missives from the far east, redux

(in four parts)
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I’m writing from Siem Reap City, home to Angkor Wat and numerous lesser temples along the Tonle Sap’s north shore (Southeast Asia’s largest lake), as well as temporary respite to thousands of sweaty, sunburnt tourists. It’s quite the mix of nationalities here—I’ve seen Koreans, Japanese, Australians, Germans, Brits, French, Americans, Indians, Vietnamese, throngs of Chinese. Many, many things available to buy on the cheap, from temple replicas, T-shirts and silk scarves to spice caches, crocodile-leather handbags and (probably) ersatz gemstones, plus everything imaginable in between. Spoons carved from conch shells. Pirated DVDs. Bottles of rum in which the preserved corpses of cobras and scorpions are posed in mortal combat, for dramatic if not gustatory effect. Tuk-tuks galore, their drivers obnoxiously solicitous and persistent. Lots of money changing hands in this bustling kitschy chaotic sprawl. My old college roommate and good friend Logan, who is a Peace Corps volunteer in the neighboring Kampong Thom Province, has joined me here for the Water Festival this weekend, a national holiday of sorts. It’s supposed to signify a flow reversal of the rivers feeding into the Tonle Sap, marking the end of the wet season, as the lake reaches max capacity and begins pushing water back out through its tributaries. But apparently the flow reversed weeks ago—and the major events scheduled in Phnom Pehn canceled, purportedly due to political murmurs—so what festivities as can be found are carried out in a haphazard, half-assed sort of way. Most citizens are using the time off to visit their hometowns throughout the country. Logan and I are here mostly to catch up over fifty-cent beers and frolic around the countryside.

It seems that fully half my time spent in Cambodia thus far has been in transit from one spot to another. About a week and a half ago I visited Logan at his service site in Kampong Thom, where he lives and teaches English to a whole bunch of little Cambodian kids. I spent a couple days hanging out with them at their school, taking pictures and engaging in shy, halting conversations in English, me reluctantly dusting off my pidgin-Khmai for their amusement. That weekend they were planning to paint an education-themed mural on one of the walls, a popular pastime (so I’m told) among Peace Corps volunteers looking to leave lasting impressions on their host communities. (A running joke among volunteers is that Peace Corps service can be directly measured by the quantity of murals painted.) Logan asked the kids what they thought should be included in the mural. Saving the environment, they said, and books. Lots of books. But everyone was so modest about their artistic talents—no one volunteered to draft a design. Thus I was called upon to paint a tree with books growing from its branches, to which the kids added leaves and, inexplicably, a cartoon cat with a laptop, sitting on a stump in the foreground. Logan painted a seated humanoid-type figure, nose buried in a book. Empty space was duly filled with some educational slogans, one in English (“Books are a student’s best friend”) and one in Khmai (forgot the gist of that one). It was lots of fun, a great way to start off the trip.

Afterward I re-joined my parents and met with relatives in Kampong Cham, the province of my mother’s birth. This particular family lives about a mile away from the Mekong River, making their living by pickling a type of bok choi to sell to restaurants and market vendors. Their front yard features a number of huge, lidded crock pots brimful with brine and pickling cabbage. They have a black puppy of indeterminate breed named “Black”, which in hindsight seems obvious but took me a while to figure out because they always pronounced it “Lock”, or “Loak”. We stayed with them for a day and a night and then headed back to Phnom Pehn to depart on the “real estate tour” that my parents were so jazzed about. It actually involved taking a heinously potholed road into the Cardamom Mountains near Thailand to check out farms for several days—though unfortunately much of that time was spent en route, crammed into vans with various relatives. It was beautiful nonetheless, the rare expanses of pristine rainforest blanketing the highlands in an impenetrable emerald thicket. More on that excursion in a later message.

Being in Cambodia elicits powerful, ambivalent feelings in me, every time I’m back. It’s so predictable and yet I experience these feelings anew, as if I had forgotten entirely my previous impressions of the place and its paradoxes. It boils down to people. Cambodians, so kind and generous and irrepressibly upbeat, are both the lifeblood of this country and—I’m convinced—the source of its unmaking.

See, I love spending time in the countryside, out of the cities, among the plants and birds and insects that are so foreign to me, as foreign as the stifling humidity and searing equatorial sun, the too-short days and the near-ubiquitous smell of rot. Productivity here (of the non-human sort) is ramped up to its limits—everywhere is birth, death, decay, re-uptake, renewal, regrowth. I love these havens where nature flourishes in all its tropic excess, where the verdant jungles seethe with life, vocal yet invisible, and the rivers, lakes and seas teem with creatures hunting, killing, eating each other, reproducing—dancing the dance that defines existence. But increasingly this dance is reduced to mere sideshow in Cambodia, outshone by the human characters that crowd the stage and push all else off the edge.

Every time I visit Cambodia there are more people, more cars and motos, more garbage. The cities have expanded, the forests razed and replanted with exportable produce, the ponds and lakes filled with sand to build more houses upon. And the populace itself can’t really be blamed: their bottomless optimism, their onward march toward prosperity stems from a truly tumultuous and trying past, and they’re clearly looking to move past that part, to succeed in the present and secure happiness for themselves and their own. They aspire to wealth—material, spiritual, whatever riches one can amass—as surely as any other self-serving people. In Cambodia this invariably means the despoilation of the environment, bent to the will of a population caught in a rat race of upward mobility, Westernization, capitalism run rampant. The people and their artifacts spread unchecked across the land, leaving filth and desolation in their wake. Is this deplorable? We either hold our tongues or face hypocrisy. Who are we to say that this is self-destructive behavior, worthy of opprobrium, when we ourselves have done the very same—and continue to do—to that American soil we call our own, and even to other, poorer nations? Only recently have we found the luxury to significantly curtail such practices within our borders, finding merit in conserving a little, rather than outright exploiting all. It’s so frustrating and ultimately saddening to me, to see this very special and unparalleled place actively destroyed by its inhabitants. Of course this sort of thing is happening everywhere, all around the globe, but here it’s just so…blatant. Unmitigated. Senseless, even. People honestly don’t seem to give a shit about anything other than getting some while the getting’s good.

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The low scudding clouds, dark and voluminous, roll in off the murky water, their imposing bulk lit from within by intermittent lightning strikes, dazzling lateral skybursts of white and purplish red. Soundless electric fury in the confines of a cloud. Strung together, the flashes span the sky and stretch to the horizon. Rain cometh. When it does the humidity spikes palpably, as though the precipitation doesn’t so much fall to the ground as hover in the intergrade between street and sky, sublimating and coalescing, clouds re-condensing at your feet, in your lungs. The Gulf of Thailand here is almost at air temperature—that is, seventy-five degrees or so—and is the color of oversteeped tea, slick with spilled gasoline. Not exactly picturesque. Narrow, canoe-like fishing boats ply the trash-strewn waves. It is late afternoon in Koh Kong City, a dingy strip of aging hotels and waterfront walkways in the eponymous coastal province along the Thai-Cambodia border. The sky at three is bowing to a darkness that will not abate until five-thirty in the morning. I eat crab and calamari and drink watery Anchor beers with my Uncle Min and his buddies, who insist on clanking glasses in a toast every couple minutes for no reason I can discern. “Chee-ah, chee-ah,” they slur, apropos of nothing, glassy-eyed and gesturing with their mugs. I soon excuse myself because the awkward pointlessness of this practice becomes unbearable—better to wander the night market and sample fried snacks before a inky-dark dip in the sea, when its sordid condition is less apparent. It’s oddly more comforting to swim here without seeing what I’m doing—I simply imagine the water cleaner, more inviting than I know it to be, and the delusion suffices.

Earlier, in the mangrove forest, amid the muck-probing, oyster-encrusted roots, I spy a water snake basking on a chunk of driftwood, its green-black head and neck barely emersed, nostrils tipped with fleshy snorkle projections. In the brackish water around it are spotted archerfish, silver and spade-shaped, drawing beads on their above-water prey. Crabs perch on mangrove branches. Also egrets, hill mynahs, brilliantly iridescent kingfishers. Swallows flit across the openings between groves, all but skimming the water’s surface in their insectivorous pursuit. The mangroves here are enormous: twenty to thirty feet tall, clustered in dark, dank thickets that rise on stilts above the waves. If there are mudskippers here I fail to spot them. High-water level is marked on the lower mangrove branches by snagged plastic bags, discarded fishing nets, swaying now in the breeze.

Our boat tour is canceled, mid-way, on account of the rain. I am in the company of relatives moneyed and privileged enough to drive out to an ecological tourist site and pay for an hour-long river cruise, only to encounter a spitting rain fifteen minutes in before ordering the captain to turn around. Their children complain of getting wet while we motor past shirtless fishermen pulling nets, inured to the weather, their wide-brimmed hats sluicing rainwater down their backs.

The following day we drive up into the Cardamom Mountains, along a cratered dirt-and-gravel grade that winds through the verdure like a scar across a moss-backed giant, red and raw in places but threatening always to close up, moss over if given half a chance. In 2006 Chinese engineers hacked this road from the jungle, paved here and there with concrete, to access their many hydroelectric dams that bridle and harness the mountain rivers for (mostly Chinese) profit. Cambodia’s government acceded happily to these projects, heeding to those twinned bureaucratic buzzwords of “economic development” and “gross domestic product,” the prospect of short-term gains pealing like Pavlov’s bell. Little matter that China clearly has its eye on exploiting as much of Southeast Asia as it can get its hands on—Cambodia, for its part, will take the proffered cash, utilize the shoddily-built roads before the jungle reclaims them, torch away the understory to raise crops and houses in the newly-accessible hinterlands, and watch with unseeing eyes as the garish umber soil is loosed from its moorings by erosion and washed down the mountainsides into the sea.

This doomed forest is opulent in its God-given gifts of sun and rain, decadent in its wall-to-wall chlorophylled upholstery, an embarrassment of ecological riches and richness. Hundred-foot dipterocarps jostle for canopy space over vast stands of bamboo crowding the understory, their canes as thick as fence posts. Bracken ferns, tufted bunchgrasses and wild rhododendrons carpet the forest floor. Butterflies the size of songbirds flutter past, glinting and turning in the sunshafts like falling flower petals, fleeting in their wingbeats, impossibly beautiful. Any attempt to travel on foot through this fastness is met with swift and utter defeat; one quickly gets the sense that modern humanity has no place in this jungle, that there is room enough for secretive tigers, elephants, king cobras and dog-sized deer, but not humans, not in their illimitable present-day profusion. So, when faced with this existential conundrum, humans are given two choices: either abandon this land that so stubbornly spurns our advances—an admission, perhaps, of defeat—or else break it, subjugate it, mold it to our design. Coexistence isn’t an option, not at this advanced stage. Such a crossroads has been met by our kind since time immemorial. The path taken is always, ineluctably the same.

We stop at a pull-out for lunch. The forest grows close to the road, almost on top of it; we stand in a ribbon of bared earth snaking through a sea of green. Cries of unseen birds ring out from the treetops. Cicadas buzz like powerlines, a frenetic, primal pulsing energy, more bodily felt than heard. A troop of monkeys leaps from one branch to the next, crashing through the foliage, shaking loose cascades of dew in a thick drenching patter. Every available crevice along the ascending tree trunks is colonized by epiphytes, their interdigitated leaves, limbs and rootlets less suggestive of parasitism than outright hybridization, a Frankenplant of disparate graftings. One of my aunts, finished with her meal, notices that I am taking photographs of anything and everything around us, relishing the opportunity to be outside of the car for a bit, sucking in the cool humid air. “Sa-aht,” she says, gesturing to the green-cloaked mountains. “Beautiful.” As she says this, she tears the plastic safety seal from her water bottle and throws it to the ground. I glance around at the others: everyone is tossing their empty styrofoam takeout containers into the runoff ditches on either side of the road. My dad also sees this, starts exhorting the others to pack out their waste; they react as if he spouting nonsense, utter inanity. Most of them laugh. “Look at this silly American,” they say, “look at him picking up the rubbish. Just leave it there, uncle, please, it is okay.”

Everyone does this in the countryside. Trashcans, where they exist, seem to be treated more as decorative novelties rather than receptacles for waste. Throwing shit into bushes, ditches, out of car windows must be a national pastime, such is its prevalence and near-universal acceptance by the populace. It occurs in the cities, too, despite more trashcans and garbage-collection services in some of the larger ones—but nowhere is this habitual littering more obvious than in the rural areas. You can’t walk more than a foot from any road, even the remotest country track, before meeting with some garbage. Such is the embryonic sense of land ethic among the Cambodian majority. There is no notion of commonweal for the land, no notion of shared responsibility. Wilderness is merely untapped potential—nice to look at, perhaps, but worthless until developed. A resource for the human animal. The land itself has no inherent value, outside of what humans can wrest from it: space to build, grow food, raise livestock, put more people. There is no stigma attached to littering. It is cast off willy-nilly with a discomfiting nonchalance, as if Cambodians are resigned to living in a world where human refuse takes the place of fallen leaves, where the indestructible dross of progress piles so high as to bury all that Cambodia was and ever will be. Archaeological records will be read in soft-drink cans and candy wrappers, assuming that one can read anything of interest from such shitty stratification.

I am aware of a growing bitterness permeating my tone. Let me try to amend that. There is much beauty to behold in this country, once one allows oneself to appreciate it. (Or, more accurately, once I dial back this instinctive misanthropy of mine.) For instance: Lime-green paddies of rice viewed at twilight, the fields unbroken save for rows of delineating date and coconut palms, the swifts and bats overhead mingling in the sultry remains of the day. Spare-limbed pines swaying in a cool mountaintop breeze. Ponds choked with blooming pad-lilies and lotus and morning glory, its deepest point occupied by a water buffalo submerged to the horns, chewing and snorting. Great egrets dancing in the shallows for fish, at once gawky and elegant; cattle egrets perching on skeletal zebu in the fields, following them with bounding strides as the insects go flying before them. The smell of a pineapple farm, a black pepper farm, fragrant in the afternoon sun. The dazzling cornucopia of the psar, or open-air market; the outrageous and incredible array of Khmai street food that is a wonder unto itself. It’s a completely different world here. I love it, I hate it; my feelings rush from one extreme to the other and back again.

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Another day is lost to the thrum of tires on asphalt, the chorus of honking horns, the horribly inescapable Khmai pop videos flashing from a screen at the front of the bus. Shivering under frigid nozzles of conditioned air—or, just as likely, languishing in sticky, stifling, rash-inducing heat—filing out at rest stops to piss and buy tidy plastic baggies of vapid road snacks. The crying babies, the belching, farting busfolk. Another day spent enduring the heavings of an ancient chassis barreling over washouts, groaning and listing: this next bump could be the last. Loud, intermittent decompressive bursts that sound distressingly like brake failure. “Pssssssssht” goes the sound; all the foreigners look to the front, to their neighbors, to one another now, frantically—the locals appear not to have heard. They yawn and scratch themselves. The sound is dismissed as benign, inconsequential at best. Purportedly five-hour rides that stretch to seven, nine, ten and a half. “Why are we stopping?” ask the foreigners, at first timidly querulous, then with increasing ire. “Wait, we’re stopping again?!” The locals know better. We’re stopping so the driver can buy gas. We’re stopping so he can piss. Then we slow to pick up an old man and his krama-covered basket of chickens, which is duly stowed in the overhead compartment. Now we’re stopping to let off a small family of restaurateurs and their rice, bags of meat, bundled groceries. Here we’re picking up repackaged rice sacks, shrink-wrapped boxes, odd-shaped parcels left by the side of the road—contents unknown, provenance and destination unclear. We’re stopping because this is a public bus, traveling along a bus route through neighborhoods, towns, cities. Any imagined adherence to a rigid schedule is exactly that: imaginary and unsubstantiated. The schedule is expansive, elastic, despite any carping to the contrary. The schedule is more theory than practice, a notion rather than a plan. Nowhere is this stated explicitly. Complaints fall on deaf ears: the humans themselves are not at fault. The traveller gathers, by experience, that the schedule in Cambodia is an enigmatic thing, unassailable by logic and unmoved by emotional appeal. Like gravity and entropy, the schedule is omnipotent and utterly untouchable, a veritable force of nature.

This latest excursion finds us departing Phnom Pehn early in the morning to arrive, in darkness, to a vastly different place—Sen Monoram, provincial seat of easternmost Mondulkiri, where Cambodia and Vietnam meet. Mondulkiri means “Meeting of the Hills,” as if geologic forces conspired to place these eminences side by side in congress, to lord over the surrounding lowlands. They’re certainly well-represented here. One can look out onto this hummocky landscape of pines, rubber and eucalyptus plantations, fields of cassava—everywhere red of earth and jade of jungle—and imagine the knolls gathered here for an officious summit, a meeting of the mounds. Mondulkiri is Cambodia’s least-populated province, and more than half of its four-person-per-kilometer populace hails from indigenous minority groups of the hills, such as the Bunong. These are the self-described “Hill People,” farmers and hunters and foragers, denizens of the forest, speakers of dialects unintelligible to most Khmai. Whose men stretch their earlobes and hunt monkeys and ride elephants to work; whose women wear woven baskets on their backs and grow, harvest and process modest crops of squash, taro, banana and cassava, pounding rice with mortar and pestle to relinquish grain from husk. Their plots of land appear as bald, cornrowed patches on the verdant hills. Nowadays the elephant-riding is mostly a publicity stunt; the men venture into jungles leading not hunting parties but groups of wanderlusting tourists.

I join one of these tour groups for an overnight “jungle trek” through the hills. Myself, two Frenchmen, two Estonians and a Swiss leave the dusty hilltop town of Sen Monoram for the green hummocks beyond, our heads no doubt filled with grandiose visions of precipitous cliffside trails, towering waterfalls and wildlife galore. (I know mine was.) More realistically, we expect what the guest house booker has promised us: ten hours of jungle hiking, visits to a number of swimmable falls, the opportunity to spend a night in a Bunong village slung from a hammock, all the food and water we’ll need. Wisely, he cautions against harboring too-high hopes for spotting wildlife. “Maybe some monkeys, some birds, but only in the morning,” he says first off, as we fork over the fees. “The guide will point out if he sees.” This admission comforts us. We trust this booker and his bland assurances. Everything sounds fair and worthwhile and fun, but that’s forgetting the cardinal rule of Cambodian tourism: The schedule is never to be trusted. We perhaps mistook the booker’s words to be some sort of proprietary obligation to the guest, a sacrosanct laying out of rules and expectations, not recognizing them for what they truly represented: a schedule, and thus a sham—perfunctory and essentially meaningless.

Suffice it to say that the realities of our “jungle trek” fall short of our expectations at nearly every turn. The ten hours of steamy bushwhacking are in actuality far shorter (say, six hours tops) and much less humid, as the majority of this is spent not in jungle but clearcut grassland, fully exposed to the sun. Our Bunong guide, kind and well-meaning as he undoubtedly may be, speaks but a smattering of Khmai, and even less English. Most of our questions go mostly unanswered, and there is little in the way of interpretive discussion. Thus we spend the hike pondering things like, “What is this plant? What was that bird? Why does our guide disappear into the jungle every time we stop to rest?” Thankfully our party is a cheerful one, everybody charitable of mood; we view these shortcomings with a nonplussed, detached sort of hilarity, as if the joke’s not on us but rather set up for everyone’s mutual enjoyment. When the “village” where we are spending the night turns out to be a solitary hut in the middle of nowhere, the Frenchmen mutter what becomes the trek’s unofficial catchphrase: “Hey, what ees zis sheet?” We laugh nervously, exchange incredulous glances, each of us inwardly wondering, in all seriousness, “Wow, is this for real?”

Everyone still has fun, of course, despite the paltry food and water—”What ees zis sheet?“—and overall aimlessness of the trip. There are hornbills, butterflies, rainbowfish, and dapper little monkeys known as black-shanked doucs to see; the waterfalls are as numerous and spectacular as promised. I find and photograph a number of mushrooms and flowers and insects that await identification by more seasoned eyes. The night we spend on the hilltop is a memorable one: the sky north of us is clear and exquisitely star-spangled; to the south are mounting thunderheads, streaked with lightning. We are afforded a curiously bisected skyscape, half in storm and half in stellar lucidity. I recognize Orion, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades, all slightly askew in the skies of this hemisphere. It sends a pang of homesickness through me, seeing these constellations familiar to Western skies, stretched over mountain ranges or draped across the desert.

____________

The dawn breaks soft and silvery on low clouds, diffusing widely, like dye in water, not emanating from any particular point but every point, all at once. Just…a lightening, gradual and subtle, in broad grayscale tones. Seeps into the sky, this faint gray glow of the forthcoming day. No one knowing precisely when the gentle diffusion begins—but the rooster thinks he does, and so he crows self-importantly to herald it. “Must be the first!” he thinks, cockily, or perhaps knows. “Must usher in this day with gusto!” But he is conscious of his cue—mustn’t crow prematurely. His timing, perforce, is impeccable. Other roosters, wanting to pre-empt his announcement, cry “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” into the darkness, but too early, too soon. Though they know better, they cannot resist a try. They squawk awkwardly, embarrassed. But already it’s too late. Everything is awakening anyway in the soft silver light.

Mangy dogs yawn and stretch, scratch at fleas; they thump their tails against the dusty earth and then chase one another, yipping and snarling, through the darkened stirring streets. Skinny cats with bent tails slinking back from a night’s hunting. Doors unlocking, heavy wrought-iron gates swinging outward, screeching and groaning, opening with lurching reluctance to greet the day. Motorbikes starting, tractors starting, diesel generators starting up, lights coming on in all the houses. Headlights on the road, cyclopean moto beams and coupled truck beams in the gloaming. People are rousing—yawning, coughing, snorting and spitting. Voices hushed in the pale incandescence. Wood being chopped, cooking fires lit and stoked, breakfast being prepared for the coming day’s labors. Pigs grunting expectantly at their troughs. Cattle and buffalo pawing at the trampled grass, pulling at their tethers, bells jangling about their necks, eager to be led to pasture. Ducks and geese waddling steadily toward fenced-in ponds. At the village edge, near the forest, cicadas and raucous wild birds are awakening, shrieking and sawing the calm humid air with strident notes. Their primeval alarm travels through the canopy. Deeper in the jungle the elephants, gibbons, sun bears, hornbills, wild pigs and wild buffalo are stirring from bestial slumber. Everything has come awake in the argent light of the day.

The light changes from silver to a creamy yellow, an eggwash across the sky, lambent and brightening by the minute. There is light enough to see by; it suffices to start the day. The people—black-haired and brown-skinned, small-boned, short of stature; with broad noses and brown eyes and wide, smiling mouths—move about in the morning with unhurried ease. The burgeoning day awaits them. Mostly Buddhists, they believe very strongly in destiny, in the inescapable reality of fate; they have cast their lot with Samsara’s spinning wheel of roulette—the rest is beyond their control. They sense with acuity their role in this life, and if it is an unfulfilling one then the next will surely be better. They welcome the new day with a timeworn complacency—another day, another incremental turn of the wheel, like the circumambulating minute hand of a clock.

They wash themselves with dip-buckets of water drawn from cisterns, or, if they are lucky, with municipal tap water pumped through a shower head. They are scrupulously clean about their bodies, their vehicles, their dwellings. Once the people are clean, suddenly there is activity everywhere—the villages and cities come alive with their inhabitants. Women folding laundry, sweeping storefronts with wicker brooms, setting out gaudy plastic tables and stools in restaurants for the breakfast crowd. Men squatting on their haunches, smoking cigarettes. Laborers, all sinewy carob-colored men, loading and unloading merchandise from trucks—sacks of rice, pallets of bricks, pallets of eggs, bagged produce, mounded produce, cases of beer, of cigarettes, of soft drinks, bundles of charcoal—their lean muscled arms hefting, lofting, stacking, securing. Uniformed students in pressed slacks and pleated skirts scarfing their breakfasts and hopping on bicycles toward school. In the amber glow of the morning they fill the dusty streets with their pedal-bound pilgrimmage, a sea of white tops and blue bottoms weaving through the thickening traffic.

The roadside cafes fill with men smoking and drinking sweetened iced coffee through straws from clear glass mugs, faces without expression, contemplating the day before them. Tuk-tuk drivers, many of them, their vehicles standing near their tables, ready for fares at a moment’s notice. Noodle vendors rolling their carts onto the streets, igniting propane burners to heat the broth, cutting with practiced care the various condiments: liver pate, pig intestine, congealed blood cake, limes, vegetables, bunches of herbs. Sandwich vendors stacking crisp baguettes in glass cases. In the markets, vendors prepare their goods for the coming shoppers, arranging, apportioning, advertising, prettifying. Cuts of beef, chicken and pork hang on hooks, raw with glistening yellow globules of fat, blood dripping onto deeply scarred cutboards. Metal bowls of live river fish, clams, snails, snakes, turtles. Fruit sellers stacking their wares with artful precision: mango, pineapple, papaya, jackfruit, durian, longan, lychee, custard apple, guava, pomelo, orange, passionfruit, dragonfruit, mangosteen, persimmon. The racks of new clothes rolled out, the mannikins dressed for the day’s mute exhibition. Display cases of jewelry dusted off, burnished to a gloss. The sun has been but one hour above the horizon and this day is well underway, full of bustle and import and commerce. The people are willing; they are ready to see this day through for its inherent worth. They come prepared to make the most of it.

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One thought on “missives from the far east, redux

  1. Hey, I painted that “humanoid type figure” sitting beneath a tree! Don’t give credit to my students!

    Beautiful stuff, Pete. You sure can turn a phrase. It was a great visit.

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