People Who Make Us Insecure

Ayurvedically-Healin' Tibetan Sound Bowl-Massagin' Traveldouche

The travel world is much like any other world – kind of shitty. But it’s a slightly more interesting realm than most, due to the myriad types of globetrotters, their backgrounds and goals as varied as the bizarre styles and pseudo-philosophies they adopt and smells they exude. In India, the binding agent among the expats with whom we mingled was that everyone was to some degree an aimless douchebag (making them as completely dissimilar to us as can be, obviously). After hearing the thousandth lackadaisical iteration of how “amaaaazing” the nearby $14/day Ayurvedic Tibetan sound bowl meditation retreat was, we concluded without hesitation that, somehow, by being cynical and more self-conscious, we were the cream of the traveler crop.

And then we plummeted into Kyrgyzstan, a nation many mutton-filled eons away from being transformed into a candlelit yoga class filled with organic coffee-sipping parachute-panted Israelis. A place where, apart from us, the only travelers around seemed to be fearless, multilingual, voraciously nomadic, elite road warriors who, once they started casually describing their journeys, left us tearing our greasy hair, beating our emaciated breasts, and pooing our oversized pants in shame. We had, in essence, met The Cool Kids, and they were not us. They were actually doing something with their trips, let alone their lives, thereby gaining them a mini-profile on this most prestigious of travel blogs.

PIERRE
Where we met him: Bishkek, Karakol

Pierre finding the first of presumably many grey hairs over the next five years

If you ask Pierre where he sees himself in five years, he won’t even blink: “In Quebec, working for a year, after I’ve hitch-hiked across the entire planet. Duhhhhh.” Because he’s got it all figured out. Now, if you ask him something weird he’s learned along the way, he might blink, but then toss out something like, “The gay men in Istanbul use scented toilet paper… you know?”

Starting in sub-Saharan Africa, he worked his way up to France, through the Balkans, across the Caspian, and into Kyrgyzstan. After leaving us, he’s headed to India, Australia and New Zealand for two years, then South America and up to Canada to work some more (and practice his French). His hitching had brought him into a lot of mundane situations – trying to explain where he was from, and what he was doing, which God he prayed to – but also extremely uncomfortable ones that made for riveting stories, many of them involving prostitutes and drivers assuming that he wanted to share one (or two) with them.

One rather bizarre night in the Balkans was recounted to us: the three guys he was staying with, filled with youthful zest, procured for their party what they – and Pierre, for the entirety of the story and afterwards – referred to as a “beer bitch“, who loudly pleasured all of them in the room adjacent to where Pierre was watching TV. Though she was a young mother and eager to escape her current town, she for some reason accepted beer as a form of payment. Whether out of principle or a lack of beer, Pierre turned down her services.

Pierre’s less misery-laden stories dealt with subjects such as drunken Peace Corps workers in the Sahara, juggling his multiple long-and-short-distance romantic affairs, and how he succeeded in traversing the endless stretches of Kazakh desert  for free by utilizing members of the Mongol Rally. He’s set to hit America in 2014, so if you’re in the mood to hear four years’ worth of depressing prostitute stories, be sure to look him up.
LINK: http://arzurwander.wordpress.com


MURDOCH
Where we met him: Karakol, then again in Bishkek for happy hour salsa and margaritas 

Happy Hour at the Kyrgyz Cantina

Murdoch kind of came out of nowhere (actually, the mountains, to be sure) one day in Karakol as Steve was recovering from a sudden and memorable five-day diarrhea ordeal. He immediately rendered us both gravely ill by recounting how he had effortlessly conquered the route we had dreamed of undertaking before this trip – overland into Asia via Turkey and the Caspian region – but scrapped due to civil wars and what appeared to be ungodly bureaucratic hurdles. Obscenely well traveled (proof) and pleasantly spacey, he was a published travel writer, and under a pseudonym had written a New Zealand not-so-bestseller in which his narrator opined about sexuality and gender theory while plotting how to have sex with that country’s female prime minister. It had been made into a fairly successful play, and apparently the P.M.’s husband thought it was quite funny.

Murdoch had just been to Osh, our next intended stop, and told us how his taxi driver there had gleefully shown him a video he’d received on his cell phone, taken during the riots earlier this year. Grainy and shaky though the footage was, its director expertly depicted several Kyrgyz police and locals shooting an Uzbek to death in the street. “Yeah,” Murdoch calmly mused, “that was strange.”

His… Myspace?: http://www.myspace.com/richardmeros


ROEL AND CELINE, THE BELGIAN COUPLE
Where we met them: Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

Celine snipping the greys from Pierre's tete

Yawn, you might melodramatically gesture, yet another couple of Europeans who were biking across Asia. Well, sure, except in this case, Roel had just broken his leg and now, only a month later, they were about to ride up the 12,300 foot Torugart pass into China. We came upon them as they were camping in the garden of a guesthouse, lamenting the poor state of the only book swap in town, which, considering the general aversion to literature in Central Asia, should have been expected. They quickly let us in on their large breakfast spread, but more importantly, their adventures, such as cycling all across Europe (what is it with these people?), and future plans to cycle the American South. Roel also told us in no uncertain terms that the Peace Corps had been created by spies.
Their photos: www.flickr.com/roelencelineopreis


BALDY AND ‘WHORE MAN’
Where we met them: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Baldy presenting our first taste of kymyz aka fermented horse milk

South Guesthouse is a great place to stay in Bishkek, whether it be for eight days, as we did, or for eight months, like the two Japanese men in their late 30’s who stayed there with us, and were still staying there when we returned a month later.

When you talk with Baldy — his words firing out hurriedly, his eyes darting about nervously, his hand unconsciously climbing up his head to conspicuously sit over a dish-sized baldspot — you get the idea that he would rather you didn’t. Which is odd, considering that he speaks eight languages fluently. In Kyrgyzstan to learn Russian more cheaply and authentically than he could back in Tokyo, Baldy authors theses on the Turkic people and languages splayed across the Silk Road latitudes, which, perhaps to ensure absolutely no one will ever read them, he does in Japanese. Over our week together, Baldy ended up coming out of his shell enough to chat and joke with us, share a nightly vodka or five, educate us about the cultures we hadn’t bothered to learn about before immersing ourselves in, apologize profusely about insignificant things and, most importantly, give us our first taste of kymyz, or fermented horse milk. Well, it was awful, and so was this comic book, which was probably his.

Oh boy

And then there was Whore Man. We’d probably call Whore Man something like a “midnight mystery” or a “nocturnal enigma”, if he hadn’t pissed us off so much. At 4 am every night (out of eleven) he’d return to the room, flip the fluorescent lights onto four other sleeping guests, shuffle around and crash into a sleep as deep as his grumbly snores were deafening, and be out cold well through the morning. When we finally speculated aloud about this erratic and annoying sleep schedule, Baldy assured us that Whore Man was simply out late at his favorite saunas, having sex with prostitutes, probably for less than $6 a pop. Hence the simple, slightly disparaging title, “Whore Man.” It’s hard to guess how he’d feel about this, as Whore Man was never really awake enough for us to talk with. However, the one time he was, he gave Devon sound advice on bussing through China’s remote Xinjiang province between bites of watermelon, and told Steve that Brian Wilson was a genius. Still, that’s really not enough to make him not Whore Man.

Whore Man, catchin' some ZZZ's after a long night of XXX

YOKO AND HER HUBBY
Where we met them: South Guest House, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The South GH Gang (Yoko and John are behind the large centralized Korean man)

At first glance Yoko and Her Hubby, a smiley-faced thirty-something Japanese couple, look like they should be hanging out of a bus somewhere, snapping thousands of photos with an overpriced Nikon DSLR. Fact is, they were. Except that said hypothetical bus is in reality hundreds of the shoddy local kind that slowly bounce along the thousands of kilometers between dirt-track villages dotting the entirety of both Africa and, later on the same trip, South America. Back in Osaka, Yoko taught school and HH sushi chefed, all day every day for five years to save up for their dream trip. They’re reasoning: if you’re going to see some of the world, you might as well see all of it, all in under two years time. In between hearty double-hugs and crescendoing exclamations of “Ahhh? Heeeeey!”, they managed to recount their long route. They had thus far conquered South America, Africa, Western Europe, Southeast Asia and the States; were presently winding through Central Asia on their way to Eastern Europe and later Oceania before finally returning to start life anew back home.

Luckily for us, what they didn’t lack in traveling prowess, they made up for in HH’s beard; it was terrible. Each short, black hair stood erect like one of a thousand monuments to unimpressiveness in its own 4mm radius pedestal of naked flesh. In contrast, we had moustaches. Gorgeous goddamn moustaches. The official call? A draw.

KOREAN SCOOTER LADY
Where we met her: Lake Song Kul

Korean Scooter Lady getting a grand send off from Toylon (note extreme shame of nomad daughter)

There’s not much to say about this woman, as we barely spoke to her, but here’s what we know:

  • When we met her, she was in the middle of Kyrgyzstan, after having driven a 150 CC scooter across the entire span of China on her way to the Atlantic.
  • When we met her, she was being held up and shaken in the air by our drunken yurt host Toylon.

REMY
Where we met him: Osh
“Yeah, Remy, I don’t know if it’s a French thing, but it seems like all the French people we meet on this trip have turned their traveling into some kind of weird artistic project.”

“Oh? Zees is an odd thing to say.”

“Oh I’m just kidding. But yeah, what are you doing?”

“Traveling around Central Asia wizz an entire photography studio een my backpack, letting children take pictzures of zeyre cities and lives for zees art exhibition zat is coming out next year.”

“…Ah.”
Remy’s project, to let children in each city he stopped in photograph and develop black and white images that they felt represented their lives in a post-Soviet world, may sound a hell of a lot like ‘Born Into Brothels’, but that’s where the similarity ends, because Remy never saw that one. Fluent in five languages – currently learning a sixth and planning to settle down with a paltry nine or so rattling around in his head, he’s had no trouble finding work or adventure around the globe.
After school he casually trekked through the Amazon and cycled across Europe before easily landing a job with the French embassy in Bishkek. His ‘project’ was being funded by some high-profile but characteristically kind of pointless French state institution, and he was half-heartedly entertaining an offer for an extremely profitable position in the newly reinstated French NATO team. Surely, we convinced ourselves as our egos shriveled under his blinding light of accomplishment, this wunderkind must be like, 29 or something! But alas, he was probably the only person we met on this trip who was younger than us.
But ambition and incredible prospects aside, Remy was more than a bit of a cad. More than a few times, he’d used his academic Russian diction to intimidate Kyrgyz border guards into letting him smuggle cigarettes into France, making a few thousand Euros in profit. Had he not been astounding us the entire night we spent with him, he had planned to take us to a local sauna where we probably could’ve received (or, more likely, awkwardly escaped) the warm, sloppy embrace of Osh’s whore population. Right before we all dozed off, Remy dropped a series of stories on us in which he had come face to face with Black Magic. It was weird.
For example, while hitchhiking in Russia he’d seduced and bedded an attractive young driver who brought him to her house during a rainstorm. Over dinner, the girl’s aunt started chanting and mumbling some unearthly language. Though he wasn’t speaking, Remy felt that he was communicating directly with the woman in his head. Later that night, his new gal pal woke up screaming hysterically and violently flailing about. “Holy crap, what’d you do Remy?” “Well, I slapped her. Right in ze face.” We enjoyed the ending to this story so much that we sadly have forgotten his other encounters with the dark forces of the universe. They might be on his blog, in three different languages.
His blog: http://unmondeen.over-blog.com/


JUDE
Where we met her: Osh

Old English gentleman (who may be Devon's great grandfather) outside the Exeter's favorite hen roost

The Osh Guesthouse provided us with a two-for-one confidence thrashing, with our our evening with Remy immediately followed by a morning with Jude (pronounced ‘Judy’). Yet somehow, the fact that she, at 40, had ditched her home (and husband) in England to go ride a bike around the globe (Europe into Asia, South America in North America), with her only future plans were to be present for the Olympics in London in 2012 , was eclipsed by the fact that she’d had her Hen Night at Devon’s great grandfather’s pub, The Turk’s Head in Exeter. She also used to get drunk there in her university days, as the Head was part of a tradition in which you’d see how many pubs you could drink a pint in, in one night. And this is just speculation, but Jude could probably drink a lot.

Before we met her, she’d been riding, getting by on her Russian, acquiring lots of punctures and mosquito bites, and sleeping in watermelon fields. When we complained about our encounters with goat face, she told us how she’d eaten dog, and more interestingly, giant tarantulas, which tasted “how you’d expect a big spider to taste… I don’t think it was cooked at all”.

Her (really good) blog: http://www.getjealous.com/judezebedee

RAPHAEL

Raphael Sandwich: you know, American Style!

Where we met him: Almaty, Kazakhstan

On a roadside stop on our three hour, Eagles and Boney M-filled drive from Bishkek to Almaty, we watched in horror as a white man sped by us on an equipment-laden touring bike, with the strong winds of the steppe at his back, into the most godforesaken landscape we’d ever seen. “What a nutcase” was our conclusion. Five hours later, he was sitting across from us in Tifin’s kitchen in his riding gear, eager to go buy some wine.

We told him what we were up to, and where we’d been, and then, despite having explained the purpose of his journey up to a million times, including on Georgian radio, he detailed with that rascally upper class Parisian aloofness his reason for being there – to ride his bike from Europe to Asia in order to document the stories of survivors of conflict from Bosnia to Hiroshima for a documentary. Woof. And it turned out he’d, like Murdoch, also meandered without issue through the conflict zones we’d avoided. Goddamnit.

Over the next few days we began to unravel his unstated purpose of traveling, that being sleeping with women other than his girlfriend, smoking spliffs (“spleefs”), and talking about himself. Or at least, filming epic shots of himself riding a bike, to fill in the spaces in his film not taken up by rambling monologues by people with missing limbs, or, as in one gripping scene that he showed us portrayed, a Serbian guy who was telling him to go away.

In Almaty to await the arrival of his producer from France along with two new cameras and film-editing equipment, he had bit of time on his hands, and used a great portion of it to shoot the shit with us. First on his agenda was showing us the footage of a fairly vicious Uzbek street fight he’d witnessed. The contenders comprised: a middle aged woman, a middle aged man, a younger woman who had been driven across town in order to fight this middle aged woman in place of the man, and unfortunately for him but fortunately for the story, Raphael, after he was spotted by the fighters with his video phone. No fans of Tom Bergeron and the AFV scene, they responded to their newfound stardom with a volley of rocks, forcing him to run away, barefoot, to a barber shop, where he got a shave to disguise himself.

One winey night, Raphael prepared us for our foray into East Asia by teaching us Chinese hand counting, and more thoroughly, describing the Alien-like protruding vortex effect of Asian vaginal orgasms – which formed the crux of his lengthy and passionate argument in favor of Devon cheating on Margie in the near future. Other reasons included:

  • Sleeping with local women is “the best” way to experience the local culture
  • The best way to learn a language is through the “dictionary of the pillow”.  We assume this sounds a lot better in French
  • Devon will only be young once
  • Devon can’t know if Margie’s really special, and if things turn sour he’ll always hate himself and resent her for not seizing the opportunity to land a venereal disease from a Mongolian hooker
  • The vortex-vagina factoid came directly from Papa Beaugrand, who’s a radiologist, so this obviously falls under his area of expertise and has to be correct

It should be stated that he did not address Steve, nor Steve’s libido once in this discussion.

But Devon returned the volley just as hard with an equally verbose, unwarranted, and somehow more pointless diatribe on today’s youth and their affinity for easily accessible extreme “shock” pornography (a point that was noticeably unsubstantiated), and more specifically, how Raphael’s future kids – whether he likes it or not – are going to love it. Devon didn’t remember this part of the conversation. Or finishing off the bottle of gin we had given to Tifin as a present earlier that evening.

LINK: http://www.raphaelbeaugrand.com

BLACKLIST
Where we met him: In a shared taxi from Thai border to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Blacklist doing some roadside boozin'

“Blacklist” was a fellow Californian, at least by birth. Beyond that the parallels pretty much disappear. We three (us plus new recruit Mr. Logan McCoy) were on our way to Angkor Wat after a two-week “vacation from traveling” in which our job-having, salary-earning friends showed up and subsidized multi-room luxury suites, beachfront bungalows, meals costing more than a dollar and a massage a piece. Meanwhile, our tall, shaved-headed ridemate — who’d spent the past decade or so earning a masters in Japanese (in Japan), living in Asia, and wandering around the Amazon whacked out on bizarre jungle drugs — had just been denied entry to the Kingdom of Thailand, where he was jailed, deported from and forbidden ever to return to a couple years back.

All we could get out of him was that it was a “long story” and that he still had four grand in a Bangkok bank that he sort of wanted back. For the next month or so that M.O. would take him to as many of the five remaining Thai-Cambodia border crossings as it takes to find an incompetent and/or palm-greasable guard. If no dice, he’d don his shorts and gloves and embark on Plan B: join a border-town Moo-ay Thai boxing troupe, wait for the police to organize a clandestine across-the-border fight night, get sneaked across and then just fucking bail, all the way to the bank. (Not sure we asked him, if he could get himself in, how he planned to get out.)

He spent a good portion of the 4-hour taxi ride juggling between teaching himself to speak and read the impossible gobbledygook that passes for Cambodian and nipping from a bottle of Chinese antler-extract rice-liquor, which cost him five dollars — the exact amount he couldn’t pay when the taxi dropped us off with a tuk-tuk man who carted us over to some guesthouse we didn’t ask to go to. He did say he’d pay us back, just not when. Maybe if he makes it to Bangkok.


Matthieu L’Anusse

Where we met him: In Shanghai as our Couchsurfing host, and then again in Bangkok

Known by both his friends and enemies as, “The Anus” because, well, that’s what his last name means, Matthieu showed us a side of Shanghai that few ever dare to venture into: the well-off white expat side.

A trained pilot and great admirer of the Southern United States (after obtaining his Master’s degree in Georgia, between road trips in a massive Cadillac), Matthieu was at the age of 26 put in sole command of a tire factory in China, and scoring mad babes in the meantime. Noncommittal, ugly deadbeats such as ourselves couldn’t comprehend this absurd example of being commensurately rewarded for one’s hard work, so we looked unto Matthieu as if he were a seven-headed Norse fire deity. To express our deep admiration, we did his dishes a few times. We also inducted him into Team Cat Shirt as the first and only foreign-born, overseas representative.Our first night with Matthieu, we were whisked off to a reggae themed expat bar for their Happy Hour, which truly was as happy as one could possibly imagine, since the beer was free.

After settling down at a table and recognizing how little we fit in with the well-dressed and facial hair-free foreign locals, our moustaches caught in their vast ungainly social net a depressing little Malaysian woman who spent the next hour describing in detail how she didn’t love her fiancé, and incorrectly interpreting our body language (and language language) when we started feeding her elaborate made up stories about ourselves. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

Not only was Matthieu supportive of our endeavor to taste canine flesh, and willing to take us back on his couches after we missed our train to Kunming, he also served as a catalyst for our attendance at a rather nontraditional display of ping pong talent in a inanely-named bar in Bangkok, where we met him while he was on a business trip. When confronted with the horrifying acrobatic antics of those young ladies, Matthieu could only profoundly sputter out, “I… will never forget zis.” Nor we you, buddy. Nor we you.

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The Longest Day Of The Trip

It started like any other day, experienced by everyone all over the world; it started with three young men sleeping on the same mattress in a wicker hut in northern Thailand. Several dozen irritating beeps of a wristwatch alarm announced the time to be 6:00 AM, which meant it was time to ride. Literally: on motorcycles, for eight hours.
And then get kicked out of a couchsurfing house, attend a Shabbat dinner, ruin a concert, avoid several beatings, save a career, and turn on each other 23 hours later.

This is the story of the longest day of the trip.

A quick cold shower, some free gross coffee, and a $3 buffet meal were all it took to propel us from the hippie hodgepodge haven of Pai all the way back to Chiang Mai’s bustling, slightly less white-n’-worldly-douche-filled streets.

Nary a straight-away or smooth, gradeless segment of road would prostrate itself before us on our third day of the Mae Hong Son Loop. Dense vegetation ensured that the Loop’s limitless combinations of impossibly sharp curves, turns, and inclines were always a surprise, and the relative blindness of each and every corner rendered all instances of hurtling oncoming traffic into minor yet manageable cardiac arrests. Every so often, a thicket of chaotic foliage would yield to a tremendous panorama of small land holdings scraped from the verdant mountains, sweeping far and imperceptible into the sorrowful ethnic cleansing playgrounds of the Burmese junta. We would typically use these stops as  pee breaks.

One such stop brought us into our first run in with domesticated elephants in the semi-wild. While many of our traveler cohorts in Chiang Mai chose the Loop for its opportunities to play with trained elephants or voyeuristically mingle with the ‘Longneck’ Paduang tribes, we abstained in our usual cynical manner from such fun, and thus an encounter with an elephant was a rather nice detour. Not so much for the baby pachyderm, who charged at Devon several times.

Brave Boys keeping their distance

As it was the third day of ride, we were by now sort of used to the vicissitudes of the roads. Clinging to Devon like an especially ugly baby possum, Steve called upon his Himalayan experiences and was fairly adept at handling his weight distribution on the curves. Unsurprisingly he was not so adept at keeping his bowels in order, especially after the morning’s coffee binge, and several lengthy continuous drives were brought to a halt by him unlatching from Devon’s now skimpy love handles to scurry through underbrush for a furtive, painful poo.

Vroom Vroom!

At long last, the bridges of Chiang Mai were spanned and the motorcycle engines spluttered their final spluts. Arriving at the CouchSurfing abode where we had slept before leaving on the Loop, we expected a mat, or at least a sliver of floor space to call our own for the next few nights. Instead, a heavily tattooed Thai friend of the house’s owner informed us, after we’d showered and settled in, that we couldn’t possibly stay there, as he’d given all available space to several attractive white girls. At first we played it off as an inconvenience that we could easily overlook as we slept on the floor for free. But our uninvite was more of the permanent variety. Neither reason nor guilt could persuade him that our boobs were better than theirs, so we departed, tails between our cramped legs. Not before drinking lots of his coffee and making some snide remarks though.

Luckily, good ol’ dependable Annie had a place for us at her guesthouse (which we didn’t leave for the next two weeks). But as lovely as it would have been, we couldn’t linger and have her insult our facial hair or clothing – because it was Friday, and we had a Shabbat dinner to go to. Another CouchSurfing contact across town, Lahhhrry, was hosting a Spanish couple that night, but we were more than welcome to attend the festivities. Click here to find out how that went (spoiler: it went on and on and on).

Once free of Lahhhrry’s conversational clutches we returned to the guesthouse to join Annie on an adventure to some clubs she knew, ‘Classic Rock Night‘ at one of them commanding our attention. We learned right then, mostly by his physical presence and his words, that Annie’s husband would not be joining us this evening. We remarked in private how painfully little of a threat we clearly posed to him, despite our moustaches being far more lush and vainly sculpted than his, and wondered if it had something to do with us all sharing the same bed, bickering like an old married triple, and only wearing short shorts. Perhaps it was this self-consciousness that compelled Steve to muster all his masculine energies and invite some Australian belles along for the ride, inquiring,

Steve: “You coming to Classic Rock Night?”
Girls: “What’s that?”
Steve: “I don’t know.”

His approach was immediately, rightfully, and furiously lambasted by Logan.

What Classic Rock Night was was a bar, literally around the corner (or over a fence if you were too lazy to walk 200 feet), hosting a band comprised of five local Thai dads who alternated between playing and mangling songs from the 60’s and 70’s, for an audience that was 75% us. Their frontman for the first half of the show was clearly the only white guy they could find, who when he wasn’t missing his cues put on a half decent drunken Jim Morrison impression. Once he inexplicably left the stage, vocal duties fell to the guitarist and bassist, whose thick Thai accents gave new atonal twists to American oldies. The biggest twist of all arrived near the end of their set, in the form of an elephant in the street. Our fellow audience members abandoned their duties of nodding conspicuously and over-enthusiastically for the Dad Band and obligingly sat on the beast’s back for a small fee, paid to its trainer/brutalizer. When our sympathy for the band finally dried up, we too slipped out to admire  the curtailed and broken majesty of our day’s second pachyderm.

....woof

Around this time Devon left for the nearest 7-11 (so, 35 feet away) to buy a coke for whiskey-mixing purposes. As he traipsed back to the bar, he found himself cornered by two tons of combined Elephant and Elephant Boys. They had seen him take photos of their leviathan, and now they wanted reimbursement for their services. Despite a track record in Asia of shouting at people in such a situation, he maintained his composure, pretended to not know what they were saying, and snapped a picture of them to use in any hypothetical homicide investigations that might take place.


He returned safely to the show only to be sidled with a beggar woman, who we danced with briefly, as she was either too shy or ashamed to ask directly for money and we pretended like we didn’t know what she was there for.

This great aura of discomfort was quickly obliterated by the second band of the evening: a spunky group of 20-somethings under the assumption that the “Classic” in Classic Rock meant anything produced by Kurt Cobain or pre-OK Computer Radiohead. Wildly talented and eager to impress, their energy greatly, almost to a depressing degree, transcended the venue and its undeserving audience. The middle of their set was punctuated by a powerful rendition of the Cranberries’ “Salvation”, with none other than Annie taking over the demanding vocal/whooping duties. We’re not ashamed to say that we got way too into it. 

WhoopseeeeeeEEEEeeeeEEEe!

Something must have been sparked by Annie taking the stage, because when the band launched into Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In the Name Of“, a defining song of our adolescence, Devon insisted on taking the microphone and belting out Zach De La Rocha’s verses in their entirety. He may have been caught up in the moment, or he may have just had enough of hearing poorly-pronounced songs all night. Whatever the case, in assuming the role of resident Rock Star, he literally stole the show, because this was the band’s closing number. 

Forlorn shrieks of guitar feedback shuddered the now bare floorboards of Classic Rock Night, and were soon subsumed by dense, boring Reggae beats pouring forth from the adjacent bar. We wandered at Annie’s urging about twenty feet across a dirt courtyard to a collection of outdoor bars competing to play the latest Lady Gaga remixes the loudest. Due to his recent fungal diagnosis, Steve was unable to imbibe alongside the gang, and after a half hour of watching everyone else enjoy themselves, he hung up his Party Hat, put on his Helmet of Squareness and went to bed, allowing the night to roar on without him. Also without a camera, since he took it back for safety’s sake, so unfortunately you’re in for some very dense paragraphs detailing the rest of the night…

In the words of Logan:
“We went to a new bar, where Annie knew the bartender, so we got two buckets of unidentifiable booze, with three straws. We shared the buckets, which got things going pretty fast. We looked across the bar, and saw Annie’s husband standing there drinking with some other people. This was right after she’d been explaining to me how he cheated on her all the time with European girls, and how they have this kid that they have to look after, and they have to run the guesthouse together – she said he’s a good dad, but a… just a shitty guy. He’d told us he couldn’t come out with us tonight, but I guess he just didn’t want to… But he came over at one point and shook our hands, and I think he shook mine a lot harder than necessary.

Hubby sneaks in for a free drink

Annie decided she wanted to dance, so we crossed the weird little bar-square alley tot his dance club that was just full of European perma-travelers, dancing and making out with each other. So Devon and I are there, in Cat Shirts, doing a two-man train through all these people dancing. People of all nationalities, from all over the world, yet their reactions to us were all pretty similar. Just… hating us.

The night was getting more blurry at this point, but yeah… Annie was dancing with all sorts of people, and we got to the point where we decided we needed to leave. I think it was about 3 in the morning. Annie grabbed us and pointed out this German guy in the crowd and shouting about he’s some asshole who always comes to the guesthouse and never tips, and is a dick to her and her husband. She was blacked out, and getting pretty vocal, so we tried to get her out of there. She told us she had to open up the guesthouse at 7 AM; we realized, or at least convinced ourselves, that we were now responsible for her not losing her job. We tried to get her home but she just kept disappearing somehow.

We finally found her, yelling at that same German guy, and he’s yelling back at her, in front of a big crowd of people outside that weird dance club. We tried to step in and stop it, and that just got the German guy mad at us, and he was kind of big, but… yeah. We finally got her to leave, but again, she ran off somewhere, and it was about 4:15 so we just gave up and headed back to the guesthouse.

As we’re walking down the street there’s this lone headlight of a motorbike coming down the road. Slowly, real slowly, the puttering of the engine getting louder and louder. Turned out it was – well, we weren’t sure, but we’ll never know – a ladyboy in a skirt. With a giant helmet on. The conversation we had with her went like this:

Us: “Uh… Hi there.”
Her: “Suck you.”
“… What was that?”
“I suck you… I suck you.”
“… Uh (giggle) how much are we talking here?”
“200 baht – two. 200 baht, two” {{$6.70 total}}
Logan: “I don’t know, that’s kind of steep.”
Devon: “Well I’m gonna be taking care of him, and he’s going to be taking care of me. So….”
And then we just stared at her for a while, and nobody said anything, and then she drove off.”

Back to the nameless narrator:
Steve was startled from his sweaty sleep at 4:30  to the half-shouted, half-giggled cry of, “Hey gayboy! Gayboy!… Hey gayboy!” emanating from the street. Either Bad Husband or Annie had returned to the guesthouse and locked the gate. He went downstairs, fortuitously armed with the camera, to capture his friends’ debauched appearances. And, inexplicably, a polka dotted scarf that disappeared from existence shortly after this photo was snapped.

What was fortuitous about grabbing the camera was the first known capturing on any medium of “The Asshole“.

The Asshole is, simply, an id-centered avatar within Devon that typically manifests during a raucous night, serving only to harass and befuddle all those around him. Its target this early morning was Steve, who – well, let’s just see what Steve saw:

That face, that… goddamn face, once aware that Steve was tired and not in the mood to put up with drunken ramblings, began informing him in a loud, dramatic tone of what had just taken place in the alleyway, “STEVE! I COULD HAVE RECEIVED… ORAL… SEX… FOR $3. FROM A MAN… DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Numerous repetitions of this story, along with insults hurled Steve’s way for good measure, resulted in an exasperated outpouring of profanity from Steve, urging The Asshole to go to sleep, while stressing the time, his lack of interest in the story, and the fucking time.

He dished out his slightly-amused, mostly-annoyed invectives as much as he could muster, but he was no match for The Asshole, who continued his rampage until finally exhausting his antagonistic energies, and imploding into Devon’s subconscious once again.

Had there been a clock in the room, it would now have read 5:00. But it was all over. All of it. It was done. Totally done.

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Annie

A guesthouse manager in Chiang Mai who gave us a lot of shit for having moustaches and generally acting kind of gay

Not terribly amused by our insistence on sleeping in a six-bun bed, but eventually found it funny

Neglected by her open-marriage-minded husband, the second we met on this trip

Invited us out to eat traditional fish and pork soup in the market, sent Steve to a fancy dermatologist for his rash, and didn’t mind that we were constantly getting into fights with her douchebag French boss

Energetic singer of the Cranberries

ANNIE!

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Sign of the Times: Cambodia

Killing Fields Memorial, Choeng Ek, Cambodia

There are countless (as in, more than we feel like counting) groups on Flickr and Panoramio dedicated to signs – misspelled signs, signs with double entendres, vandalized signs, old racist signs and tacky vintage signs. Signs, authoritative in their permanence and projection of agendas and power structures into our visual consciousness, are obvious targets for ridicule, giving the photographer and consumer of the photograph a sense of superiority over the organization responsible for the sign.

Please hold while I suck myself off…

Being an ethnocentric dickhead in a foreign land makes you even more eager to capture signs, because, come on, when you see something that says “Food Is A Part of A Balanced Diet,” it’s hard not to want to share it with your wise-ass friends to snicker at.

But our smirks were halted toute suite in Phnom Penh, where the Signmaker Guilds have officially given up on trying to amuse foreigners, and instead seem intent on bumming them out with unbearably bleak glimpses of our collective terribleness. Or maybe they just haven’t found a way to put their genocide and the propulsion of their society back into the Dark Ages through the great post-modern irony machine yet. Anyway, here’s the more oh boy-ish of the signs we encountered.

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The Gooch Rash

The Wrestler executed a flawless triple suplex on my throat as I slugged it down with what remaining vigor I had. My conk was pounding from a bruising obtained in a Chinatown alley last night at the hands of some Sicilian mugs. Or were they Russians? Either way, they shouldn’t have been in Bangkok. Then again, who was I to talk? Well, since you’re inquiring, I was McCoy, P.I.: Bangkok’s lankiest detective.

As my head moonlighted as a paperweight, I was drifting into a beautiful dream of sit-down toilets and tuk-tuk hawkers suddenly struck mute when… BANG (last name Buttaporn, my receptionist of six years) buzzed in on the intercom. There was someone here to see me. Just my luck.

“Tell ’em to breeze off, it’s a holiday.”
“What holiday’s that boss?”
“The uh, King’s saxophone’s birthday. Very special.” This one always worked.
“Too late boss, they’re coming in.”

Faster than a stray dog on the hunt for tossed out khao phat pu, a Dame stormed in with murder in her eyes, a lethal stack of papers in her hands, and a bullet with my name on it. That bullet being a case file, and not a real bullet. Black hair past her slender sun-kissed shoulders, and a pair of getaway sticks up to here – no, wait… here – the first glimpse of her shuddered parts of my gut I didn’t know I had, at least since dining exclusively on Thai cuisine. She was ringing all the right bells in all the right places, but especially the one in my thinking box, what was it about her that I recognized?

“Here’s the file, boss. They decided to leave.”
“Thanks Bang.”

The words swam on my page like skin-eating fish around a fat German tourist’s feet. Delegating expertly, I had Bang explain the case to me. From the elevated shrillness of her voice it sounded like trouble – trouble of the big variety. Not like anything I hadn’t dealt with before, but of course, all of those cases ended with me being inches from meeting The Big One (or the requirements of the Pattaya Ladyboy Choir). I did what any seasoned gumshoe would do when faced with such danger, and began the process of faking my own death and fleeing the country toute suite. Right as I was about to confirm the purchase of my tickets to Argentina, however, Bang pried my tear-strewn face away from the computer monitor and laid the scene out as simply as she could:

“Follow this guy!”

“A ha! An open-and-shut pedophile trailing case! That’s easy money! Eggs in the coffee!”
“No… Well, maybe. But worse! He’s got a mysterious ailment in his drawers, and if it goes unchecked it could ruin everything!”
“By everything, you mean… society? Or… his trip?”
“Everything! Now go!”

So I hit the streets in search of answers and a 30 baht meal. The second was easy to come by, the first not so much, but in the tropics this kind of case was usually over by the time the next pre-teen muaythai championship rolled around, so I ate my pad see ew in relative peace.

So this shmoe’s got a dilemma downstairs, I thought, big farangin‘ deal. In all my years as a Privates Investigator I’d seen all manner of pustulated, scabrous, and rashy naughty regions, but there something about this case that was raw – something personal and in my face. This may of course have had something to do with the shmoe standing directly in front of me, joined by a handful of nances in short shorts.

Cool as a freeze-dried Chinese cucumber I followed their movements and puerile conversations – first with my eyes and ears, then with my whole body – as we navigated past street stalls and curbside cripples for . It wasn’t hard to tell my mark had something gnawing at him, as his hand was constantly fiddling with his unsightlies.
After he and his bevy of rag-a-muffins spent far too much time in a 7-11, I jostled one of the more frail employees to see what he’d seen. He’d eyed a goochie purse on my mug, stuffed with a British passport and a few baht crumbs he clung to far too dearly. I made sure to only rough the guy up lightly for his help.

A goochie purse, eh? Having that clinging to one’s crotch all day in this heat, walking 5-10 miles per diem like these dingbats were doing – definitely a likely probable cause for a case of Grade A Chaffage. I jotted it down in my notebook.

The next week was spent watching the palooka gorging himself and sitting in the steam room of a swanky Bangkok expat apartment complex. While he sat by the pool one day I caught a glimpse of his thighs through my binoculars. Nothing could’ve prepared me for those singed red blotches, flaky and weepy all at once. But that’s not what detective work is all about – being prepared that is. At least, no one’s ever corrected me when I’ve said that. And I say it often.

Scratchy O’Goochton and his boys finally teamed up with a couple of skirts, and they all left for the monsoon-kissed shores of Phuket. Trapped inside by the rain and a lack of desire to see fat, scantily clad Russians everywhere I turned, I went through my traditional tests to fix this bozo’s predicament. One afternoon I stole his underpants, so he had to go commando on a few occasions, but the fresh air did nothing for him. I paid his friends off, telling them to jump into the ocean (my exact words were “go soak your head,” but still), but when he followed them the salt water seemed to make things worse. The diaper rash ointment I slipped into his bag may have eased the itching, but it left his drawers stinking of seafood all day long. None of my old tricks were working; maybe it was time I just observe his habits and see how he helped himself.

Naturally this did neither of us any good. Leaving this guy to his own devices was like tossing a puppy into Bangkok traffic – fun to watch, but bad for your blood pressure in the long run. His first attempt to solve the crisis was to try stealing a handful of pink calamine lotion in a beach market on Kho Phi Phi. The cashier, after watching him craftily squirt lotion down his pants then try to leave the store, forced him to bleed $1.05 for the entire bottle. The stress and shame from that experience probably worsened his condition, but I didn’t feel like inquiring further. Plus, since he was no longer swimming in the ocean on account of the pain, I couldn’t get a closer look at the danger zone.

Later, back in Bangkok, he scored some hydrocortizone and applied it a few times a day. I thought that a smart move on his part, since I was beginning to think this was all caused by some bed bugs (the only action he was getting in the sheets – BAZOW!).

But it was all just a ruse, because the next day I was trailing him into Cambodia, a country-sized sweatbox where he insisted on riding a bike 3 hours a day through jungles. Though Bang had assured me he wasn’t retarded in any way, I could only think otherwise when I saw him, after brushing his pearlies one night, smear an anti-itch cream for bug bites – almost pure ammonia – to his rash. Within seconds he was screaming uncontrollably, as he doused himself under the shower and his two friends fell out of bed screaming, expecting a murder to be taking place.

By now my nerves couldn’t take this sap, or this godforsaken case, or this article any longer, so when I found out he and the other two bozos were headed up to Chiang Mai, I tipped off their guesthouse owner to direct them to a nearby, Harvard-educated dermatologist. Once he arrived there, I cleverly disguised myself as a nurse to sit in on the proceedings…

"It's spelled with a 'ph', see?"

"Boy I sure am nervous about meeting this doctor! I don't want him to think I'm weird!"

"So as you can see doctor... it's gross"

"Hold on, let me scratch for a second, then I'll tell you what it is"

"It's a fungus, you fucking idiot. What did you think it was?"

"Oh. Oh yeah!"

Huh. Now, while I hadn’t thought of the fungus angle, I guess it all added up in the end. As I cleared my head of this case with a couple Changs, I perused the doc’s prescribed treatment for this particularly pestilence:

  • Two antibiotics, twice a day, for at least two weeks
  • No alcohol for two weeks
  • No warm showers for a month
  • Apply antibiotic cream once in morning and once at night, after a cold shower, for up to 6 weeks
  • $27 please!

Case closed!

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Asian Popular Music: No Gaga H8erz Allowed

Traveling is a wholly sensual experience, but travel blogs are limited – until scratch-and-sniff blog technology becomes widely available – in that they can only deliver visual aspects of journeys, supplemented by long-winded self-indulgent descriptions of places and events that ironically render readers senseless.

But here at Herro Asia we strive to deliver up our slice of the East on all fronts, which is why we’ve built an introduction to the popular music we encountered, often to our consternation, throughout our travels.

INDIA


We came to India expecting to take in tremendous amounts of Ravi Shankar, fast-paced Bollywood numbers, and intense classical tabla drumming. So essentially like coming to America hoping to only hear George Gershwin, Robert Johnson, and the soundtrack to ‘South Pacific’ playing everywhere you went.

What we instead were able to enjoy was the ceaseless lo-fi din of Punjabi hits played through cell phone speakers. Indians, we quickly gleaned, have mastered nuclear fusion as a source of power, but so far have only utilized it for their cell phone batteries, ensuring that at all hours of the day you will be able to hear a song that sounds almost exactly like this:

"Sir, you know Akon? Akon sir?"

After a while, the repetition, simplicity, and Alphabet Soup-like conglomeration of “fun” English words took on the consistency of a classical raga drone in our minds, so maybe we got what we wanted after all.

In addition to these, the World Cup was being played at the time, so we heard plenty of Shakira’s irresistibly hateable Waka Waka and the other one about flying flags and being stronger.  Also, a shitload of Lady Gaga songs.

CENTRAL ASIA

As our latitude increased, so too did the volume of surrounding cell phones and, to our eventual rage-provoking dismay, the frequency of us hearing the Eminem and Rihanna hit where they sing about abusive relationships and being annoying. From the few times we watched TV here, it became clear that in Central Asia, the sun never sets on the empire of 80’s German hair metal band The Scorpions, or at least, footage of their live shows. This was one of those things we never ever could have expected.

Here they are! Rock them like a radioactive windstorm across the steppe!

The alternative to this, intriguing at first then ultimately unbearable, were lengthy guttural odes that, like Indian pop, drew upon R&B and hip-hop models of throwing perplexing, needlessly aggressive multilingual raps midway into the track, no matter how disjointed it rendered the overall product. Most of our long car rides between post-industrial wastelands were colored by such songs.

We found out later that the whiny segments typically cover subjects like the beauty of the steppes, and father-son relationship issues. Hmm…

Oh, and in addition to these ballads, we heard a lot of Lady Gaga.

CHINA

Most of our experiences with Chinese musical tastes took place in trains and malls, which for whatever reason meant: Lots. And lots. Of smooth jazz.

But we also heard, at one memorable point, a rock song anchored by a rapping toddler:

And the Cranberries gone Chinese:

Apart from being asked several times if we were familiar with the popular karaoke song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads To the Place I Belong West Virginia”, our primary connection with American music was the massive amounts of Lady Gaga we heard everywhere.

SOUTHEAST ASIA

You can read about our experiences with “I Am Sorry” in our review of public/private transit in Southeast Asia (LINK). Cambodia indeed seemed to be in the death grip of saccharine love ballads produced solely for karaoke purposes, but K-Pop – overproduced, hyperactive Korean pop was making strong irritating inroads. And, of course, Western music was appropriated d in various ways. In both countries we heard, at least thrice daily, the Khmer version of a Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me”.
Here’s both:

In Kho Phi Phi, someone had tipped off the locals to the fact that white travelers are biologically incapable of hearing anything besides old Jack Johnson songs, and so it was more often than not that the vacuous strains of ‘Banana Pancakes‘ floated through the breeze like a placid, white, upper-middle class fart from the nearest beach hut.

But usually we just heard Lady Gaga.

LADY GAGA

Our extensive observations in the field lead us to believe that Lady Gaga has become a spiritual leader to all Asians. Centuries from now, shrines featuring symbolic representations of her triumphs will jut out from the ruins of Buddhist and Hindu monuments, and five times a day muezzins everywhere will sing her praises in the form of Engrish-ified verses of “Telephone.”

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Paula & Boom

Names: Paula and Boom
Where: Paula’s birthday party, Kammala, Phuket, Thailand

Sometimes all it takes to turn someone’s day around is a smile, or a well-phrased remark on the stylishness of their apparel. But there are times when mere gestures won’t cut the mopey mustard, and you have to go above and beyond to deliver them from the depths of the Sulkton Sea.

Say, for example, a group of 20-somethings decided to travel to a tropical island in Southeast Asia to spend a few weeks cavorting in the sun, only to find that — despite their substantial research and careful reviews of basic, widely available climate information regarding their destination — they were unprepared for their visit to coincide perfectly with the monsoon season and were now occupying much of their time by fleeing torrential downpours. How would you console and cheer such an unfortunate assembly, mollifying their melancholy by masking their misfortunes?

Why travel agents are often worth it

The short answer is to give them free food and a dance floor. The slightly longer short answer is to be a prostitute and have a birthday party. Could you have accomplished all of the above? Because Paula and Boom did, and they don’t even know us or like us.

It was a Cat Shirt Night*, rendering expectations of riotous fun and narrowly avoiding beatings at the hands of strangers unreasonably high. Standing resolutely in the path of these goals were the omnipresent precipitation, our relative stinginess, and the tourist demographic of Kammala being almost exclusively fat Speedo-donning Russians and scowly, septuagenarian Scandinavians. Luckily, Paula and Boom were there to expertly carve around these knots, creating for us a sublime evening that was equal parts frivolous, strange, and uncomfortable.

Earlier reconnaissance missions had uncovered a soi, or alleyway, packed full of promisingly grim bars, one of which would presumably offer Karaoke and the chance for us to embarrass ourselves before a variety of ethnicities. Taking the over-confident wind from our silky sails, we soon learned upon setting out that none of these bars were willing or able to let us screech Britney and Bowie songs at their patrons for hours on end. Sensing our dismay from across the soi, Paula and Boom sent one of their emissaries to inform us that Paula’s birthday party would be commencing shortly. There would be music, girls, and a giant spread of possibly-contaminated seafood, curry, and watermelon for those in attendance.

Gentlemen, start your mooching!

With our evening plans conceived, we whiled away the next half hour by playing pool with ladyboy barmaids and freshening up.

Now it was time to enjoy Paula and Boom’s birthday bash. And heavens to bhutsoi what a bash it was. The longer we extended our presence at the festivities, the stronger grew our suspicions that Paula and Boom had with extraordinary prescience laid out a night designed to delight us and enrich our experience in Phuket.

For example, there was the crowd they’d assembled for us – on one side the rough, tattooey-faced, full-set-of-teeth-bereft Australian and British men with beady bloodshot eyes, capacious criminal records, and cameras owned exclusively for pointing down young Thai girls’ dresses. On the other side: a bevy of young Thai prostitutes. Knowing we would want control of the dance floor, and to primarily interact with our own group of friends yet still gawk at and judge everyone in our immediate vicinity, P&B had joined these two disparate groups to keep each other occupied, maintaining a safe distance between us and the fists of one and lusty overtures of the other.

Tourists in Phuket are Gross

There went the neighborhood

Beyond the open dance floor, people-watching fodder, and sizable feast, P&B thought defensively, anticipating the mirth-jeopardizing hazards posed by our short attention spans, and concocted a series of thrilling party games to keep all boredom at bay, as well as the recognition that we were surrounded by prostitutes and likely child molesters. These games began simply, such as the old chestnut “Let’s Form a Conga Line Around The Pool Table, Like, Five Times”, but quickly developed new complexity, resulting in “Paula Sits On Everyone’s Lap, Takes a Liking To Logan, and Feeds Him Cake With Her Mouth”, and a very, very lengthy round of “Paula and Boom Try To Get Logan and Steve, Respectively, To Have Sex With Them”. This last game brought a very strange and unforeseen energy to the room, and produced many photos of Steve and Boom’s highly awkward canoodling.

Disguised Steve holding hands with Boom

And also this one of Boom’s unsolicited fiddling with Steve’s unsuspecting nipples.

And Logan eventually buying Paula a drink because he felt bad. In return, she deemed him her “Boyfreeeen” for the rest of the night.

In the background of all of this, rocking the night away, below a TV broadcasting an international squash tournament, was the local middle-aged cover band. Or rather, a guy with a guitar, and then another guy with a guitar. At P&B’s certain behest, the band operated with very loose standards of microphone control, a protocol that Team Cat Shirt exploited to great effect. Logan, seizing the moment and microphone late into the night, launched into a loud, rambling, heartfelt speech commemorating the momentous milestone of commitment, devotion, and understanding that was the six month anniversary of Devon and Steve traveling together. This speech notably, adroitly avoided commemorating the coinciding six year anniversary of Devon and one very frowny-faced Margie, to the great merriment of at least four of the assembled Cat Shirted party-goers.

(Frowny face not pictured)

After this speech, it was clear to all that this birthday party had never been intended for Paula, but was instead a birthday party for us, for Herro Asia!, and all that we stand for. With that settled, Devon and Margie stole the hearts of all the whores and ex-cons with their rendition of a shirtless bullfight. Max’s interest was greatly aroused.
Responding in kind, Paula stole Max’s Cat Shirt by exploiting her feminine wiles and, probably more likely, Max’s lack of concern for material goods. In this, P&B’s final act of the night, our new pals gave us all a chance to bond ever further, by stealing the shirt back from Paula and running away into the night, as seen below:

Deputy Devon hears a Cat Shirt in distress... and tries not to look behind him

Takes aim...

Initiates the rescue maneuver...

And breaks away triumphant

Besides a few awkward subsequent daytime encounters with them, our time spent with Paula and Boom was terrific; probably the best had on Phuket. And, to their credit, it was the only encounter on the entire trip that led directly to Steve wetting the bed the next morning.

*Team Cat Shirt is an intra-friend community built around an appreciation for the women’s clothing line produced by Napa artist, feline aficionado, and frequent Freudian-slipper Michael Leu

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