Friday, December 3, 2010

Toward Vietnam

Very British.

Writing from the Harrod's cafe inside the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, during a layover en route to Ho Chi Minh City, which I'll call Saigon from now on.

I got back to Magelang late Wednesday night--later than I otherwise would have after a Merapi-related mud flood swamped a bridge on the main road between Jogja and Magelang, halting all airport shuttle bus traffic for the day. I shared a Kijang cab ride with four other people and a trip that normally takes about an hour, an hour and a half at the most, lasted more than three hours. We took side streets about a car-and-a-half wide, many of them choked with logging trucks moving at glacial speeds. Our driver was an old and, unique in my experience for a hired Indonesian wheelman, cautious driver. We lumbered slowly through the night, afraid to pass anything without a 1,000-yard straightaway. It was a slog.

Got back to the guest house to find hard rains had washed out all Internet access at the school. I moved back in, packed for Vietnam, and lit out for a Friday morning flight to Jakarta. Spent the night with a friend and his girlfriend last night at their small but homey apartment in south-central Jakarta. The girlfriend, who arrived in Indonesia about the same time I did in August, was laid up with terrible food poisoning. She rallied for a while while I was there--we all watched a Russell Crowe movie on TV--but then spent most of the night vomiting torrentially into a plastic bucket in the bathroom. She heaved hard and wet, over and over, the splat of her guts hitting the bucket every 10 minutes for three-quarters of an hour. And this after a day of puking Friday. She would wretch and moan, wretch and call out. She needed tranquilizers, and an IV. When I left this morning, she was still in the bathroom, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, spitting up and calling out to me through the door to have a good trip.

Kuala Lumpur International.

I've been fighting a bad bug of some kind for a while now but nothing like what my buddy's girlfriend is going through. They think she's got food poisoning and I think the lesson for me is that my gastronomical holiday in Indochina might be more cautious than if I were feeling 100-percent. There will be plenty to eat but maybe not so much from the food carts. Of course I'm saying that from the cleaned-and-polished, aroma-free confines of the airport, where everything tastes the same, and maybe I'll feel differently when hit with the street food of Vietnam.

Jenn and I are winging our itinerary but my guess is we tour Saigon tomorrow, head out to the Cu Chi tunnels--where I will not be making the trip underground; to the nearby hamlet of Phu Loi, where my dad was based during the war; and to the Delta, where we might see some floating markets. Inside Saigon proper, we'll be visiting the Reunification Palace, the War Remnants Museum, and I'll get someone to show me the old embassy roof, which is not identified in my copy of Lonely Planet. Excuse me, Aussie travel writers, but what percentage of your English-language readers are Americans? A seemingly noteworthy landmark, no?

All right, off to catch a plane ... .

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