Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nights in Koror: Cab-Driving Pimps, "Karaoke," Buai and Kabui

Palau's not known for it's nightlife, so here's a good strategy which might transcend Palau and apply to all of the lesser-visited nooks of the third world: hire a cabbie and start asking him questions, they can usually show you how to have a good time.

In Koror that cabbie should be Ninus A. Kai-Ichi.

Ninus was our first, and after a mis-guided stint with a few randoms including '#1 Lu' and 'James Bond,' during which we realized they're all more or less c-grade vice peddlers, our truest and last.

But it was fate at first that led us into Ninus' capable hands as the bellhop at the PPR hailed him to hump us into town. En route, Ninus, who can't stop the faucet of hilarious anecdotes delivered in a hard-to-pin accents, gives us the lowdown on Palau's various leisure-time activities.

'Massage parlors, all the Thai ladies left, now it’s Chinese massage parlors that will make you very happy.’

‘Happy endings’ my dad lamely quips.

‘No it’s not that kind of place,’ says Ninus, but those things can be obtained as well and he recommends the 'KTV' karaoke bars which are literally fronts for Chinese brothels.

In the afternoon, our first stop with Ninus is to get the betelnut set up: beletnuts or buai and leaves, kabui, and lyme, which can be had at seemingly any shop in Koror.

From there, you bite the buai in half, and place it taco-like in the kabui, sprinkle a little lyme powder on the exposed flesh of the nut and then wrap it up into a little packet which place between your molars and work over like cud. Once your saliva's glowing red like blood the betelnut magic is happening and pretty soon you'll be flushed with a buzz like your first experience with a serious amount of nicotine. Be wary of adding too much lyme, as my brother did, because it can burn the inside of your mouth.

Betelnut seems to be about as addictive as cigarettes. I didn't see folks in Palau smoking, but everyone chews betelnut most any chance they get. It's a proxy for tobacco, seemingly, and it wasn't uncommon for people to see my bag and try and bum a nut. Down the road, the habit gives your teeth nasty black stains.

After a quick betelnut we got massages from the the Chinese ladies (#s 5, 10 and 26 – like ordering Chinese food) who bongo our buttocks, massage our eyebrows and perform an ungodly ear routine consisting of individually horrible wet willies, ear stretches and claps that taken together is somehow wonderful.

Afterwards we dined at the Taj, which serves up solid southern Indian food, we had tandoori chicken, goa fish, roghan ghosh, cucumber raita, and aloo gobi – all strong and among the better restaurants in Koror.

Ninus greeted us in the parking lot and made his last pitch at swinging us by the KTV for a little late-night action. We declined and hit the sack by 9pm.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Best Way to Recycle a Newspaper

Above is the pile of used and enjoyed Sunday, March 1st New York Times I left on a seat in the Virgin America Terminal at LAX earlier this month. I had actually seen Moby walk by and he always gets me thinking about good, green earthy stuff like vegetarian eating, exploitation-free fair-trade rubber shoes, and recycling.

To me the jury's still out on recycling writ large. There isn't a whole lot of visibility into the process once you've outsourced your recyclable debris. A little research reveals that recycling systems vary by organization, system and complexity, which to me suggests nobody's closed the definitive book on best practices.

As an example, is it better to recycle glass bottles the way they do in Mexico, the Caribbean and many third-world countries? Simply washing them and returning them to the bottler? This 'stress induced' recycling, as Andrew Zolli would put it, is clearly the more transparent of the two pre-dominating systems and is readily borne witness by the wear scars on the necks of beer and coke bottles in Cabo.

Or are we better off with the feel good, hocus pocus of 'post-materialist' recycling as seen in Western Europe and increasingly the United States, where your recyclables are carted off, melted down and supposedly repackaged into new products?

I'm sure people can verify that this actually happens, that the Patagonia fleece I'm wearing is elementally identical to plastic Gatorade bottles, and that the Starbucks cup is in fact 10% old tax returns. But, can you prove that all of this is more cost-effective and resourceful than merely giving the glass bottle a good washing and returning to sender?

Neither can I. So in the spirit of thinking globally, acting locally, and verifying that my recycling is impactful in the sense of measurably doing the most with the resources we have, I passed the recycling bin over for an empty seat in the Terminal 6 waiting area.

And here's my evidence that it's worked:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Palau Day 1 Dives: New Drop-Off and Blue Corner

The panga from Neco Marine arrived around 8am at the PPR dock and whisked us back to their headquarters to get sized and outfitted with diving gear. It came up that they provide free nitrox (or oxygen-enriched air) as an alternative gas for free to divers who've passed the Padi course in Nitrox. Generally, at depths less than 100', Nitrox allows you to have more bottom time and shorter surface intervals since you're exposed to less nitrogen. We decided right then and there to sign up for the Padi Enriched Air Class through Neco and were off with Nitrox tanks.

The twin 200 HP Yamaha outboards make shore-based diving in Palau feasible, but the trip from Koror, through the central lagoon and maze of rock islands out to the barrier reef still takes 45 minutes in good conditions. Once out, the character of the sea changes and the cool clear and fluorescent blues of the lagoon give way to deep, cobalty blue as the Philippine sea rises up agsint the reef.

New Drop-off: our first wall dive at the precipice where Palau's barrier reef drops 3000' straight down to the pelagic plain and a great way to kick off the trip. Sure enough we see sharks almost immediately as well as humphead wrasse and sea turtles. Very healthy-looking corals and sea anemones with the Finding Nemo fish.

In between dives the on board lunches were quite good, featuring a selection of fresh-made sandwiches or bento boxes and ice-cold Neco bottled water. Neco, it turns out, has its fingers in many different honey pots. The Name stands Ngiratkel Etpison company. The late President of Palau Ngiratkel Etpison (1925-1997) founded Neco after WWII, by selling ice candy using a scrapped Japanese generator. He also started the first tour bus company in Palau in the 1970s, the PPR, and now the Neco Group of Companies runs seemingly every second business in Palau, including our dive operator, the bottled water company, a car dealership and a real estate agency.

Blue Corner: our second dive of day 1 is the world famous dive that starts with a cruise of the wall, depending on the current. At the true point of the corner you come over the edge onto a flat, sandy plain with a large ‘coral rock.’ We see two white tips sleeping on the sand, a tumescent horny sea cucumber, and moray eels in the rock. Then the current kicks in and we roll back to the edge where you hook in and watch the action. The larger sharks and wrasse swoop back and forth in the current and a school of barracudas arrive. Pete and I suck air, or at least thing we do compared to the German zen-master divers who sip nitrox like hummingbirds. I literally run out of air during the safety stop, but after 60 minutes down. Great dive.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Danish Dance Scene Beat From 'East Bound and Down'

If you're watching 'East Bound and Down' and loving it like I am, you probably enjoyed the funky, porno-soundtrack beat that propels a horny, ecstacy-laced Kenny 'Fucking' Powers across the gym floor at the high school dance in Episode 2. 

A little Google magic has revealed the name and perpretator of that beat, and it is so satisfyingly Euro. Presenting 'Vamp' by Danish beat-master Anders Trentmøller:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Palau Pacific Resort (PPR)

Of course I woke up after all of that at 4:30 in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep despite the fine bedding at the Palau Pacific Resort. So I put on my boardshorts and slipped out of the hotel room, leaving behind the loud, pungent humidity of my dad and brothers' syncopy of snores and farts for the still, floral humidity of the early tropical morning. Even in the dark of early morning, the air is thick and warm, tinged with a loamy smell you don't get back home. It's the first time I remember feeling clearly the difference of where I was.

The hotel grounds were dark, save for a few lighted paths connecting the various buildings, and around which a host of geckos and toads were congregated, still wrapping up their nightly feast of insects and fornication. 

Noting a faint light in the East, I padded out to the beach to look for a good place to watch the sunrise. There's a hill providing about 100' of relief above PPR's dock and beach. It's a quick climb up rocky path to a small shelter atop the hill, affording great views of the resort and surroundings. 

I hung for a bit and watched the light come up behind layers of clouds, before heading back down to stroll out the dock and get my look at the water we'd come so far to explore. 

To my surprise, among the expected host of nameless tropical fish, one of the first things I found was a group of four lion fish cruising boldly just off the dock. I had always wanted to see one of these guys and took this as a good omen of the days of diving ahead of us.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Palau is Far Away

I left San Francisco after work on Friday and rendezvoused with my dad and brother in Los Angeles [+1 Hour Flight]. We ate out in Hollywood at the 'it-boy' restaurant, Ketchup, and hit up the scene on Sunset before retreating to La Hacienda near LAX to get a little sleep before our 10am flight to Honolulu [+5.5 Hours Flight].

It was mid-afternoon when we landed in Honolulu and without much of a layover we boarded our plane to Guam, alongside a regiment of Guam native's who'd joined up the National Guard and we're heading back to Guam after training in California for eventual deployment in Afghanistan.

It's hard to think that after heading straight West from California for 5 and a half hours there could be a lot more Pacific ocean to cover. 
Its true vastness is hard to fathom.

Somewhere between Honolulu and Guam we crossed the confusing boundary of the International Dateline, wherein we inexplicably went from late afternoon Saturday to late afternoon Sunday.

A Lunestra and a $5 jolt of airplane cabernet later I woke up in Guam, in the future [+7.5 Hours Flight]. It was early evening, and our flight to Palau was delayed 3 hours.

It was around 11pm Sunday when we arrived in Palau [+2 Hours Flight], 16 hours of total flight time and effectively two days into our vacation, separated by 7,670 miles, 9 timezones and 1 calendar day from California.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Some Hairy Shit Out of Idaho

Being an Idahoan who's waded into the more populated pools of the world has its peculiar set of challenges, not least of which is dealing with my native turf's notoriety. Increasingly this tends to fending off embarassing news that wafts up fart-like to the national consciousness and generally for having to do with the 'sticksiness' of the place, both in terms of it's backwards political stars (Helen Chenoweth, Larry Craig, Sarah 'Go Vandals!' Palin) and the assorted wilderness-based 'news of the weird' (forest fires hotter than the sun, Ruby Ridge, the completely bat-shit crazy McGuckin event) that tends to dominate both in terms of interesting goings-on and ability to captivate city folks for its essential otherness. 

Other than the reliable, golden flagpole of Boise State Football, it seems not much good news comes out of Idaho. Thanks be to Google Reader for trying, and delivering the goods on this latest bit of word from the homeland in which the Phantom Hill pack of wolves killed a mountain lion over an elk carcass. Though not bad news, per se, this is undeniably raw stuff of a distinctly different variety than we see in downtown San Francisco. Furthermore it happened right across the road from our place in Sun Valley, which I never knew was a set for the Trials of Life.

*Credit Lynne Stone for the photo.