of the time. I was there during one of the "off" seasons, so it wasn't too bad. There were still plenty of white people, but not as many as I imagine there can be. Anyway, my point is that there are lots of businesses that cater to disposable incomes. It is in Hoi An that I got reproductions of some old propaganda posters.

There were also a couple of shops that sold hand carved wooden stamps. I bought one with a hammer and sickle, duh.

These guys fabricate animal cages by hand, from spools of wire strand.