Vietnamesmeriszing

The photos just keep coming!  Here’s the last batch from our 50 days in Vietnam.

 

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It’s a trend here in Southeast Asia: even in towns utterly gray and grimy, there’s often a mansion of a guesthouse with giant, spic-and-span rooms.  4 of us slept for $10 here.

 

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As did four Vietnamese cyclists, heading the opposite direction.  Happy trails, dudes!

 

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Chris went off on his own for a few days, so for a short time I was by far the fastest of the pack.  I would ride for an hour or so and then, depending on the terrain, wait for ten to thirty minutes for my companions.  I used the downtime to practice playing “Call Me Maybe’” and other terrifically annoying songs on the ukulele.  Thankfully, children are so sweet and pure of heart that even my wailing makes them smile.

 

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Perplexing bike problem: from time to time, when I hit a hill and tried to shift out of my biggest front gear and into the middle one, my chain would somehow snag/sandwich itself between the sprocket and derailleur like this.  The first time it happened, I was terrified – the entire drive system locks up and you can’t pedal at all.  I was sure that I would have to put my bike on a passing truck (of which there were none, since we were at a national park mostly in the middle of nowhere) and return to Hanoi for some excellent service at The Hanoi Bicycle Collective.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, since a confluence of trial, error, and desperation led me to a solution that I still use to this day: stomp on one of the pedals in reverse and the whole SNAFU will unclog itself.  Not too hard, though, or it’ll yank the shifter cable out of the rear derailleur.  Sheesh.

 

 

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Sometimes the chain even jumped (…jumps) all the way out, over the biggest sprocket and into my pedal.  What the hell?  I was trying to downshift!

 

 

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How about some good news?  Gorgeous white sands on the way to the beach!  All the paths to the ocean were blocked by fisheries, so we wound up sleeping across from a Buddhist cemetery.  Hope the ghosts don’t have night vision.

 

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I thought I was crazy for carrying coconuts and pomelos up and down mountains, but Katya and Mirko have got me beat – I’d say a good 10% of their combined 130kg of gear is foodstuffs.  Katya carries salt, soy sauce, olive oil, Slovene pumpkin oil, and an array of spices.  Mirko’s got the fresh fruits and veggies, tea, oatmeal, lentils, Czech dehydrated apple stash, garlic, ginger, cacao beans, chia seeds, and who knows what else.

 

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Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!  Vegetarian dahl on a camping stove in the middle of the forest.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat??!!  Apparently I’ve still got a thing or two to learn about this “life on the road”” business.

 

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Our night across from the cemetery wasn’t just a one-off; for something like a hundred kilometers or so, the landscape was continuously spotted with old graves.  Chinese?  Vietnamese?  Buddhist?  Confucian?  Christian?  Who knows?  Some graves were small individual plots,

 

 

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while others were the size of temples.  How thousands of shrines like this remain in a rapidly industrializing country where land prices must be skyrocketing is a mystery to me.

 

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Checking out the variety of possible burial plots, I began to think about what I would want.  On the one hand, the Venerable Beopjeong (among the best-known contemporary Korean monks) had a pretty cool idea: “Don’t hold a funeral for me. Don’t make a coffin. Dress me in cotton, which I used to wear. Scatter my ashes on the flower garden of the hut where I used to live.”

On the other hand, www.theinfinityburialproject.com’s mushroom death suit also sounds pretty great.

However, I think I’d like be buried underneath a tiny gazebo.  Perhaps my corpse could nourish a variety of berries bushes or fruit trees.  Rather than obscure Chinese characters saying this and that about the beyond, I’d have signs put up saying “Travelers and fauxbos of all varieties welcome” and “pee and poo here freely, there’s no longer a me to mind.”  A water catchment system would be a nice touch, too.

 

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Anyway, back to being alive.  For the time being.

 

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Lang Co, a long, windy, and rather chilly isthmus just north of Danang.

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Aaaand the infamous Hai Van Pass.  It’s probably the highest point you pass if you cycle up the east coast of Vietnam from Saigon to Hanoi.  Quite dramatic, as it’s right there leaning over the Pacific.  It reminded me of the good old days cycling around Yilan and Hualien on the east coast of Taiwan.  In any case, it was a paltry 600 meters or so of altitude gain.  Really nothing to write home about for shakies of our caliber!

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Woohoo, two new members at the top of the mountain!  Hello Claire (in the pink) and Mark (far left)!  They had been on the road about ten months (sixteen for me at that point…) and had already cycled over 15,000km from London through west and east Europe, through Turkey, and through the ‘stans before catching a flight to Hong Kong and heading south.  Note the sweet bikes with dynamos (free electricity!) in the front and Rolhoff Speed Hubs in the back.

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Ohmomomomomo.  14 gears inside this tiny little box!  No more clunky shifting, no more getting stuck going up hill, no more scrounging up toothbrushes out of hotel bathrooms…

 

 

 

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Our reward for the long, if not exactly grueling climb?  The ocean, and our first hint of blue skies in what felt like months.

 

 

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Ooooh, and a truck full of Durian, that infamously stanky “King of Fruits.”  That dude was actually taking a nap in the back of the truck.  Makes me wonder what’s what’s worse: kissing a smoker, a fisherman, or a durian vendor?

 

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Spiny on the outside, creamy on the inside, fantastically pungent all around.  Mine, all mine!

 

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And, now that there are seven of us, we’ve got some real bargaining power.  Seven plates of vegetables for $1 each or we scram!

 

 

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Finally, we made it to the beach!  The water was too cold to bother with, but sleeping next to the sea is so soothing.

 

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Yes, soothing.  Peaceful.  Calming.  Quietudinous.  That is, until 11PM we heard some rummaging and chattering outside of our tents.  Human voices.  Flashlights shining  “Hellos.”  And then…”Polee!  Vietna Polee!”  The cops had found us; maybe a neighbor had spotted us playing flashlight games in the dark and tipped them off.  Either way, they told us we had to leave.  I gave up the fight pretty easily and started packing, but Chris brought out his whiny/cutesy 1-2 punch:  “It’s too dark and cold, let us sleep here and we’ll go in the morning!  Promise.”  They must have been intimidated by our beards, because they nodded in agreement, shook our hands, and headed off.  Ahhh, back to sleep….

 

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…until, pitter patter pitter patter, our tents got their first dousing, putting their ultra-light space fabric exterior to the test.

 

 

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The verdict?  No sweat!  Beads everywhere, not a drop inside.  It still kind of sucks to pack a tent up when it’s all damp, but it’s better than having to do it while being damp yourself.

 

I was too lazy and cranky to carry my camera around at our next stop, the ultra-photogenic town of Hoi An.  Something about these cities (or parts thereof) that seem to exist solely for foreigners strikes me the wrong way.  Storefronts in beautiful decline, I can’t get David Foster Wallace’s quotation from Consider the Lobster out of my head:

“To be a mass tourist, for me, is to becmoe a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience, It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”

Of course, not taking pictures doesn’t make me any less complicit.

And, thankfully, Shaky Numero Uno managed to continue functioning at a normal level, capturing the undeniable beauty of the place.  The following pictures are all courtesy of Shaky Numero Uno, Chris at www.fromatobe.com.  For more shots, including daytime ones, check out his Hoi An post here.

 

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We even got a special visit from Sim, our friend from Hanoi!  She and about 300 of her classmates happened to be on a group tour, and our schedules lined up perfectly.

 

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It seems like we get exposed to more wildlife in our guesthouses than we do while camping.  I’m not sure I’ve encountered a single guesthouse in my last 6 months here in southeast Asia without a colony of geckos scrambling about.  Their chirping is a little creepy, and their poo is a little gross, but they do eat bugs. And you probably couldn’t get ride of them even if you wanted to.

 

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Adorable!

 

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Double adorable!

 

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Totally badass!  Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Claire Rugman!

 

 

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We crossed paths with yet another pack of Vietnamese cyclists – this time, eleven of them.

 

 

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After a long day, we stopped to ask a farmer if we could pitch our (five) tents in his front yard.  He said no, but walked us back to this convenience store where the family offered to let all seven of us sleep on their floor!  They even share eggs and rice with us and let us cook our own veggies in their kitchen.  What a sweet family.  Dad was a bit strange…perhaps on something, definitely a little into Chris.

 

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One more group road shot before we split up – Mirko and Katya to Saigon, the rest of us to Laos.

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A farewell lunch.

 

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I stopped to take a picture of the clouds and the kiddos swarmed me.

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Congratulations, little man!  You’re the last toddler I saw in Vietnam.  And the first one I saw dressed up like a Chinese emperor.  Minus the pig hat thing.

 

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Dramatic skies

 

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Big choices ahead.

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2 Responses to Vietnamesmeriszing

  1. Sunny Yun says:

    Lovely, Mike.

  2. wd says:

    It would be an honor to poop on your grave.