Cycling down the western spine of mountains on the Ho Chi Minh Highway one day, I once trickled into a settlement which I can’t be bothered to look up on a map. It was small. The “Internet Here” caught my eye. Vietnam is famously disconnected. This could give me a chance to research my next leg. Fuck yeah.
I had a travel lifeline. A pretty, English speaking Vietnamese mom had translated the following emergency English onto a piece of paper, the back of some crap:
The idea was that one of the more literate locals might be able to assist in times when the circumstances had abandoned me to some isolated backwater between my left palm and a palm tree. Perhaps I should have put in a food clause because by the end of the evening, I was eating the fine, powdery flesh of a dog.
It was an odd settlement, directly off the highway. Peaceful for the world leaders in head-on collisions. Most traffic opted for the parallel Highway 1, on which I also had the grisly misfortune of spending some time. Trucks overtaking other trucks while being overtaken by buses, that kind of thing.
The hamlet featured not bamboo huts, but a grand, palatial house. I wheeled the bike into the open property and propped it up alongside staircase leading into the spacious, tiled porch. Wooden doorways, high ceilings, a family of ten. Bizarrely un-Vietnamese. It must have once been the abode of Catholic missionaries, and from the porch I could see an even grander cathedral across the highway, silhouetted against the falling darkness.
Then, it was time for the “fallen alien” routine to take place. I would arrive. The first local to notice would giggle and rush off to call for backup. Four to six units would arrive. Step one was repeated with exponential effect until a leader was reached. Then, I would escort twenty-seven people across a courtyard to an Internet room. I would log onto Gmail while a younger, braver would unit pull at the magical golden hair on my arms, legs, and sometimes head. Apparently, it’s good luck. I would check messages from my girlfriend as they stood over my shoulder and practiced reading English. I couldn’t dispel them. They were legion.
The pants of the household, a sturdy matron, accepted my fumbled request to stay. I paid her around $8 for a room before I noticed that there was no door. As I changed out of my underwear, as soiled today from the 100km ride as the same pair had been the day before, they watched TV in the background and glimpsed over every so often to check on me. It was comforting. It was disturbing.
Dinner time. Ooooh, what’s this what’s that. We all sat around an ankle-high table on mats on the porch. There were a few dogs ambling around in the darkness nearby. That’s nice, they keep pets. You know, they’re actually just like me, aren’t they? Mmmm, this spoonful of fragrant rice, garlic beans and beefy meat is delicious! Dark and fine and it reminds me a bit of liver. What’s that? Oh, no thanks, no more. I have enough. What’s with all the over-persuasiveness and giggling?
Pointing to the nearest dog and the food in my place, I shot her a questioning look. She exploded with laughter, pointing and affirming. The family followed. It was a fun-fest! Watch the blonde alien gorilla eat a dog! The mirth, the stories we’ll tell. The camaraderie. A blonde gorilla! A dog!