Tuesday, October 26, 2010

episode 16 "Hartenstein at Angkor Wat"

The following video was shot over a couple of days while trekking the massive and sprawling Angkor Wat Temple complex. I tried to make it short and sweet, but the video could have been much longer. A special thanks to the Crippled Musicians from Landmines Project at Prasat Preah Khan for their traditional Khmer music. Enjoy.

Talking Stones

The whores along Pham Ngu Lao bark at me like rabid dogs
Color stars and moon shapped anchors on my forearms
In nail polish
Drop crusty bandaids in their drinks on dares
It's a Thursday and there's a two for one special.

The trees above Thanh Ha Lane are impossible to climb
Crush you like cups of enticing wine
Screaming indignities, pucker up sour lips like flat coca-cola
It's autumn and you are being courted but she kisses like last year.

The lovers around Hoan Kiem Lake huddle in the shaddows
Even their fingernails are turned on
But there is no where to go
Turn up your collar as you pass
Humming strangers don't talk back even under cloak of night.

The boys fishing with bamboo sticks outside Siem Reap chase bicycles on whims
Along the mudd ruts outside their home
Kicking clods, trading belts
He ain't staring you down, he's just squinting in the sunlight.

The stones of Angkor expect the tourists to do tricks
On fallen camellia blossoms we sit in whispers
Stones always ask the same thing
Tell me traveler, tell me because I hear rumors, is it true we can walk on the waves?

Rocket Man

"And I think it's gonna be a long, long time till touch down brings me round again to find, I'm not the man they think I am at home. Oh, No, No, No..."
(Check Out the Flickr Pics Peeps!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching Emerson to 9th Graders

(The following pictures were taken over a three day period while trekking Angor Wat in Cambodia a few weeks back. The blog written today after an awe inspiring American Lit class.)
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m sweating. Literally drenched in sweat. T-shirt. Brow. Soaked. Standing on a desk screaming. Telling a story about how I used to climb on the roof to fix the antenna with bailing wire and tinfoil so that my little brother could watch Hogan’s Heroes.
But nothing.
My students have no response at all.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies inside us.” -RWE

I take my students outside to feel the afternoon breeze. I write instructions in yellow chalk on the blackboard that cause me to sneeze laughingly seven times in a row.
1. You are about to encounter nature.
2. You will carry a pen and your journal.
3. You will go outside and find something, anything that inspires you. A twig. A patch of moss. A tossed cigarette butt.
4. You will write a simple truth in your journal that this object inspires, and read it to the class.
5. Good luck. Remember to smile. God is watching.
“Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it.” -RWE

My students are dead in the eyes.
They only study for tests. They hide math books in their laps while I recite Byron and Shelley.
They pass economics worksheets over one another’s shoulders while I sing Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.
They talk aloud about theorems and calculus equations that will appear on the national exam in June while I rant and huff and puff about Emerson and individual freedom.
“The soul is not a compensation but a life” -RWE

I plead with them.
I beg them. But they are skeletons in suits.
These were my Shakespeare kids from last year. The ones who put on the Macbeth play. The ones who recited sonnets and danced to Lady Gaga in front of the whole school. The ones I used to make laugh so hard they fell out of their chairs. Now there is nothing between us.
“Be not the slave of your past.” -RWE

Outside I crouch next to Katie and Anne and rummage three leaf clovers. Then stroll with Jason around the rubber track. Catch Aden and Dave sitting with white flowers in their hands and I ask them about girls, but they answer in Chinese and look away.
“When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” -RWE

Back in the class the students lay their objects on the desk and begin to write. I write too. I take out leaves, yellow fallen leaves I have picked up from outside and put in my pocket. I take out a black felt tip pen and write my student’s names on one side and Emerson quotes on the other. Then I slowly walk up and down the aisles laying them on student’s desks. I whisper to them. I say, put these leaves in your text books. You will find them when you least expect it. They will wait for you forever.
“To believe in your own thoughts, to believe that what is true for your private heart is true for all men, that is genius.” - RWE

It’s just a moment before the bell rings. I’m seasoned. I watch the clock well. This job is not for the faint of heart. And my heart ain’t faint. One of the students, a girl nicknamed YoYo, writes about little cotton balls she has stuck on a stick like a kebab. She holds them high in the air like a little old woman beneath a parasol, like marshmellows roasting over a campfire, like a busted and bent TV antenna from the 70’s. I am screaming these descriptions from atop a chair as my students pile out of the room toward their national exam cram lessons.
When all they really need to survive is an afternoon outside, a pen, and a journal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

episode 14: "War Remenants Museum Ho Chi Minh"

Hartenstein sets out with map and rucksack through a Ho Chi Minh rainstorm to the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. It is an emotional trip. Warning: Some images are disturbing.

episode 15 "Good Morning Cambodia"

It's 4 a.m. and Hartenstein is in the dark jungle... what are you doing?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Episode 13 "An American in Vietnam"

Well, despite some awful lighting... here's some thoughts and cool video about modern day Hanoi and being an American in Vietnam.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fishing in Villages with a Bamboo Poll

The other day I rented a two dollar bicycle and headed south out of Ho Chi Minh toward these little huted villages. The bicycle squeaked and was rusted as I peddled through rice fields and along muddy dirt roads.
I stopped to watch a pantless boy lead a cow to pasture. I stopped later to fish with a group of boys along a fallen tree dangling their bamboo rods into the shallow filthy pool. We caught nothing, but they got quite a laugh out of me.
Later, back in the city, I chatted up this Duthcman who was leaving his Vietnamese wife and child. He said they were still best friends, and that he loved his baby, but he was an artist and felt stifled here. I just watched the sunlight fall across the glass on the window while he talked.
Got caught in a rainstorm and watched this woman street sweeper. She was wearing a rice conical hat tied with a strap around her neck, a maroon plastic tarp tied around her body, and had a gucchi watch and bracelet. She smiled at me, so stylish, this woman was, while picking up the trash. I wanted to follow her around for a day.
I've begun writing my Rock N Roll Romeo and Juliet play. It's a musical with Beatles songs and Shakespearean passages with Chinese jokes set in Taiwan in the early 1960's. I don't care what anyone says, it's brilliant.
I'm kicking myself for not taking Xian with me on this trip. Rebekach would have struggled, but Xian would have loved these temples and parks. We could have ridden in rickshaws under stars and dined in outdoor cafes together beneath lantern lights. We could have broused night markets and made faces over spicy shark fin and duck entrails. Nobody will ever listen to my whispers like my children. I laughed so hard today, fishing with those boys, but afterward, I felt guilty as sin for doing this alone.

Friday, October 8, 2010

hartensteinabroad episode 12 "Vietnam on the Back of a Motorbike."

Here is my first Vietnam movie about traveling north on a motorbike. I hope you enjoy.

Real Darling Cafe, Hanoi Old Quarter

Hey Readers... well, internet is a little spotty, but please check out Flickr Pics updated this morning. (The above picture is the little hole in the wall cafe where I slept on $4 a night. Enjoy.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

1,000 Years of Tranh Long

(1,000 Year Anniversary Pictures from Celebrations around Hanoi)

Sat shirtless beneath a banyan tree today and sketched a water buffalo, was startled by a garter snake, and watched a horde of ants devour a beetle. Learned wood flute from a child and the Vietnamese word for incense. Silly.
I had a go with a douchey French dude who wore a t-shirt with one arrow pointing up that read “The Man” and another arrow pointing down which read “The Legend.” I kept asking him, “Haven’t we met before?” To which he said, “No No No No.” To which I said, “Yes Yes Yes, I think we have… you are very famous…” To which he said, “No No No, I don’t think so…”
This conversation went on for five minutes.
I’m still giggling.
Spent ten dollars on a CD of Khmer Traditional Music recorded by a group of crippled musicians who had lost legs, arms, and eyes after stepping on landmines. The CD cost more than a night in my hotel room.
Walked down to the water around Hoan Kiem Lake, something made me want to skip stones, thought I saw something, but it was only ripples dancing away. I tried to strike it with a flat little pebble the color of an agate. I think I did.
It is the thousand year anniversary of Vietnam. A thousand years ago in 1010 they declared themselves independent from China and since then have successfully thwarted invasions from numerous invaders including the Khmers and Mongols.
There are celebrations throughout the city. Thousands of people crowded Nha Tho around the Old Quarter to see traditional dancers and hear ethnic music. Ceremonies and parades are held at all the local pavilions including the sprawling and communist architecture laden Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the cool little Ngoc Son (Jade Mountain) Temple, and two of my personal all-time favorites the Temple of Literature and the totally cool Women’s Museum, which is a tribute to female soldiers.
The people of Hanoi have been very welcoming to me. Whether I am crouched on a low stool sipping slow dripping black coffee strong as dark chocolate, or grunting my scooter into traffic with one hand on a camera the other on the wheel, or letting me dip extra slices of filleted fish in sauce after grilled on street charcoals (and by the way, I’ve eaten such good food here), they have welcomed me into their hearts.
I don’t know what to expect in Ho Chi Minh tomorrow. I know that I am going to be looking at the Vietnam War through museums and exhibits, that I am going to take a day or two and pollute my mind with images and stories of horror so that I can better immerse myself in the darkness of that time, to attempt to understand it.
I’m nervous.
But if this country can survive a thousand years of heartache, of separation, of destruction and atrocity, and still smile and wrap its arms around me, an American, well… I suppose I will just have to live to tell the tale. Wish me good luck.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vietnam Monkies Flying Out of my Butt

(Photos taken on the back of a bicycle at Bat Throng Ceremics Village in North of Hanoi)

I don’t think it really matters where you’re from. You grow up in one place with your own concerns and cares, savoring wisdom from necessity and the mundane. I grew up knowing it was going to rain by looking at the mountains in the east and how to take the guts form a telephone and make a killer Martian Robot Halloween costume. Random unrelated pieces of knowledge that make up my DNA.
Random modern me.
Random modern you.
That’s why travel to foreign countries these days is so bizarre. People cater to their notions of your tourist needs, attempting to match your American or Western sensibilities often so comically askew with your own. They take you as personal guests for fine dining at McDonalds cutting their cheeseburgers with sterling silver forks while glitzy orchestral renditions of Yesterday and the Moonlight Sonata hum on muzak speakers above you, telling you that they don’t usually drink Coca-Cola, but that it is just so suitable with Kentucky Fried Chicken, and don’t you agree? They prop you up with stiff throw pillows on high speed Tuk Tuks insisting you lay back when you really want to sit on the edge and fly. They serve you beer with ice cubes and pepperoni pizza with green peas and carrot slices. It’s just weird what must be going on in their heads as they try to figure me out.
Then there are the endless questions, as if they are stuck on “Meeting a Foreigner Beginner Conversation” repeat. They will ask you if New York is really both a city and state and what is the capital of Montana. You ask why and they say, “Oh, just I’m studying.”
When you know this is the same safe dialogue they’ve had dozens upon dozens of times with odd-looking English speakers like yourself. So you interact. You try to make a joke, catch them slipping up. You have the sense that just as you are sampling monkey brains and ordering frog legs off the menu while squatting in a back alley over a fire pit in an off the beaten path dive in a foreign land you will never return to or see again, they are also experiencing something new and equally tranquil, and so you play along.
It’s always surprising how in the middle of these goofy thoughts, I am always confronted by the sublime. The fact that I absolutely know nothing about the place I am currently presiding. I don’t know the history. I can’t name the region without consulting my guidebook. I can’t name their present leader or identify any of the faces on their currency. I’m like an idiot child that is being pampered and spoiled and enabled toward some constant state of unoriginality and futility.
At least I am aware of this. I think I am aware.
I know that I am in Vietnam. I know this country should mean something to me.
And I am trying so hard to find what that meaning should be.
I know that in a few days I will be in Cambodia.
And that should also mean something to me.
But I am perplexed as to what it is exactly.
I borrowed a bicycle today, gave up the bumpy motorbike, too scary, and wrapped a scarf around my neck and headed out into the rain toward the village of Bat Throng about six kilometers out of Hanoi. I wore a bamboo rice hat through the fields. It got a lot of strange looks, cheers too, but mostly just perplexed gazes as I passed. I wonder if the Vietnamese use expressions like, “Yeah, and someday monkeys will fly out of my butt,” because if they do, today I was that rocketerring primate.
I don’t know what I witnessed today. I only know I need more time.
I need a lifetime.
I need a do over.
Maybe in my next life all the legless men begging on streets without hands will be baristas at Starbucks offering extra caramel on my scone, and all the children born with birth defects due to napalm exposure will be cast in Shakespeare roles in my next play, and maybe all the little children in the mountain villages hiding along the side of the road like dark weeds that I can barely see will actually grow up to move and inspire people.
But for now, I am only trying to feel. I want to feel something.
Help me, Vietnam. I’m looking for you.

Vietnam from the Back of a Bike

It started when I was a kid in the back seat of my parent's station wagon, looking up at the black sky as we rolled past all the farm houses and church steeples and pine tree tops that scattered past the edge of the window as we roared by.
I used to lay on the back trunk floor of the wagon, no seat belts then. Sister Lisa curled up with chin propped on elbows, little bro Grant fast asleep on her lap. As we roared into the blackness, I would think of people I knew. Just faces really, an usher at church, some kid's older brother I knew about from gossip at school, or a neighbor kid down at the river, I would think about their lives. I would think about them so deeply, and how they would never know.
I still do that.
I think so deeply about people that have basically no idea I exist. I meet them at a party and shake their hands or run into them in the elevator at the gym. I piece little bits of information recieved from all our mutual friends and create a visual. I wonder about what troubles them, what soothes their lives, what they chase, and I whisper for them.
I know that people are self-centered and follow only their vain interests. That no one is good. That to a person, everyone in the world will do what is best for them, and not what is good for the other. I know that.
So it's probably crazy, but I can't help it. It's either that I am just too curious or care too much.
Either way, I'm still that little kid in the backseat thinking about people that have affected me and I just hope they know how important they are to me. Even it we don't speak anymore or I have lost them somehow, I'm still thinking about them.
It think travel does that to you. It does to me. I could be hanging off the back of a train in India or on some slow boat through China or standing on a deserted tarmac in Eastern Russia or in the black night heart of some unknown city stumbling my way home, and I am thinking about you.
Today I rented a bike and tore out of the city of Hanoi, up north past the ceramic villages and silk farms and perfumed pagodas and just saw the world unfold. There is nothing like seeing the world from the back of an motorbike. The things travelers know. The things we hear in whispers. Most people will never know. They will never see the world this way, to learn it's secret possibilities. I feel so rich. I feel so alive.
I am thinking about you. You who do not know me or think I am important or redeemable. I am thinking about you. I am praying for the world for you, all alone by myself, because for some brief moment you mattered.
And I want to matter too. So you may not know me, or know me anymore, but from the back of this bike, it's meaningless. Because we're one. You and me and this open road. We're one.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hanoi's Old Quarter

When I was a kid, I watched Laurence of Arabia and thought, one day, I will wrap a white silk scarf around my face, ride a camel across the desert, and be the only man alive for a thousand miles.
Another time I remember watching Brando in The Wild One with that leather jacket and hat bent down over his eye and I thought... man, that dude is cool.
My sister Lisa and I used to put a time out on the Saturday afternoon Monopoly game to watch Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, a 1940's black and white, with popcorn. Nobody was cooler than Errol Flynn.
Except maybe Cary Grant... hard to find anyone nowadays that's as cool as Grant in North By Northwest.
I don't know why I was thinking about cool guys in old movies... but here I am in Hanoi. I've checked in to a 4 dollar a night hole in the wall. Today I ate $3.50 worth of noodles and fried fish and drank two cups of loaded espresso while hunched over a stool on the street.
I rented a bike and tore through rice fields, did 200 push-ups, and laid all my zip-lock baggies on this flea-biting bed to take a gander at how heavy my pack is.
I talked to an old man that was sanding some wood. He let me give it a try with coarse sandpaper, and we laughed at how good it made us both feel, like being with my Dad getting ready for the Pine Wood Derby.
I bargained down for a couple of dopey rice hats to bring back to my girls. I carry a picture of them all folded up in my back-pocket. You know that's true.
I wrapped a scarf around my neck, still I'm pinked from the sun, and hit Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) and told this kid smoking on a scooter about King Arther Pendragon's Excalibur. He thought since I was an American it was real.
I hand-washed a t-shirt in the sink, talked cricket scandals with a Pakistani barber on a second floor balcony, and laughed with a bar hostess about the absurdity of Milan Kundera.
I lay in the middle of a rice field and made shapes in clouds... here a samurai fish, there a cyclopes dog.
I threw clay pots on a spinning wheel in a little village not marked on any maps but given to me on backroad directions from a local carrying a bucket of bananas.
I passed a hand scribbled note to a old French woman on a napkin that made her smile and drop it into her water glass before the man she was with could snatch it from her hands. It read: "Your husband is so in love with you, look at the way he can't take his eyes off you..."
They both must have been in their seventies.
Man, today was cool.