Halfway to Hanoi, Part 2

I know the last post started like this too, but…

The sight of fresh french-fry-pancakes boiling in bubbling oil on the street stopped me in my tracks. I pointed to one and asked the chef in faltering Vietnamese how much they cost. Despite knowing next to nothing about Vietnamese, I was able to pick out the mockery in her tone when she answered me: “How much? Hrmmm. Twenty thousand each.” ($1). As I took my time considering whether spending a whole dollar to stuff myself full of nutritionless carbs and fat was a good life decision, a Vietnamese woman dismounted from her moped and cut me in line. Usually I’d be a little fed up, but this time, I smelled an opportunity.

The second (now first) customer asked the price but, rather than answering, the vendor looked at me. “Do you want one or not?” Feeling part giddy and part sadistic, I motioned to let the other woman go first. The vendor asked me again, “Yes or no?” I fumbled around with my bag and once again feigned chivalry. The vendor said something to the customer – I have no clue what it was, but it was definitely much longer and more complicated than the three syllables necessary to say “Twenty Thousand” – and began to pack the two remaining pancakes into a plastic bag. I watched the customer pull out a clump of cash and dig through it for the proper bill, doing her best to turn her hands to obscure my view. She folded a bill into a closed fist and conveyed it to the vendor by way of an awkward secret handshake. A highly pleasant feeling of smug righteousness when I saw the bill anyway: a 20k. I turned around and sped off. No double-charging this whitey! …or at least, not today.

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Afterwards, I went to the travel agent to pick up my passport and hot-off-the-press visa extension. At first I had been told that it was impossible for foreigners to apply directly for the extension; then I was told that it was impossible, period; then I was told that it was doable, for $85; then I was told that it would cost $35. I buckled and went for it.

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The “real” price? Right there in the middle in red.

The last fiasco I’ll mention: Minseong’s $85 visa, which was supposed to have been ready by Saturday, is now slated to come out on Monday. Two more nights in Hanoi will bring us to a grand total of twen. That’s longer than it took to ride the entire northern half of Thailand, longer than it took to circle Taiwan, longer than I spent at three of the four farms I’ve visited so far, almost as long as the visa exemption that MG and MS entered the country with in the first place, and about half as long as it’s going to take us to cycle the f out of this country.

Oh, Vietnam.

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Not all vendors are evil. This one added peanuts rather than pork to my sticky rice. Thanks!

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We’re just about finished with the mountains for the time being.

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Oh, except for one last 1000m climb.

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I’m liking this dud’es “cybernetic space alien dispatched from elsewhere in the multiverse to enslave us all” look.

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For all the hassles that the bureocrazy has presented us with, there’s still no denying how awesome the people are here. When looking for a place to camp, we settled on a nice little abandoned school building on top of a hill. It was just about perfect – a tin roof to protect us from the rain, a bathroom to wash up in, and a lady selling bananas down below. As if that weren’t enough, the local electronics repairman, Dat (on the right there) insisted we join his family for dinner – pork, chicken, steamed bamboo, bamboo pickles, pumpkin soup, and some pretty heavy whiskey.

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And for dessert, a few puffs of the water pipe. Thankfully Chris had taken the major tobacco hit before – he likened it to smoking ten cigarettes at once, and nearly fainted – so all I got were some fumes.

Oh, and while we were eating dinner, a dog pissed on/in Mingyu’s tent.

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I would say that the teachers must hate us for interrupting their classes like this…but then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a teacher at one of these schools. Or a class in progress. It mostly seems to be just the kids running free around the premises.

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One kid looking “cooler” than all the others. Maybe his TV is stuck on Grease?

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Vietnam’s got more concrete than Laos, wider roads, more traffic, more and bigger cities, and pretty much every other sign of “progress.” Two exceptions: the bathrooms and cooking facilities are much filthier (unpictured: one restaurant we stopped at, rather than using a cutting board in a kitchen, was using some floor tiles mounted to the bottom of a tree in the courtyard. Easy to spray off with the hose…but also easy for roaming chickens to scramble over and shite upon.) and, in the north at least, hill tribe women still wear a variety of fancy skirts and headdresses.

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What’s more pleasurable?

The feeling of being dwarfed by Mother Nature

or

seeing Mother Nature kick your friends’ asses?

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Minseong.

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“Hey, ma’am, excuse me, just a second, could you, uh, I, uh…”

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After finishing the last of the mountains (150 left till Hanoi, all flat!), we decided to take a day off in Phu Yen. The terrible: We couldn’t find a single appealing restaurant in the whole town, so our main daily meals consisted of improvised hot dogs made from street vendor spring rolls along with some other salad fixings stuffed intobaguettes from the market (with the ants brushed off. We really shouldn’t have stayed for three nights, but…the awesome: a “Bia Hoi” (“Beer Burst” / pub / draught beer place) with the best fried rice we’ve had here, full of corn and peas and topped with fried shallots, and pitchers of beer. 1.5-2L for $1.50.

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Someday I’ll write a post about cycle travel indispensables, but for now I’ll just say: bring a . Kids love it, adults find it ridiculous, and it distracts people from fiddling with the important parts of the bike.

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Why Chris is a baller: rather than paying $50 for a set of fenders, he stopped at a junkyard and pulled a pair off of a defunt0-cycle. Parts and labor? $1.

While Chris was having this moment of genius, I was realizing with disgust that the guava I had just bitten into had had its center eaten out by a swarm of little larvae.

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One last “adventure:” We wanted to camp one more time before hitting the big city, so we pulled into this school at about 5PM. A lady at the front gate seemed to give us permission, so we set up camp and ate some provisions from the market. Sometime after dark – after Chris had just finished his faucet-shower and I was on the way to mine – two semi-drunkish 50-something dudes came into the school. They had keys. They grunted at us, made gestures, took us to various rooms and drew things on the ground with chalk, but we really had no clue what they were after; they didn’t try to kick us out, or say the word “no” (in either language). They insisted on looking at (two of) our passports, but didn’t write anything down from them. Then one of them started waving a 50k ($2.50) note in my face, apparently demanding a fee for sleeping. I pretended not to have any clue what he was talking about. He kept repeating “FIVE” (short for “fifty thousand”) and showing me five fingers, in response to which I put on my daft face and said “No, there are only four of us! Two Korean, two Americans!” Eventually they gave up and left. And locked us in on their way out.

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On my way to relieve myself the following morning at about 6AM, I noticed that a crowd of children was already gathering at the gates. We packed up as quick as we could, but not quick enough to avoid the swarm. I lost a precious (if tattered) glove in the ensuing chaos, but it was worth it for the infusion of joy.

Then we got the heck out of there and knocked out the last 90km to Hanoi in what felt like a matter of minutes.

Oh, it feels good to have finally hit the flatlands!

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2 Responses to Halfway to Hanoi, Part 2

  1. ian chen says:

    haha…it shows that language misunderstanding could be very helpful sometimes,when you don’t wanna understand it at crucial time.

  2. Andy Pekema says:

    The dog piss comment cracked me up.
    Junkyard fender is genius.