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Micronesia 8: Arriving in Palau

It's a 30-40 minute drive from the Palau airport, across two or three bridges to our hotel. On the way we go through downtown Koror, the capital of Palau, so far it seems like a crumbly third-world shopping strip, stores, hotels, restaurants, steady traffic on the two-lane road. We pass a local baseball game. Our hotel is out at the end of another island. In the evening we take a free bus into Koror and walk around, it's exciting, so alien. Unlike Yap, there's no one main race here, it's just totally polyglot: Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese, Palauans, Koreans.

We went into a market to look for film, it was wonderfully bizarre. The only newspaper for sale was the Weekly World News of January 31, 2005. Headline: “UFO Washed Ashore By Tsunami.” With a large black and white photo of a pie-pan UFO superimposed upon the wreckage of Phuket.

Somehow I'm reminded of the Interzone, the hallucinatory city in William Burroughs's Naked Lunch. Not that I'm seeing people doing anything particularly louche, but it feels utterly outside normal reality in that same way. For maybe the five hundredth time in my life I think of this line from, I think, The Soft Machine, and chuckle. “You win something like jellyfish, meester. Or it win you.”

Walking into his hotel room, Bradley saw something high in one corner of the ceiling, a gauzy veil, like the mucus casing that a parrot fish exudes to cocoon itself in when sleeping. The shape fell down upon Bradley faster than he could form a complete thought; it slid inside his shirt collar, down inside the band of his trousers and underwear, down his legs and inside his sandals. He felt a sexual burning in every nerve. The boy who'd spoken to him in the street, appeared in his doorway, his lips as bright red with betel nut as if he were a vampire.

“Skin like that very hot for two three weeks,” said the boy. “Then wearing the Happy Cloak.”

We took a gypsy cab from the airport to the hotel, driven by a betel-chewing guy called Ted. I forgot my knapsack with my prescription diving mask and my laptop computer in the back seat, realized this only in my room. But Koror is small enough that the bellman knew exactly who'd driven us, and when he couldn't raise him on the phone, sent a guy into town to find him. Half an hour later I had my bag back, and showered large tips on all parties concerned. I have been backing up my diary and novel onto my minidrive, so it wouldn't have been a total disaster. But I'm so glad to still have my little thinking aid. My axe. My memory seems a notch worse than it was the last time I traveled. Sometimes it feels like I'm traveling in a Heisenbergian haze, with all my possessions smeared out in probability space around me, at any time apt to quantum-jump out of my ken.

The hotel is very comfortable, but in some ways a let-down after Yap. Very corporate, polished, mega. Right on a nice beach, but they have such an immense ventilation system over the kitchen that the entire beach is flooded with the roar of fan. Additional machines are all over the place, and when we checked in they were actually, *sob*, leaf-blowing the driveway, which is something I definitely hear enough in California. But, again, the room is super-comfortable, solid, clean. And, really, how dare I complain at this point.

This morning I took a walk in a jungle beside the hotel, and heard an amazing bird song, three tones like a squeaky door, do-mi-(ti below do). And another bird doing a rising coo-coo-coo-coo call, though without ever breaking into the frantic squawk one expects.

The beach has a lot of coral, starting about twenty feet out, at depths ranging from four to eight feet. I went in snorkeling right away with Embry, saw scads of tropical fish, most notably a slowly whirling school of parrot fish — these guys gnaw on the coral, they have a very strong beak-like mouth, and they're shaded in lovely blues and greens. They have this cute tiny chartreuse (brilliant yellowish light green) fins like bird wings.

And best of all, the beach is loaded with giant clams, I saw one little “garden” of ten of them, each shell easily three feet across. Big crenellated shells, cracked open about a foot, and stretching across the opening is the clam's mantle(?) with two holes in it, a dot and a slit. The mantles are patterned in the most elaborate and psychedelic fashion, a bit like marbled endpapers, a bit like tie-dye. No two of them seem to be the same, even regarding palette of colors. I already wrote them into my novel-in-progress, where I describe a futuristic computing device that has this exact appearance, to wit:

“The skin was undulating, with slight ripples moving back and forth across it, interacting to form delicate filigrees and fleeting moirs, like a living piece of watered silk. The skin was spotted and striped with blues, greens, aquas, yellows, and purples — like a cellular automaton, like an old book's marbled endpapers, like the mantle of a giant South Pacific clam.”

Some guys similar to the clams, a type of scallop with the same brightly colored mantle and lips, wedge themselves into holes in the coral heads, so that, in the middle of the a large maze-patterned brain-like coral orb you'll see a pair of iridescent blue or green lips, leopard-spotted with black or brown dots, as intricately detailed as the borders of the Mandelbrot set. [Actually the latter three of the pictures here are of those scallops, I only got the one good picture of the giant clams, although later we met a diver whose hobby is photographing giant clams, so eventually I may get a link to her site.] Turning on the SF reality-warper, I can readily visualize the people of 2100 instilling cultures of algae or Pacific giant clam cells into their lips or private parts so as to achieve some startling and magnificently iridescent effects. Is this really so inconceivable in our present world of Botox and silicone? Mightn't the 2100 Superbowel Halftime Show involve, let us say, a fading star's “accidental” display of her really quite stunning new biocosmetics?

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