Thursday, April 05, 2007


3 bouts of flu in as many weeks. And this one's the worst so far, complete with severe laryngitis and GE. I give up...

So as I nurse my sore throat and down gallons of fluids, I've had to postpone dinner with friends yet again, all the while wondering where the heck I got this *&^%$#@ bug. An ER patient? One of my fellow colleagues? Or a random contagious host at a shopping mall ( or church ) -- who knows?

But for now, I guess this is a good opportunity for me to catch up on work and writing.

American Idol 6: The Greatest Farce Of All Time?

Just read on the Net that the latest casualty is ... Gina Glocksen, aka Goth Girl. No tears shed for this chick, since I've never favoured her from the get go. But yeesh, Sanjaya wasn't even in the bottom 3! This Vote For The Worst campaign is stronger than anyone thought. Let's hope the boy doesn't end up winning the competition. Even the usually impartial and supportive Ryan Seacrest made a face during his intro for Sanjaya at the performance show. Not a good sign.

Unexpected ER Surprise

Helped fast-track a friend for an eye consult last week. Haven't seen this guy in almost a year, despite repeated tries at meeting up, so this was nice -- in a way. :)

And get a load of Jade, the SGH ortho MO on the front page of Life! today. $8500 for an evening dress = my monthly registrar salary, before CPF cut. To quote a Hokkien phrase: very sim1 tiah3.

Vietnam: Part 2

Taken from a chapter titled "Highway Of Death" from Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour ( I initially thought this came from The Nasty Bits, so apologies for the boo-boo. ).

"I just had the closest near-death experience I've ever had.

And I'm about to have another one. Then another.

I'm hurtling full speed down Highway 1 on my way to Can Tho, sitting with Philippe in the back of a hired minivan, horn honking constantly, heading right up the center line into oncoming traffic. There's a water truck about a hundred yards ahead, coming fast in the opposite direction, showing no sign that he intends to pull back into traffic, also honking wildly. Linh and a driver are in the front seat, with two shooters behind us -- and I'm convinced that any second we're all going to die.

...The thing is to keep up a constant attack with the horn. A beep means "Keep doing what you're doing, change nothing, make no sudden moves, and everything will probably be fine." It does not mean "Slow down" or "Stop" or "Move to the right" or "Get out of the way". If you try to do any of those things... - if you hesitate, look back over your shoulder, slow down, or even falter for a second - you will immediately find yourself in a burning heap of crumpled metal somewhere in a rice paddy. The horn means simply "I'm here!"

...We're right in the middle of the road, what would be a passing lane, if they had such a thing here. There's an uninterrupted line of fast-moving cars to our right, with no room at all between them in which to pull back in, a steady torrent of oncoming cars to our left, and the shoulders of both sides of the road are choked three- and four-deep with cyclists, motorbikes, water buffalo and scooters - all of them loaded with crates of food, washing-machine motors, sacks of fertilizer, flapping roosters, firewood, and family members.

...Just when our bumpers are about to meet, vaporizing all of us in an explosion of brake fluid, safety glass, blood and bone, two cars to our right suddenly open up a space for us -- and as if part of some hellish high-speed chorus line, we slip back into traffic. The water truck whips by with a terrific blast of wind, avoiding contact by less than a centimeter, and there's that peculiar vacuum pressure-drop effect you feel when on a train that is suddenly passed by another hurtling in the opposite direction. Philippe just looks at me, shaking his head, saying, "Are we still alive? I...I was sure that truck went right through us." He's not joking."

That, my friends, is exactly what we went through, multiplied by approximately 4 days ( taking into account the time we spent on crowded roads, NOT counting a particularly mind-bending drive along a rural "short cut" that was filled with potholes and granite slabs which tilted our bulky coach around 45 degrees at one point, but that's another story ).

Bourdain's description is based on a trip through the Mekong Delta, but as this photo taken during my 1st day in Ho Chi Minh City shows ( below ), the entire country follows essentially the same pattern, as long as similar conditions prevail.

[ p.s. make sure to click on the image for a full-screen magnification ]

It was nerve-wracking, to say the least, but sitting in a huge bus offers some advantage on the roads, so part of it also turned out to be pretty fun. :)

Here's a quick shot taken from my seat on a busy Saturday morning. You can imagine what it's like during weekday peak hours. Population 8 million. Yikes.

Bourdain's prose says it all, and it's just amazing how the Vietnamese manage to pile 2 adults and 3 children onto one tiny motorcycle, while mum straps an infant to her back. No helmets or safety harnesses of any kind, weaving through this mess without batting an eyelid.

I guess it helps that Vietnamese are almost invariably super-skinny. I don't recall ever seeing any fat natives anywhere. They work extremely hard, are extremely poor, but are also a lot nicer than some Singaporeans I know.

Navigating the streets of Ho Chi Minh is no joke, and this was especially evident since our hotel was situated in such a manner that our bus had to be parked on the opposite side of the road, with us being herded across like a flock of sheep ( with the bellboys' assistance, of course ). However, my mom and I made a solo effort one morning during a city tour, when I accompanied her on a restroom search. We scooted our way across a major traffic junction between the main Post Office and a shopping mall named the Diamond Plaza, heads spinning as motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses inched past us, honking away. Nobody cares about the zebra crossings, but it gives the pedestrian a teeny-tiny bit of so-called 'power' and sense of legitimacy, I suppose, 'cos if you try to cross somewhere else, you'll probably be mowed down in no time. ( At least they slow down a little near the crossings, even though the markings are so faded you can hardly make them out anymore. )

We had a GREAT driver, by the way. I thought our driver in Italy was fantastic ( Marcello the Invincible squeezed through the narrowest walkways and sped along tiny cliffside roads like a pro ), but Duong was such a hero on this trip, earning our respect and appreciation.

Also, if you've ever seen the film Little Miss Sunshine, you'll know what I mean when I say our bus sounded exactly like the movie's inanimate ( but memorable ) star during its forays on the roads.

And I swear, there were a few occasions when I had to suppress my mirth by clamping a hand over my mouth. It was so crazy, but how I loved it. :)

Next entry: beautiful images captured at random moments. Stay tuned.

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