Hey buddy,

I am enjoying Asia tremendously although I am presently stuck in Vientiane. Did I ever mention that I used to live over here? In Singapore? I almost married a girl there. Chinese-Burmese lass who grew up in Australia and was an ex-Cathay Pacific flight attendant; a looker and quite smart (maybe too smart). Another memory that immediately comes to mind when I think of Singapore is The Imperial Herbal Restaurant that is located in the Metropole Hotel. A Chinese ‘physician’ comes around and interviews you, asking about ailments and whatnot, and then prescribes a meal. We would forgo that and just order off of the menu typically choosing some well made and typical kind of Chinese dishes, a fish main dish, some vegetables, etc but one time I remember getting a huge dish of black ants (delicately crunchy) and an order of fried scorpions which tasted kind of like mud.
While killing time I went to see the film ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ this past Tuesday afternoon; in subtitles of course. Yes, it’s an old film but Vientiane is still curiously stuck in the past. I’m not one much for movies or movie theatres but I was curious to see how it stacked up against the latest Bond film. The general consensus of the talking heads a few years back was that Bourne was better than Bond. Now I’ll give you that Matt Damon is a good actor but that chap playing Bond is no slouch either and like it or not I’d have to say that he cuts a more dashing figure as a ‘secret agent man’ (remember the hit song from the ‘60s called ‘Secret Agent Man’?).
I am dying for some Mexican food, can you believe it? I remember this place in LA that had the most authentic Mexican food of any place outside of Mexico. And I had been walking right by this place for well over 2 years. Ignoring it because the place is sandwiched in between a couple of other not so interesting Mexican restaurants which I did try, choosing to ignore this place because it looked more like a bakery than the fabulous hole-in-the-wall, serious dining establishment that it was. I typically ordered 2 lengua taquitos and 1 of carnitas. They came in 2 small corn tortillas each topped with the requisite chopped white onion and a few thin sprigs of cilantro, sided with an eighth fresh lime each. You know the drill – squeeze the lime juice onto the meat before topping it off with their hottest chili concoction, which in their case would be a very viscous and powerful red sauce. A key is to only prepare one taquitos at a time so that the tortilla doesn’t fall apart while you are eating it. While waiting for that first order years ago I perused the rest of the menu and discovered to my surprise that they served pozole and menudo on Sabado and Domingo. Of course I returned the following Saturday for menudo and then again the next day for the pozole. I ordered another run of their fabulous taquitos while I waited on the pozole for take-out. Can we agree that pozole is one of the greatest of all Mexican dishes and is as representative of the pinnacle of Mexican cuisine much like osso buco is to that of Italian cuisine?
(Yes- let’s not confuse what the critics or grand chefs tell us, instead let’s listen to the wisdom of grandmothers concerning cultural ‘heritage’ dishes) pozole is a hominy and pork stew seasoned with garlic, oregano, dried red chilies, and topped with cabbage, cilantro, and sliced radish. The hominy is a very large-kernelled white corn grown in Mexico that has been slaked in a solution of lime.
Why are movie theatres so bloody loud these days? Is it just to show off their technology, their new surround sound systems? And action films exacerbate these ear splitting decibel levels by having these prolonged sequences of car chases, shootouts, and catastrophic destructions. Bourne Ultimatum was almost entire action beginning to end which meant that the decibel levels were sustained at near skull crushing proportions for almost 2 hours.
Jason Bourne is not James Bond by a long shot. Sound levels aside, I did enjoy the film for reasons other than the obvious; the action bounced across several of the European capitals, mostly set in either Paris or London. It was fun to try and place our recent trip to both of these cities against the backdrop of the film. I will give the Bourne film credit for mustering up one incredible fight scene that topped the opening fight scene in Casino Royale. But all things considered, so what? If action films were just about the action then there would be any number of contenders for the best summer action film title including the last ‘Die Hard’ film which featured the large truck rig/Harrier Jump jet chase scene complete with rocket explosions and collapsing expressway (but offered little else).
The Casino Royale film was closer to the intent of Ian Fleming than any of that previous drek since Sean Connery played Bond. It closed with Bond saying, ‘the bitch is dead,’ straight from the novel. Too bad the studio didn’t follow up with ‘Thunderball’ or ‘Doctor No’ but instead they made two non-Fleming stories into movies. In my opinion, stupid. Why order a hamburger when you can get a t-bone? Although, Casino Royale was by far away the best in this latest move to resurrect the franchise, even so it was less than perfect. I wasn’t thrilled that the director/producer dumbed down the casino card game to Texas Hold ‘em style poker, thinking the huge consuming American market would be too stupid to follow the subtleties of Baccarat. But then again they were probably right. The American public has proven time and time again how stupid they are when it comes to choosing their entertainment (think the Pirates of the Caribbean crap).
Bond drove (and wrecked) an Aston Martin Vanquish while Bourne smashed up a Ford. Is that a commentary on culture?
We saw tons of high end autos in while we were in London last year like Bentleys, Jags, Range Rovers, and high end BMWs but no uber autos like the Vanquish. I will say that some of the Bentleys were quite impressive though.
We visited the Sloane Square neighborhood in London, home to the infamous Sloane Rangers. Sloanies are the London equivalent of the American Yuppie; but being an upper class British thing it is as much about understated style as it is about the wealth.
We popped into Tiffany’s in Sloane Square where I bought Alison the ring that I’ve been promising her since she was 16 (but she never got around to getting her ring size sorted out). The ring is nothing fancy, just silver mesh but done I think in a quite elegant way. I have been buying her Tiffany stuff since she was 14 and she is now finally wearing some of it.
My last comment on Bourne is that he was used and betrayed by those he worked for and so the corresponding story line was about him seeking answers and then revenge. Bond’s position on the other hand was more classically heroic, the new version spun up cleverly leaving out that cold war era cynicism and things like those pesky scab labor Bulgarian bomb throwers that were written into Fleming’s novel. Do read Casino Royale. It is a little gem of story and might be the best of all of Fleming’s mostly great reads.
I just left Cambodia where I took a river boat up the Tone le Sap River and then flew back to Phnom Penh after a 2 day visit to Angkor Wat. The river boats were a kick (you need to sit on top if for no other reason than safety sake) and Tone Le Sap Lake was very cool – there are people living out there on stilt houses, some of which have probably never been anywhere else.
I’ll be back in Mexico in a few weeks.

Until then all the best. Spike

PS – Yes, I am trying to make some contacts for you over here. This is after all a business trip.