Tag Archives: vietnam

Eating Dog

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!

Fun times.

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5 Things I Screwed Up In Vietnam

1. Anthropophobia

The genie’s right in saying “thy wish is my command.” You get what you ask for, and I spent most of my time in Vietnam suspicious about being ripped off and generally closed off to the opportunities of spontaneity. It inhibited my freedom to explore. Looking back, I see that it coulda been so much more than dinners at the guesthouse.

2. Hai Van Pass

Thanks to some sublimely unfortunate weather, the “Top Gear Experience” of the beautiful Hai Van Mountain pass turned into a fog-fest with 30m visibility! I kinda enjoyed the whiteout, but not sure if it was worth the 2-hour uphill “bottom gear” experience of getting there!

3. Bar Tab

Thanks to Phong Nha Farmstay, I was able to taste my dream of doing music as a pro when they hired me to stay and play in the evenings for two weeks. But I managed to basically eat and booze my paycheck away. Good times, yes, but too much of routine-by-default drinking instead of the occasional memorable night.

4. Wi-Fi

I spent far too much time staring at a screen while faffing around online, converting video formats and the like. Enough said, clock’s ticking.

5. Lonely Planet Slave

The maps are occasionally wrong, you tend to have a pre-digested experience and you see all the same faces along the road. A pair of French dudes I met at Saigon train station actually unwittingly referred to an area of the city as “District 1” instead of its real name (not hating, just observing). There’s a common assumption on the LP path that everyone’s eating from the same plate, and it makes you wonder what else is on the menu.

Now I’m here correcting these and other mistakes, and generally things are going better and better! I love comments, drop one!

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Violin Exploded In My Face

Humidity problems in Asia almost cause a loss of face.

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Hanoi, Hanoi, Hanoi.

Being ‘the older backpacker’

Unfortunately, I speak with no auhority on leaving behind the vanity of my gorgeous twenties. Now 30, and evidently one of the senior citizens of the bustling Hanoi Backpackers, I look in the toothpaste-sprinkled mirror and I still see the sexy fall of my golden hair and the bronze shade of my sun-kissed torso. My supposed handsomeness. The past. These are the things I notice, again and again, like an addicted gambler hoping that it all adds up to something eventually.

The herenow is my second evening in Hanoi. Today has been a foothunt for the bicycle that will carry me south to Ho Chi Minh city. Hanoi backpackers is a typical blend of mainly WASPs. We’re a pleasant bunch. We kinda do take our luxuries for granted though. I feel a great relief I’ve never before experienced while on the road like this: a complete disregard for fitting in.

I’m enjoying the constant playlist of microevents since my arrival. The Aussie 18-year old in Guangzou who high-fived me when I told her I was also Year of the Dog. The rabid airport pickup. The midnight tour of the 5-storey backpacker premises in the knuckle of the charmingly decrepit Old Quarter. The flawlessly made up and sophisticated 23-year-old student at the bar who’s in the process of saving Africa.

As I write, confusion and disorientation is steadily melting into a warm joy I haven’t experienced in years. It’s pure love for all these whipper-snappers. And freedom! During my trip to the Philippines last August, I pre-booked my dive course and lacked the freedom to leave the disgustingly over-everythinged town of Sabang. I’ve also road-tripped in between, but nobody’s home country can conjure the truly exotic. This really is becoming the footloose moment of the past 5 years.

But it’s too soon to say anything. Tomorrow I continue the hunt the supplies. Inspired writing to follow, you vicarious vampires. The ease of time to spill…

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