The Squeaky Robot

A Meddling Robot in a Human's World

Posts from the “Life” Category

Hunan Looking Glass

Posted on August 11, 2015

A young man lifts my broken bicycle into his tiny red truck. The day is ending and he is heading towards town now, and he picks me up nonchalantly like all his other deliveries. The industrious little engine begins to buzz and cough, the wheels roll forward, and the man smiles. You walk into a train station, let’s say in Changsha, and beyond the large words ‘Ticketing Hall’ above the entrance doors, there is no English written or spoken. You are met with a long hangar filled with a thousand echoes. The back wall is covered with an electronic timetable showing arrays of fire red Chinese characters, a code you can’t access. You think you’re a little smart and you’ve got a piece of…

Guangzhou, Again, Somehow

Posted on August 3, 2015

This is my second time in the city of Guangzhou. I was here exactly four years ago. It is not normally a place a leisurely traveler will choose with fierce intention, let alone twice. It’s one of China’s many megacities without much going for it, as far as the guidebooks will tell you, besides its Canton history and closeness to Hong Kong. Both times coming here it was a spur of the moment decision; though the first time was an exciting seizure of the unknown, while the second was fueled by a mellow curiosity and a penchant for the eternal question: How are things different? I remember how much I loved Guangzhou, but beyond this I remember very little. My memory reaches out for…

Kowloon & Around

Posted on August 1, 2015

I had a plate of roasted goose for dinner, Hong Kong style of course, with absolutely nothing on the side. The meat was succulent, dripping in goose juice and soy sauce, paired with a smoky chili oil dip. There was no English menu so an older couple began talking to me in Cantonese, pointing to items while explaining what they were. I didn’t understand anything so I just gestured to one of the roasted birds hanging in the window. They smiled knowingly and yelled my order into the air, and we clinked beers and ten minutes later you already know how it went.∗

Invalid Portraits of Hong Kong

Posted on July 29, 2015

From the icy airplane window Hong Kong looks like an infection. High up we are afforded rare macroscopic glimpses of the Earth, its geology a painting and the plane’s small windows the frame. We puncture thick clouds and through the mist see what teases us down below – cerulean water and deep emerald peaks that surround and infiltrate Hong Kong City. And then there’s the city. Tall sharp apartment buildings arranged in vaguely swastika-like and diamond formations; even higher sky scrapers stand with presence as if surveying their dominion, one of the most economically advanced in the world. Scale is lost on this disease – what seems large from an airplane window is impossibly, swallowingly large from the ground. And these thousands of buildings…

Tale of Two Cities, or Good Bye Viet Nam

Posted on July 25, 2015

My last sights of Vietnam are from the humming nadirs of Saigon’s scraped skies, gazing up at this city in marvel with that flat smoky jungle Hanoi forever the backdrop of my mind. How different these cities are. There are even cutesy illustrations about how Vietnam’s pair of beating hearts differ in their consumption of pho, preferred altar fruits, work relationships with superiors and general communication patterns (the rough translation: Saigon’s talk is straightforward and efficient, Hanoi’s calls for finesse and indirectness). I ask young locals here about their perceptions of Hanoi. Most answers implicate backwardness and a lack of excitement in Vietnam’s capital city, half the size of Saigon at around seven million people. “I wouldn’t be able to live in Hanoi,” says…

In My Hands, Beneath My Feet

Posted on July 16, 2015

The place was at once in my hands and beneath my feet. My map indicated the road between Buon Ma Thuot and Dalat was a major artery, it had that bolded yellow quality that typically signifies cartographical importance. But the spot where my motorbike – an old semi-auto with the words ‘Splendid Cruiser’ stuck to its side – was then rumbling, eager to dash forward, looked abandoned. It actually reminded me of the roads in Chernobyl town – domed and cracking, overgrown, the bush quietly reclaiming the land stolen from it in the pouring of hot tar. Stark evidence of mudslides also burdened this highway. At times you could only pass with two feet or so of pavement width, the rest covered in lumpy piles…

Land of a Million Elephants

Posted on May 9, 2015

While in the small city of Pakse, a man named Akamu told me a story. We sat in a noodle shop at lunchtime draining our hot bowls of their contents. Every ten seconds a rotating fan found our table, blowing our dirty napkins away. “It’s a story about a giant jar in the sky. How Lao people came to the earth.” He said how a ‘big evil’ grew from the land, and at its end hung a jar that blocked the sun, casting darkness unto everything. “The gods came to cut the big evil, to give the world light.” Only when the big evil was vanquished and the jar fell, presumably, could humans emerge from the jar. Then came the animals, the “rocks like…


Posted on April 11, 2015

I ventured to Koh Rong, a highly-rated undeveloped island twenty-five rocky kilometers from Sihanoukville, only for the bioluminescent plankton. I experienced these glowing micro-organisms about a decade ago in Puerto Rico, and so I was propelled by an innocent but somewhat misguided hunt for an experience that was probably once in a lifetime, as all experiences tend to be. I hopped off the creaking ferry into a den of beautiful Europeans who above all wanted to party and they wanted to do it now. The main beach vomited neon with strings of shacks competing with each other, all claiming to have it all – Dorms! Bar! Food! Wifi! Laundry! – and while it was only ten in the morning, each blasted its own variety…


Posted on April 8, 2015


The clouds were whipping by and I was having doubts. The feeling was compounded by my ominous setting: I stood at the flat peak of Bokor National Park in the midst of a colossal development project that was set to take off but never did, like a dead bird in an open cage. This collection of structures and points of interest provoked various degrees of depression. A half-empty mega resort whose lobby smelled like damp rice, a waterfall that totally succumbed to the dry season and was instead small pools of sticky green water, and the place where I then stood, outside an abandoned concrete casino. The views of the surrounding hills were painted by a thick curtain of light gray, a daunting canvas in a sky with no beginning.

There are moments in travel when I’m not sure I want to do it anymore. This is a painful thing to write, like saying something unsavory about someone you deeply love. But that unsavory something escapes your mouth anyway, and you don’t regret it entirely.

It was Easter Sunday, and I was people-sick for my mother’s laugh and food-sick for my grandma’s steaming pot of zurek, a thick sour rye soup with hard-boiled egg and smoked kielbasa, so rich it’s practically still smoldering. I wanted nothing more than to hug my dog and take her for a long walk in the mellow spring. I wanted to put on fleece pajamas and play Bananagrams with my siblings. I wanted immediate answers to my most pressing and difficult questions. I wanted to know precisely what I was doing there at Bokor National Park in southern Cambodia, and for the first time my usual answer of “Just to see what’s there” wouldn’t fly. Vulnerable in blinding opacity, in the fog there are no facades to cower behind. And I am too self-aware for most brands of self-deceit.

I filed into the abandoned casino with a dozen domestic tourists who quickly dispersed. I stood in the main hall, a space that was only grand because of what it could have been, like those deep-sea scenes of a rusty Titanic slowly merging into a marvelous candle-lit ballroom, alive with twirling petticoats. The hall had a hollow square dent that once promised to house fires and a tall looming ceiling that oozed a grandeur undeserved. In short, the casino echoed with the subtle terror of unrealized dreams.

I began harboring harsh sentiments towards Casino. I was angered by its futile existence, by its jagged walls devoid of color, its chaotic slapdash blueprint. The thought of this particular project – ill-timed, ill-planned, ill-funded – was suddenly infuriating, the incompetence and waste of it all. I thought of all the avenues that could have benefited from this money but instead sat at the top of this godforsaken mound in the form of ugly vertical concrete blocks glued together in haste and false hope.

What was it doing there? What was it for, I wondered with a furrowed brow. Did it realize how pathetic is was as a building that served no one? I desperately wanted Casino to answer me, and I wanted an answer that was so decent and whole it would relieve me of my own burdens. I stood alone but the room swarmed with my projections.

The air up there in Bokor was alien. Down below, down where water slaps the land, the air was hot and thick and subject to the unrelenting sun, and everything took on an orange hue. Up high the clouds obscured everything, whole monuments even, and you could watch them careening around the mountain like drunks looking for something to hold on to.

One of these clouds came with a forceful icy gust and I rattled in my light beach clothes. I looked in a glass sheet leaning against the wall. If my eyes were murky gray before, they at once looked crisp and turquoise.

I rubbed one of Casino’s dusty walls as bits of debris fell at my shoes and whispered: “I’m so sorry Casino. It’s not your fault you were abandoned.” And I eased my tense shoulders in palpable remorse.

As I walked to my bike the sickness, the demands, the questioning resolved themselves without any resolution. They dissipated like the clouds in which I floated, destined to come and go in the tradition of most things.


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