Poetry Corner – My Tattoos

My Tattoos

These are my tattoos

They have become as much a part of me as my limbs or veins
A juxtaposition to break up the monotony of my skin
Triggering a memory, a time and place
A souvenir of the past

A tattoo broadcasts one's personality even before words are spoken
A conversation piece, a window into their soul
To know their dreams and desires
A map of where they've been and what they've done

They are decorative scars, self-inflicted wounds
to destroy something pure, a sign of innocence lost
A way to rebel against society
A way of rebelling against ourselves

Each one is a work of art
For you to appreciate and critique, to love or hate
The body an easel, a once blank canvas
My blood the ink, the needle guided the hand of God

These are my tattoos

Can I see yours?


Tattoo artist: Eymard Trejo IG: @eymardtrejo

Poetry Corner – The Eternal Wanderer or Home

The Eternal Wanderer or Home

wanderer
From Nowhere...
From Everywhere...
Dirty dreadlocks
Scraped moccasins
Torn backpack
Scuffed map poking out (why do they need a map? they'll never get to where they're going)
A shower is beckoning to them, like a siren to a filthy sailor, tempting, yet out of reach
Phone in hand, but who are they texting, everyone back at home has already forgotten about
them or given up
A look of eternal loss across their expression
"Life's an adventure," they think but it's not what they feel
They just want to go
Home

Poetry Corner – The Weathered Backpacker

The Weathered Backpacker

You can always spot him: 36 but looks 47, sunburnt battered skin, sunken hallow face, deplorable teeth, few days beard stubble, the reek of alcohol emanating from him, still pungent from the night before, stayed up all night till 6am (what's a good night's sleep to him anyway?), but already on his next beer today, dirty dingy flip flops (when was the last time you wore shoes, sir?), dirty beat up backup that's been places, oh it's been places, seen things, the backpack itself mirroring the traveler's worn legs and weary eyes, but keep pushing, keep going, never stopping, yet never going anywhere... Do you have a home, weary backpacker? Do you even remember where home is? Go home backpacker, it's time to go HOME. Why don't you go home?

Short Story – No WiFi

No WiFi
 
A Short Story by Cameron Brtnik
 
Inspired by a stay at a hotel in Vietnam
 
 
    There was no WiFi password written anywhere… only a sign that read “Free WiFi” on a faded piece of paper on the wall. “Shit,” I said to myself. I was too lazy to walk the four flights back downstairs to ask. “Well, looks like I’ll be drinking this bottle of vodka on my own and without any entertainment,” this time only thinking it (as saying it would mean I am crazy, which I don’t believe I am..yet). I was living in Vietnam, on a trip up north to explore and reputable hills and valleys of Sapa. That first night I checked into the “Hoang Nam Hotel” which I believe translates to “no name hotel.” It was around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival and I could hear the sounds of kids’ drums beating outside. It seemed to imbue a rhythm into this normally stagnant and soulless town. Some kids had taught me earlier how to play a traditional beat, and I got pretty good at it, but the kids were better at it, they didn’t have to think, their hands just moved, the sticks an extension of them, the drum just an obstacle reflecting their own heartbeat: youthful, voracious, animalistic. I bought a bottle of vodka and slowly walked back to my shabby hotel room. The aircon barely blew – I had the aircon setting on 19° but all it did was gust around musty, stale month-old air, like the air kept memories of its past tenants, like a fly on the wall, did not like what it saw, and the beast was bitter, no one ever thanking it for cranking out 50,000 kilowatts of power a day, pushing itself to the limit, like a fighting cancer patient, never giving up, yet nobody ever noticing its pathetic existence… With unrealistic hopes I turned the setting to 18°.
 
 
    After checking in, the lady at the front desk – I guess she was an employee, although if she wasn’t working there I could have just as easily checked in – led me upstairs to my room. Upon hesitantly entering the room, the lady pushed ahead first, armed with a bottle of air freshener that she used, without restraint, to spray the entire room like she was covering the stench of a rotting corpse (although it smelled fine, if not a bit musty). After it seemed like ages, she scuttered out so I could bask in the emptiness of the room…
 
 
    I made a routine inspection: There were chips in the fake marble (probably asbestos) floor tiles, cigarette burns in the chair, stains on the white sheets (why white? These types of hotels should probably just go with a dark grey or off black), a missing dresser drawer, an unidentifiable crusted-on condiment in the fridge (unplugged), a woman’s hairs on the bathroom floor, burnt out bathroom light bulb, NO toilet paper, limestone stains on the bathroom door, in the window sill two q-tips and a used bandaid, a dusty 20’ TV (albeit a flat screen, now we’re talking luxury!), trash bin minus the bag with some gluey substance on the bottom, dirt smeared on the pink walls (that’s right; pink), lipstick smudges above the bed’s headboard, dust-coated fan with half the cage missing… I could go not, but you get the point. All this included for a paltry 200.000 dong! ($8 US)
 
 
    I couldn’t count how many times I’d stayed at hotels like these..they all blurred into one. You get used to it when you’re traveling in Asia. There’s a difference in (or lack of) standards compared to, let’s say, your standard roadside motel, like a Comfort Inn without the comfort. But “when in Asia,” I guess. Halfway through the bottle of vodka I was feeling tired and getting blurry-eyed (alcohol is an excellent creative fuel..until it isn’t). My brain wanted to write more, but I could feel my body inch toward the bed without me trying. I loaded up some streaming site to watch the last remake of Friday the 13th, which actually got decent reviews..but didn’t make it past the opening credits…
 
 
    …I awoke to a sound that I was sure came from the adjoining room but, half-awake, it just as well could’ve come from my dream. It was a loud THUD! that sounded like someone dropped a heavy hammer in the room above me..or the satanic sounds of old piping. Maybe someone rolled out of bed? My mind starting racing, making up excuses for such a sound late at night.. Someone dropping their bowling ball on the floor; a dead prostitute being pushed off the bed; an old chandelier, dangling by its last stringy wire, finally falling from the ceiling..but I didn’t hear it again and peacefully dozed off… for what must’ve been less than a minute before the sound woke me up again -THUD! I thought about getting a broom and banging the ceiling to communicate whatever weirdness was happening up there to stop..but thought better of it; if it was a psycho he might come down and hack me up to bits. I wouldn’t be surprised in this hotel… I decided if it happened again I would go downstairs to complain to the lady at the front desk – not that she’d be any help; she was probably the one making the noise. As I got ready to pass back out – THUD! I heard it again —-but this time right outside my door.
 
 
    “What the fuck?” I said out loud (when you’re scared you don’t care if you sound crazy). I slowly moved to the door and flipped on the light switch and said, “Hello?” to probably no one. I opened the door and… nothing. But the sound sounded so close… THUD!There it was again, but..it sounded like it came from inside the room. “Impossible…” (inside thought) My heart was beating so loudly it was nearly as loud as the THUD. I turned around and… nothing. THUD! Again, this time from..the bathroom? My whole body was hot and sweating from, what, fear? “It’s gotta be the pipes,” I thought. The hotel was old as shit after all. “Maybe the old hotel owner’s ghost is haunting the place,” and at that thought I snickered out loud. THUD!!! again in the bathroom. I was hesitating..but finally walked forward toward the bathroom door. I looked at the reflection in the mirror but…nothing. THUD!!!! This time my bed rocked, and I automatically jumped back. I bolted for the front door and it slammed shut. Suddenly the lights when out… THUD! THUD! THUD!!! THUD!!!
 
 
    Suddenly I felt something touch me: slimy, wet, yet ethereal, ghostly… “This is a waking nightmare,” I tried to convince myself while in a state of full-on panic…. Suddenly a voice spoke from the darkness.… ”WHAT IS THE WIFI PASSWORD?” “Umm..88888888!!!!” I yelled into the darkness (most passwords in Vietnam were eight 8s because 8 is a lucky number that means wealth and fortune. Why I didn’t try that earlier, I’m not sure..). After a brief moment, the voice simply said, “THANK YOOOU,” and disappeared, along with the THUD. The next morning I checked out, never to return to the hotel with no WiFi again.
 
END
 
 

Read the review of “No Wifi” by literary critic Virginia Kyriakopoulos here: https://cambrtnik.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/no-wifi-a-critique-by-virginia-kyriakopoulos/

Cameron is a fiction writer currently backpacking through the beautiful and magical country of Vietnam

Reel Vietnam – “My Accident”

Reel Vietnam – “My Accident”

by Cameron Brtnik

Excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend in Taiwan just after moving to Vietnam

Speaking of accidents…

    I had a bad one last month (worst one since I started driving a motorbike in Asia). I was going about 50 km, which isn’t that fast in Taiwan. I was in a rush as it was a Monday morning and I was running late for a job interview. It was an old bike and I knew the brakes were shoddy, so I shouldn’t have been driving so fast in the first place.. but it totally wasn’t my fault. I was driving merrily along, and the car in front of me made a left turn – and suddenly there was this old dude on his motorbike just stopped in the middle of the goddamned road!

    Now that I’m more experienced I realize this “maneuver” is “normal” here. The back of his bike had about 100 boxes loaded on top of it. He was just sitting there like he was daydreaming, and I saw him too late… I tried to brake but the brakes were shit, so I swerved to miss him and flew off my bike like Superman… landing on the pavement with my entire body weight broken by my left hand. I got up and dusted myself off – seemingly fine due to the adrenalin coursing through my body – thankful I was alive and apparently uninjured, but furious… The guy actually stopped on the side of the road, but didn’t get off his bike to help. He just looked somewhat scared and confused (*note like in Taiwan locals are often scared of hitting foreigners). I then did something I’ve fantasized about since I started driving a motorbike: I walked right over to him and kicked his bike as hard as I could, tipping it along with him and his boxes over.. but he somehow caught his balance on one leg (these old dudes are strong!), then drove off.

    My bike was shattered and leaking gas, but miraculously it still worked. I defeatedly drove off and continued to my job interview.. and that’s when the adrenaline dissipated and the pain kicked it… It felt like my left hand was broken, so I drove myself directly to a hospital (where the doctor actually laughed at the frantic state I was in). It was extremely painful driving, but luckily my hand was only sprained. I wore a cast for two weeks. My hand is still healing and sore if I use it, but I’m sure it’ll fully heal. So there’s my accident story! On the plus side I now feel a lot more confident when I’m driving – It’s a different art altogether in Vietnam.

Your Taiwanese buddy, Cameron

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

By Cameron Brtnik


      On May 27, 2017 I jumped in a van – joined by my fellow teachers Peter from America and Marty from Australia, both living and teaching in Vietnam, and Toby, a winemaker from California and one of the sponsors, – and rode the hour long trip to Tien Hiep Secondary School in Ha Nam. This was my second excursion to a rural school in the countryside with BLV – Better Life Vietnam – a non-profit organization that promotes learning and reading to students who attend schools that don’t receive enough funding for school materials or resources or even programs like a library. BLV does this by visiting these schools, often located in rural areas of Vietnam, and providing English classes and activities taught by foreigners, an opportunity that students in these villages would not normally get. BLV also does this by donating books to those children who don’t normally have access to an abundance of learning resources.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 11.20.45 AM.png

{BLV’s wonderful team of supporters and volunteers from USA, Canada, NewZealand, Australia and Vietnam}

      On my first trip to Hà Nam, I had such a great experience bringing joy to these underprivileged children I had to do it again! When you arrive at the school, the students’ eager looks, the excitement in their voices, their enthusiasm to speak and learn English – If you’re an English teacher in Vietnam, you understand that these are all the reasons we teach in the first place. This is an experience you may not find teaching at schools in the larger cities. It was no different this time around. When we arrived at Tien Hiep Secondary School, we were greeted by bright, smiling faces excited at our arrival. The students were very shy to speak to us at first; keep in mind their speaking level is at the “Hello, what’s your name?” level. We split up into various classrooms and each volunteer teacher taught the students a 30 minute class. They were so well behaved, they made us forget all about the naughty kids we had back in Hanoi!

See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUsEgl0qHg&feature=youtu.be

      We then hit up our second school for the day, Trinh Xa, where we played activities and handed out books to nearly 300 students! The organizers, Thinh Nguyen and Nhung Nguyen, hosted the school’s event and introduced each of the volunteers. One at time, we took to the stage to talk with the students, play games, perform magic tricks, teach English and give them advice – namely sharing with them the importance of reading – all this to 300 students!

Watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPnYx9Ws2ew&feature=youtu.be

     Then the best part: Handing out the books. It was like a hundred Christmas gift-openings at once! The children tore open boxes, reached inside and hurled out books, choosing a book that perhaps caught their eye or had a familiar title. Lots of photographs and video were taken throughout the day to document the day’s events. After all the fun and games, the organizers again took time to talk about the importance of reading, and encouraged students to keep learning no matter what their education or family’s situation is.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 11.21.13 AM.png

After a full morning, we joined the school principal and teachers for a lovely locally-prepared  lunch, enjoyed with a toast with their local rice wine. What a splendid way to end an already awesome day!

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 11.21.27 AM.png

     Started by Thinh Nguyen in 2017, Better Life Vietnam was established as a way to reach underprivileged areas of Vietnam, and to help less fortunate children and families in Vietnam: “Better Life Vietnam was founded with the belief that access to education, food, healthcare, clean water and a decent quality of life are basic human rights.” BLV is an outstanding organization that develops programs to sponsor schools, provide educational material, donate books, and organize events – all geared toward underprivileged schools in rural areas of Vietnam. They also initiated a superb program that interviews students’ families about their family and financial situation, choosing one of those families (based on various factors) to sponsor by providing livestock so that they, typically farmers, can earn money. Visit their website www.betterlifevietnam.org for more information.

VOLUNTEERS WANTED!

BLV is currently looking for volunteers to help with teaching classes, hosting activities, taking photographs/video of the event and video editing, as well as other jobs. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to donate your talents and time to a worthy and fun cause: providing better living for students in Vietnam! Note: Some organizations in Vietnam make the volunteer pay for their time. This opportunity is free for all volunteers!

If you would like to get involved please contact Better Life Vietnam at
Email: betterlifevietnam@gmail.com

Cameron is a freelance writer, English teacher, and volunteer living in Hanoi, Vietnam

Poetry Corner – Not A Good Day For Pigs

Not A Good Day For Pigs
(or Tet Holiday)

a poem by Cameron Brtnik
Not A Good Day For Pigs

Today is not a good day for pigs
Cause heads'll be rolling and chopped off like wigs

They sit happily dirty in the mud as they grunt
Not knowing that farmers have begun the hunt

The pigs try to run while they twist up their tail
Then we catch'em and lock the pigs up in a jail

Why they've no idea that they're the next target
To slaughter and butcher and sell at the market

They squirm and they scream and they struggle and squeal
And are not aware that they'll be our next meal

Yes a pig is oblivious to how he'll meet his end
From the same people he trusted to be his friend

Not to worry, these pigs don't have names like Babe
Like David or Charlie or Peter or Gabe

But we don't give a thought when it's under the knife
That this pig had two sons, a daughter and wife

All's not lost; All parts of the piggy are taken
And used to make hot dogs and pork chops and bacon

Yes a pig is only as good as it tastes
And we eat it all; leave nothing to waste

And if you are left with a small hint of doubt
We'll eat the feet, belly, tail and snout

So get your knives ready 'cause tonight we dine
On pheasant and fish and veal and swine

This message is going out to all pigs:
Today's looking grave; the kind that you dig

The word that we celebrate Lunar New Year
Is sure put every piggy in fear

Yes today is the day that all pigs will die
"This ain't fair!" I swear could hear all the pigs cry

As their pleas fill the air, the streets are spilt red
Another pig sacrificed, in other words: dead

But hey pigs - If it's any consolidation
We all agree everything's better with bacon!

We eat pigs for breakfast, and I've got a hunch
You had pig for dinner, and bologna for lunch

There's nothing like pork, no it just can't be beat
Not beef, fish, nor chicken, yes pork's the best meat!

To the the pig that was murdered for our meal here's a toast:
Your sacrifice was rewarded - to us with this roast

No today's not a good day if you are a hog
Cause a pig is not quite "Man's Best Friend" like a dog

The world's appetite is voracious for pork
We'll kill every last pig by blade or by fork

As we slice and dice and pierce with a skewer
With each pig with eat there are actually fewer

I know that it's horrible, makes me angry and sad
Does this make us animals? I believe just a tad

Give up eating pork? "The day when pigs fly"
But to save just one pig I am willing to try

It's enough to make me give up meat and eat plants
To stick up for the pigs, fight and make a stance!

You see pigs are actually cute and they're smart
And switching to chicken is at least a start

"But what of poor chickens?" You ask in a shock
My reply: I just have no love for the cock

END

*I am still a meat eater but is considering switching to a vegetarian diet. But bacon.

Poetry Corner – Like a Rock

Like a Rock

stacked-boulders-sandra-selle-rodriguez

Like a Rock


I want to be strong like a rock


My life has fallen accidentally into place
Like the rocks that make up this mountain
Satisfied with the cards they were dealt
Each working together to hold up an entire mountain
No one imposing on the others
Rather keeping each other in check


I want to be sturdy like a rock


Each completing the other; no grandstanding
Sturdy yet fallible
Ancient yet new each day
Always set with their faces toward the sun
Together balancing out the whole


I want to be intelligent like a rock


We can learn a lot from these rocks
We who compete for space
For a chance to leave our mark on this earth
To find meaning for ourselves
Rather than the whole


I want to be humble like a rock


We who step over each other to succeed
Rather than link together to form an alliance
Rocks do not feel jealousy, envy, or pain
They accept their place
And fend together, as one

Travel-ogue: Reel Vietnam – Ninh Binh Family Homestay “Home From Home”

Travel-ogue: Reel Vietnam

Ninh Binh Family Homestay 

“Home From Home”

SO YOU’RE TRAVELING in Vietnam: You’ve been to the South and navigated the dizzying traffic of Ho Chi Minh City (still referred to by its original name Saigon), visited the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels, and took some selfies in front of the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral. Perhaps you worked on your tan on the pristinely white sand of Phu Quoc. You certainly explored the luminous and magical Ancient Town in Hoi An, and definitely visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, walking through the bustling Old Quarter, strolling around the beautiful West Lake, and stopping by some historical temples where you can even view Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body at his mausoleum (which amusingly was named the world’s sixth ugliest building in 2012). And of course, no Vietnam trip is complete without a boat cruise through the hauntingly beautiful Halong Bay. But, perhaps towards the end of your trip, you’re ready for some peace and quiet away form the hustle and bustle and all the tourists… That’s when you open your Lonely Planet and discover the small city of Ninh Binh. Located in northern Vietnam, and the capital of Ninh Binh Province, the area is best known for its largest nature reserve, Cuc Phuong National Park. “But why travel to Ninh Binh?”, you ask. To stay at the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, of course!

Run by a young, lovely Vietnamese couple, Mr. Nguyen Thanh – or Scott as his guests call him – and his wife Mrs. Tran Hang, along with their two adorable children Bo and Min, the Ninh Binh Family Homestay really is, as their motto says, “Home From Home” (mind the endearing grammatical error). And I should know; I’ve been here for one week! I discovered the NBFH on the Southeast Asia Backpacker Facebook page, advertising that they were looking for a “volunteer English teacher,” and that they provided free accommodation, food, as well as a motorbike! I was traveling through Southeast Asia at the time and couldn’t resist; a chance to do what I love – teaching children, a profession I’ve been working in for the past five years in Taiwan – and explore a remote and authentic region of Vietnam.

I was welcomed graciously by Scott and his family, and on the first evening we enjoyed a delicious traditional dinner on a rug shared by other homestay guests from Australia, and the States, with a hearty chicken and vegetable soup, crispy spring rolls Vietnamese style (both Family Homestay specialties), and homemade “happy water” – you’ll find out what makes it “happy” once you try it So far I’ve taken my motorbike out on day-long excursions, exploring the countryside, and generally getting lost – the best way to figure out your bearings! It’s not unusual to encounter a herd cows blocking the road, free range chickens frantically scurrying about, and “goat traffic” which, instead of being gridlocked behind a line of cars, you’ll find yourself stuck behind a traffic jam of goats! We also take morning bike riding excursions with the guests – and there are plenty of guests to keep me company during my stay as the the Homestay is always at 75% occupancy – through the peaceful rice fields, admiring the local farmers as they plant all the rice seeds by hand, and the abundant livestock as you’re sure see some intimidating but friendly oxen lazing along the dirt roads, gaggles of garrulous geese (sorry for the cheesy use of alliteration), as well as a wide array of other farm animals grazing in the grasslands.

There are of course some excellent local tourist destinations you can visit just a bike-ride away: Ninh Binh City contains the impressive Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest pagoda in Vietnam, as well as the biggest bronze Buddha statue in Southeast Asia! For a unique excursion, you can take the Trang An boat tour, winding through the Song Sao River and breathtaking mountains made entirely of limestone, and even passing through natural cave – but just a “heads up,” you’ll have to duck your head! Cool fact: Trang An is the site where they filmed the new King Kong film “Kong: Skull Island!” Scott also offers his own unique tours, scenic bike rides through the countryside, and his “special tour” designed only for the bravest guests with a sense of adventure, and danger… I have posted some photos, but pictures cannot do justice to what you’ll see when you explore Ninh Binh yourself. I’ll be updating you again soon, and posting photos daily on their Instagram account “Ninhbinhadventure.”

So stay tuned, and when visit the Ninh Binh Family Homestay, remember to say, “Mot hai ba zho!” as you down your first, but certainly not last, shot of happy water. Cheers!

-Cameron
Ninh Binh, January 26, 2017

Cameron is a freelance writer and blogger, and currently works as a tour guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. He now enjoys happy water on a weekly basis

Poetry Corner – A New Hope

26899
 
A New Hope

A new feeling...

A feeling of contentedness...

Of wanting to leave what's familiar...

Of wanting to shed all things external, unimportant in the scheme of things, useless for

survival...

Of being open to learn again...

Of knowing that I don't know anything...

Of wanting to be close to the people I love...

And not pushing them away...

Of not wanting to live in solitude...

An evasive feeling...

A feeling of hopefulness...
 
Of wanting to finally LIVE


-Bali, Nov 1, 2016