>”A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits,” Richard Nixon once said. Of course Richard but everyone else quit you. And Dick obviously hadn’t been dune-surfing. Sure the rise, the rush, the thrill that drifts from comfort through to the smugness of the finale is an aphrodysiac but that’s when the hard work begins, the slow climb back up to the top of the hill, the Mariah Carey (i hate her) in the blazing sun, the hot, slow ascent only to scream down the dunes again. and so it continues, much as life with it’s ups and downs. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Without the experience of trials, we would lack the stamina to deal with this sexually-transmitted disease called life.
It’s been an awesome few weeks charging from the Saigon to the beaches and into the mountains; dune-surfing, Wham, tunnelling, racing motorbikes (4 near-fatals), speaking French, becoming a millionaire, drinking with construction workers and getting very, very wet. I left you in Saigon but before I departed that cauldron (and after Benjamin and Eloide had headed south to the Delta), I knocked off a few of the old tourist sights, just to be able to say etc. The Cu Chi Tunnels were built to aid the North’s invasion of the South. The presentation blabbered on about the usual virtuous Communist North and how every simple person is a hero, just trying to save their poor southern brothers from the imperialists, speeches worthy of North Korean propaganda, just to keep up the illusions for the poor. The tunnels themselves where impressive engineering feats and the traps set to maim the Americans indicate how brutal this war was. As previously mentioned, I couldn’t shoot an AK47 (though I am not sure I would have anyway) as a young Korean kid went nuts and ran into in the woods to shoot himself last year.
After the tunnels, we went to a CaoDai temple, an attempt to create a new religion by merging Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. A nice try but the old Asian stereotypes of man first through Confucianism still turned me off and I haven’t even mentioned the gaudy colours and robes. I also managed to get to the Presidential Palace, the site of the North’s victory in 1975 and worthy of a Stanley Kubrick set with it’s 1960’s furniture, vast open spaces and hilarious pictures of the leader of Vietnam meeting all the big boys; such luminaries as the leaders of Bulgaria, Mali and Nigeria.
However my best moments in Saigon were sitting in the park or eating at the markets, chatting to locals who wanted to practice their English and thereby informing me of Vietnamese soceity and customs (though never out of ear-shot of the motos and their annoying drivers who whistle at you like a dog). On the bus out of Saigon to Mui Ne, I felt a touch melancholy, knowing that Saigon was deemed the liveliest city in Vietnam and for me, the evenings would be all down hill from there. I needn’t have worried.
The bus music started its all off well. Opening with Rhytmn of the Night, followed by Wake Me up Before you go-go, Cherish and Part-Time Lover. The bus was swinging by it’s occupants movements and I was having a great time. I was heading to the beaches for a bit of R&R (rum and red bull) and hooked with with Benjamin, Eloide and those Irish girls who were determined to see the world in 80 days. Vietnam is seemingly forever green and the true owners of Paddy Power but it’s also deceptively mountainous as I would find out later. Mui Ne, a 22km long stretch of quiet beaches and one road running through the town was about motorbikes; me and Benjamin and Eloide screaming along the road to the sand dunes, sliding down them and slowly pulling ourselves up again, finding isolated beaches and getting sun burnt. Gotta say I loved it all especially when a great guy from Manchester said the food in a restaurant reminded him of Pret-a-Manga.
Scott G had defined the next place as w##k; Dalat, the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, set between stunning, mountainous gorges, yet a bloody ugly city with mock-Eiffel Tower and a nightlife that’s desolet by 10pm. I bow down to the Goring. The dude was right but again I had a good time. Getting lost has always served me well and here was no exception. In the search for a waterfall, we found an as-yet unused motorway and 30 guys in a construction tent building it. They invited us in, made up some tea and a bong and we sat around, exhausted our Vietnamese after 34 seconds and so smiled a lot. Later, trying to find another waterfall (which proved a dribble due to low water levels), we found a village down through a wood, next to a lake and drank beers with the locals, until the sun started to retire. Meeting some Vietnamese kids on a motorbike (maybe it was seeing StreetHawk on TV) was the start of a 30 minute race back to town with me and Ben coming within 30cms of clashing on a corner at 90km/h. Man, that was cool.
I passed through Nha Trang, (I’ve never been to St.Tropez but this is St.Tropez said Benjamin), a beach resort reminiscent of Thailand but full of moto hassle and left Benjamin and Eloide for Hoi An and Hue. Hoi An, a World Heritage Site, which now means tourist trap, shops full of tourist junk and restaurant serving out food to could buy at home to willing consumers. The Champa (pronounced Sham) ruins lived up to their sound, just an unkept pile of rocks ( got there early but the Germans had beaten me to it) and the annoying Squeeky girl Aussies, sending messages to home about how Brandon has broken up with Sarah started to drive me nuts. When the call came through from Oz, I knew I was leaving town the next morning.
The next stop Hue proved fairly ugly but the tombs which I rode through the pouring to get to were worth it; dating back 400 years, vast and well-kept surrounded by lakes and gardens, liberally daubed with statues, I was satisfied, even if I did get ripped off with that coffee. Also I am rarely happier than when I arrive in a new city, put on my flip-flops and bounce around, singing to myself (ranged from Morecambe and Wise to Oasis), gazing at the sights, especially amongst the old French colonial architecture that’s abundant in Vietnam.
As Vietnam is a linear country, I tended to run into the same people, a fact that annoyed me immensely in Laos last year. So I’ve hurried on, seeing what I need and believe it or not, avoided getting drunk. It’s been over three weeks since I was smashed, a choice I intend to ignore soon but hey, it is New Year. As Vietnamese TV challenges the worst in Asia (a true lo if you know Asia well; all voices are by the same translator, sets that make Neighbours look like graphite and plots with the depth of Paris Hilton and I even saw dog fighting on the TV resulting in death), sleep has been a pleasurably experience and I’ve lost some weight. hey, hey.
The ease of travel also reminds me of 2003 when Christian went north into Colombia and I went south to Argentina. I should be taking on the hard yards now but instead I find myself surrounded by couples (eating or drinking together but not talking to others or even each other) and even familes who haven’t attempted to learn a word of Vietnamese. The shops nearby are stacked with Pringles and Fanta, Head and Shoulders and digital cameras. This is in a country where 37% live below the poverty line. The day communication, online and mobile became an option and people took it up, they ceased to be travellers. I don’t know where that leaves me. Guess I need to head to Africa and the Kstans as someone’s father calls them. But again, it’s matter of positioning. (God damn that positioning stuff)
The final stop is Hanoi and Lunar New Year. The month ahead promises much; diving, the 6 Nations rugby, possible meetings with Dave, Ronnie & Debs and Rie, a gig in Bangkok as well as a quick trip to Bali, followed by San Francisco and an evening with Frank Shamrock. I was about to go but then Commando came on the TV and that’s me set for the evening; a beer, some sandwiches, mass fatalites (sometimes twice) and moments like Arnie dropping a guy over a cliff, then replying to the woman’s question “What did you do with Scully?”, “I had to let him go,” well that’s entertainment.
PS. I’ve now had 5 “nice T-shirt” comments about my Socrates T-shirt (credit to Paul). “ The Cow Brings It” has had only 3. I’m getting a little concerned the cow doesn’t seem happy. She seems a little m…y to me!
I’ll set them up, you knock them down.