Asian Vacation

Contributor Holly W. recently traveled to Asia on assignment for BannedCast. Things went awry in spectacular BannedCast fashion, and we are presently in contact with authorities in Vietnam as we continue to attempt to locate her. Because she still owes us $25 for those Crocs she bought on the corporate account that she claimed were necessary for trips to the beach in the Philippines as part of her “job duties.”

We’re pretty sure she never even went to the Philippines.

In order that her disappearance and un-reimbursed plundering of our corporate account doesn’t go totally to waste, below are the most legible excerpts from her infrequent cables to us over the course of the past two months.

The other excerpts were deemed unsuitable for print, meaning that they were overly tasteful and prudent.

Holly’s Asian Vacation: January 12, Bangkok

Things are good over here! I’m still in Thailand. Bangkok is very modern and Phuket is very touristy. I do, however, love the names of the cities over here and I wish that more countries would consider naming their major metropolises so that they sound like descriptive sex acts.

I am longing for mountains and spiritual awakenings, so I am heading to Chiang Mai later this week for a 10-day meditation retreat. I’m excited because the last time I did a meditation retreat, I managed to quit smoking. Now that I’m already perfect, I can’t even fathom what kind of magical impact this will have on my life.

It’s odd—in the last few weeks since quitting my job and being over here, I sometimes find myself thinking, “What am I supposed to be doing, what am I supposed to be thinking, what am I supposed to be feeling?” Life is usually filled with a bunch of “supposed to’s,” and it’s very strange to be free from that right now.

For example, back home, I’m “supposed to” brush my teeth every day, and here I prefer to simply rinse my mouth with the aftershave I found next to the sink at the hostel.

Back home I’m also “supposed to” take my birth control every morning, and here I can just use the cellophane from a pack of cigarettes instead.

In sum, this is already a very liberating vacation.

(Editor’s note: The fact that Holly W. claimed to have quit her job came as something of a surprise to us, and we have since chalked this up to a combination of jet lag, spicy food, and typical female hysteria.)

Holly’s Asian Vacation: January 17, Chiang Mai

I’m heading off to Doi Suthep Monastery today! I am very excited.

I feel a strange emotional attachment to Buddhist philosophy. I’m too stubborn to ever conform to a religious label, but if I were forced to choose one, this would definitely be it. The others either have too many rules, too many gods, or too many explosives for my tastes.

My connection to Buddhism only became apparent a few years ago when I learned that Buddhists don’t believe in killing bugs. It turns out that something that I thought just made me quirky and overly sensitive was actually proof that I was inherently morally superior and more spiritually inclined than the rest of you losers! Hurray for me!

I disagree, however, with the Buddhist principle of non-attachment to the ego.

Anyone interested in an escapist solution to their crippling sense of anxiety and doom should move to Chiang Mai—it’s completely idyllic here.

There’s a temple on every corner, smoky mountains laced with green emerging along every vista, and you can get an hour-long massage for six bucks. True, that massage feels a little bit like someone shoving your face into the ground, digging their elbows into your back, and laughing at you for not understanding what you’re supposed to be doing with your hands, but that’s actually a bit like most of my sexual encounters here, too, so for six bucks that’s still one hell of deal.

Holly’s Asian Vacation: January 22, Siem Reap

I just escaped from the monastery. I am so mentally weak lol LOL lol LOL!

This meditation retreat was stricter than anything I’ve done before. There was no talking, no reading, no writing, no music, and no eating after noon.

There was an hour-long dharma talk at 5 a.m. and an hour of chanting in the evening. The rest of the twelve hours of the day we were directed to repeat 20 minutes of walking meditation, 20 minutes of sitting meditation, 20 minutes of walking meditation, 20 minutes of sitting meditation, etc.

For twelve hours a day.

Every day.

I started to slowly lose my mind! All the parts of me that make me feel like myself dulled, but instead of feeling liberated, I felt numb.

The retreat center was on the side of this jungled, mist-shrouded hill. Everyone walked so slowly that they all resembled geriatrics trying to cross a busy street. No one ever made eye contact.

At night, there were ants that fell from the ceiling and bit me, a pack of wild dogs that howled like demons somewhere in the near distance, and insects that rubbed their wings together so loudly that it sounded like chainsaws just outside my room. I am not exaggerating on this point—I had no idea that insects could be so fucking loud!

I kept thinking that maybe we were all in purgatory, and I began checking for signs that I was still alive and hadn’t died without realizing it.

I think that I am, like most people, afraid to have no external input. Most people probably have difficulty understanding the feeling. There were no conversations, no books, no music, no films or TV—just a consuming void of comparative nothingness, and it was very difficult to endure.

When you take away all the distractions, it becomes pretty apparent that, as the Buddhists say, life is uncertain, unsatisfying, and uncontrollable.

It was unbelievably frustrating to be unable to talk with the others to discover how they were experiencing the retreat. Maybe the point is to not let others’ opinions shape your own experience, but when you take away all the conversation, laughter, and art from life, it just feels very dark and empty and meaningless.

There is nothing there.

I think that’s kind of the point—everything is nothing and nothing is everything.

Or something like that, I’m not sure anymore, but I am sure that I just Googled the place and everyone gave it five stars. Five stars! There wasn’t even any coffee for fuck’s sake!

Holly’s Asian Vacation: January 28, Phnom Penh  

This trip has been really good for Holly’s relationship with Holly but not so good for Holly’s relationship with others.

I think I’ve taken my desire to be independent to some kind of extreme where I’m just masking my fear of opening up to, and being dependent upon, other people.

I’ve met some awesome people over here, but sometimes I still feel so alone. I know I’m entering into “poor me, I’m so terribly unique” territory, but nearly everyone I’ve met over here is either trying to party or hook up or both. I guess I’m not happy when I’m trapped on a mountain trying to be spiritual, and I’m also not happy when trying to integrate back into the world with people my own age.

In sum: I am never happy!

However, I did see a monkey snatch an old man’s hat from his head while he was eating breakfast at an outdoor cafe the other day. When the man jumped up to chase after the monkey, another monkey came up and took the bowl of fruit he had been eating. So I guess some things make me happy.

I am having a somewhat difficult time in Phnom Penh. While Siem Reap was absolutely amazing and I very briefly considered saying “fuck it” to returning home in order to continue my travels for a year, here in Phnom Penh is the most chaotic place I’ve ever been.

Right now, I’d be happy to be home.

There are no sidewalks, so I have to walk in the middle of the busy street, and people follow me everywhere staring and making kissing noises and asking if I want to buy things. It’s the only place I’ve been so far that doesn’t feel too safe.

I can’t wait to get out of here and head to Vietnam, which I’ll do in a few days. On the other hand, I believe it’s a good thing to experience what being a minority feels like. Back home in San Francisco, my WASPy features help me to blend into the scenery of even the newly gentrified Mission District, but here, I stick out like a Mexican at a Donald Trump book signing.

Holly’s Asian Vacation: February 13, Vietnam

On my way from the Hai Phong train station I spoke with a guy who offered to give me a ride on the back of his motorcycle. Being that I’m a young twenty-something American female traveling alone, I of course said ‘yes,’ and while I don’t remember much of the ensuing two-and-a-half days that followed, I do recall a lot of 90s techno music, some screaming transvestites at a bus stop, and one or two pigs who may or may not have been wearing hats.

Tomorrow I think I’m going to take it easy and just go to the beach.

Oh! I nearly forgot to mention: I left the Crocs back in Chiang Mai, probably at the monastery, so I’d appreciate it if you would reimburse me for another pair.

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