Tuesday, February 1, 2011

After three weeks...

...of living in Asia, I find myself appreciating anew the parts in Cryptonomicon after the main character, Randy, has moved suddenly to the Philippines. More: I find myself living sections of that book. Can it be deja vu if it's something already read, and not already seen? What would that would be, deja lus?*

For instance! There's a scene in that shows Randy walking to work. Every day, he leaves his big, expensive hotel, and walks the raging insanity of Philippine streets. Every day, he's an object of wonder and shock, as the hotel personnel and various purveyors of conveyance cannot believe that a white Westerner--rich enough to stay in a 5-star hotel--would choose to walk. One sentence describes how one of these, 'the most tenacious capitalist Randy has ever seen,' follows him for blocks every day, saying 'Sir? Sir? Taxi?'

While I was living with Awesome Vodka Sean, I walked to work. And God help me if I didn't have xe om drivers (basically, dudes who own motorbikes and drive around those too dainty to walk, too sensible to ride their own bike, and too cheap or poor to take a cab; I find them the worst possible compromise between these three modes of transportation, unless you're drunk) following me, yelling at me. One of them even yelled "Sir? Sir? Motorbike?" after me for like half a block. Okay, maybe more like a third, but only because Saigon is an ear-crackingly loud city.

Or Neal Stephenson's descriptions of the streets of Manila--he could have been looking at, say, the streets around Nattranhduat, where I teach. Or his description of the weather...or the people...I mean, granted Saigon is not in the Philippines (for my American audience: true fact! Saigon is in Vietnam, which is next to Cambodia, and the Forgotten Jungles of Leng! And, of course, N. Stephenson only made up the Philippines for his book!)

For those of you who haven't read Cryptonomicon, you really should. It's a fantastic book, and on my sort list of Favoritestest Novels Ever, of All Time, Anywhere.

And that's saying something, though not, to be sure, in English.

*Actually, yes, but purely from a grammatical point-of-view.**

**But having made a big deal of it, I am now willing to bet that I mis-conjugated the French verb lire, which means to read. And though the simple past first-person singular is, in fact, lus--but then, you probably don't care. Thanks for reading this far. You may now return to items of consequence.

1 comment:

  1. Cryptonomicon is also just about my number one pick for Awesomest Novel in the English Language, too. As you know, since I first read it while we were in Europe.

    Also, your grammatical nerdiness is impressive -- as soon as you said "deja lus" I started wondering about how to say that too!

    Regarding our nation's overall lack of geographical knowledge, Keir recently showed me a photo with this caption: "I don't hate Fox News because they're Republicans. I hate them because they're #@*$&^ing stupid."

    It was a map of the Middle East, with Iran, Syria and Jordan clearly labeled. And with the country between them labeled as "Egypt."

    Now... Many people suck at geography. But for people who've been... uh... "reporting" on Iraq for a decade and with Egypt the #1 international news story at the moment you'd think they'd be able to tell at least where those two countries are.