I am sorry to inform you that I cannot post a new blog until I download some photos. I found myself in Texas without my camera cord. I am acclimating to being back in the United States. I am enjoying my week in Texas for the Thanksgiving holiday, but I have to disappoint you and not post an update. Soon my friends, soon.
I was in Thailand two weeks before deciding to come home to the States. I totally understand that two weeks in Pattaya is no way to get a full sense of a country and a people. I am also here at a devastating time. A large portion of the country is flooded by water. Pattaya is flooded with people. Pattaya is more than a tourist town, it is second to Bangkok in sex trade, girly bars, and special massages. At the same time there are a lot of Europeans and their families that live here. The largest population of people is Russian with a sprinkling of German, Norwegian and Scandinavians. The languages mix with the Thai, but very little English is heard by my ear. Condos and hotels rise up shadowing the soi
My friend Ken lives in the middle of Jomtien Soi 7 . At one end there is a market and on the other end there is the beach that is crowded with umbrellas and vendors walking around selling things from Omega watches, handmade necklaces, steamed crab, fried shrimp and ice cream bars. Restaurants, souvenir carts and food carts line Beach Road. Western and Thai food is offered at a larger price. I often went to the market. My regular was sam tam, pork spare ribs, salted fish, chicken wings and fruit. Everything in the market is fresh, but it is a tad bit more expensive than the food choices in Vietnam. I like the variety in Thailand much better.
I’ve lost more weight. I’ve reached 85kg, almost hitting my personal goal. I feel fit, having access to a roof top pool for circle swim Why am I leaving? I am not feeling the country or the people really. I realize that I have only been here two weeks…In the land of smiles, that’s all it is. I feel a lack of substance. I want what is behind the smiles. I want genuine emotion and knowledge of the people. I don’t trust what I don’t know. I had a different reality in Vietnam that I truly appreciated. Granted I didn’t like some of the meanness and aggression. There was a certain curiosity the Vietnamese had for foreigners. There is also a different mindset of a people when their homes and country have been invaded and colonized that I can relate to. This isn’t so in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong. I have seen beauty in the land. I just don’t understand when I ask about the people and the country that I am not told, not allowed to know about the struggle I am sure they have had to deal without outsiders.
My first week in Thailand involved some beach time with a book and a cold coconut. Mornings were consumed with job hunting on Ajarn.com. I have yet to receive a response from any school, but I am sure that is mostly due to flood conditions. Ken went to work early, making a 45 minute drive to Rayong. I was up by eight to skype with K at the café at the end of the soi. Thursday I went to work with Ken at Garden International School. The white building rose out of the greenery. We had a breakfast of grapao at the café across the street and had some more coffee. It was nice to be in the classroom and soak up any knowledge of teaching and style I could. Ken is a great educator. He has energy, patience and control. I had opportunity to work with a special needs child using finger phonics.
Thursday was a long day. It was Diwali and the school held a program in the evening. All wished that the rain wouldn’t come, but it did. Nevertheless, families showed up to eat some amazing Indian food, watch some poetry recitation and dances. I really enjoyed being in the small international community. The children were delightful; although I am sure they have their moments. The highlight for me was when they danced to Kesha. The show went without a hitch as Ken made the show flow even in the torrential down pour and in fear of electrocution. Ken does a lot in his school and I am finding that his hard work will only provide him more success.
The weekend led into his October holiday. It seems that the British school system has breaks every six weeks or so. We tried to make plans to go to Bangkok for my job search, but found that the news was giving us information that made us decide that it wasn’t the best option. We changed our plans and followed his friends to for a few days. We took a ferry after a 3 hour drive. The dance music ended as the iPod charge died, but we popped in some island music from Hawaii to set the mood.
Island View Resort sits on a pier overlooking islands in the bay. We took our initial moments there to chill out, stretch our legs and have some lunch. The lunch fortified us for a kayak trip to a white sandy beach far in the distance. Ah, the beach…We had limped along in a two man kayak with three. My paddle was broken and Oliver who sat in the middle and attempted to help paddle with his hands but only succeeded in putting more water in the boat and all over me. The distance was much further than we thought. The beach was great once we got there. The water was awesome. It was clear and alive with crabs and sea urchins. I found some sea shells as the kids played in the sand. And before we knew it, it was time to return for a shower and some dinner.
Dinner was amazing. Mango cashew fish, sautéed shrimp, and tom yum. (pic)We deserved the feast after the kayaking we had done. Kayaking on the ocean is really hard. We had to fight the wind and the current. Arms were weak, but not too weak to shove fried mango fish into my mouth. (pic of dusk)
The next day was action packed. I got up early with the kids and went to the pool for a swim and some aqua aerobics. I almost joined them in their game of freeze tag but knew I would have been it the whole time. After kayaking and swimming I decided that an American breakfast was in order and it needed to involve a pancake. It was the first time I saw KaoTom (rice soup) and knew I would order that the next morning.
We wanted to set out fairly early to beat the heat. There were plans to ride elephants and see waterfalls. Dieter, the resort owner sat down with the drivers and explained what was possible to be seen in one day. Koh Chang is a fairly large island. The side we stayed on was very quiet. The other side comprised of hostels, bigger resorts and more beer bars and clubs. Dieter pointed out a large mangrove to walk through, waterfalls to climb and where the elephants were located.
Our first stop included food as some didn’t eat at the resort. It was kind of expensive. I watched as the motorbikes buzzed around. The kids played a Lilo andStitch game that was included in the ice cream. Once we were on the road we stopped at a waterfall. It was a little hard getting to over the rocks, but there was a rope we used as a guide. It wasn’t the biggest waterfall, but the flow was quite strong. We tried to swim up to the first spill out, but it was like swimming in one of those small exercise pools. The water was crisp and cool, cold in Thai terms. It was nice once you got fully in. I didn’t stay in it too long because the fish would begin to bite you if you stayed in one spot too long. After we cooled off in the hot morning we walked through a large mangrove. Roots reached down from the branches into the water. The walk way wound around the grove and some had to stop afterwards for some ice cream. We thought that after we would try to get to Long Beach. We were ready to cool off once more and lay on the white sand. We turned onto a small road that had a warning sign as we entered. As the road had a sign saying Road to Zion, I felt we needed to at least try to get there. Well, the road was broken. It was also a bit harrowing turning the large truck around on a hill as we only managed to make it to where the road was literally broken. Motorbikes continued on a small path to the right of the hole, but we needed to turn around. Most were quite nervous and scared, but I didn’t have any fear.
We took another break taken at a beach side resort called Bay View Resort. It was a nice, quiet and romantic looking resort. I thought that it would be a nice place to stay with K. It reminded me of Hawaii. It was very quiet and rustic looking. Once we left all I could think about was getting back to our resort for a massage. I was quite tired from all the excitement and just wanted to chill out. Young children can be exhausting. We stopped for some chicken and sam tam and before I knew it we were on our way for another waterfall trip. I backed out of this adventure. I was just too tired. I lay back in the bed of the truck and relaxed a bit while everyone else took a small jungle trek. This is where I thought about how I wasn’t clicking with the people or the land. It’s my own colonized mind for sure, but honest for me. I really looked forward to that massage and a nap before dinner. Others spoke of burgers, but I wanted some crab.
Well, due to the wait I had and disappointment of not being able to book a massage, I ordered a cheeseburger with no veggies. I didn’t want Thai Tummy. It was the last of their burgers and it tasted really good, to the disappointment to others on my trip that had a burger in mind. I went to bed with a full stomach, but was exhausted. The next day we would return to Pattaya. We hadn’t listened to any news while we were out and Ken and I were surprised to find the city swollen with people. People were escaping the flooding in Bangkok. We found that the stores no longer had bottled water. I had received no responses to my CV. I began to think that Korea would be my next stop.
The next few days I began to focus my job search in Korea. Each response I received was informative. I was informed that I do not have the proper paperwork to get a proper work visa in Korea. The effort I would need to make while abroad would take just too long for me to gather for the work permit. I sat down with my friend Ken and talked a bit more about my options in Asia. It seems that I have impeccable timing. Asian countries are really cracking down on how foreigners are hired for teaching jobs. A TEFL is enough, but there is more documentation people need to have to begin teaching out here. As much as I heard it was easy, it just hasn’t been. I began to review my own goals and decided that the best thing I could do was to return home to my wife. I decided that I will return back to the United States with plans and intentions on furthering my education and get a proper teaching certificate, possibly with a Master’s in education. This way I will have everything and there will be no question to my qualifications or experience.
I am not sad about my decision, nor do I feel defeated. I might have a little disappointment and may feel like I might have let some people down, but I persevere. It has been a crazy two months for me. Deep down I do wish it had gone differently. I’ve done the best I could have and with that I need to figure out all the lessons to be learned from this experience. I am sure that there will be more blog posts concerning this crazy trip while I am in the States. It has been more difficult to put into words the feelings and rationale I have. I look forward to searching myself some more, but back home with my wife and kitty cats. I also missed family and friends. I look forward to reconnecting to my life in San Francisco. I look forward to surfing the momentum I have created by the experience of travel.
I know I will come back to Asia. I know I will be able to have a different appreciation for the places I haven’t had a chance to see. But now, I look forward to having some steamed crab on the beach on my last day here in Thailand. See most of you soon.
Zed (Z in British English)
I was still tired from my motorbike tour when I needed to pack my bags and make my way to Thailand. Packing my four bags into three was a daunting task, but I couldn’t imagine dragging all those bags around. I stuffed my camping backpack into the bottom of my large suitcase and rearranged my smaller red one. I got rid of all my paperwork and books I wouldn’t read. I kept my bible, fantasy novels and novel notes, but tossed my travel scrabble because I simply didn’t have anyone to play with. I would nap after a half hour brain-wracking moments of figuring out the packing puzzle. As I packed, Mr. Hung was arranging my Laos visa and bus tickets. I was hooked up with a deal through Tam and Tien. The day was long but time was short.
In between naps and packing I went through Dave’s ESL Café looking for jobs in Thailand, Korea and still Vietnam. I tried to find any November or December starts. I was really feeling anxious because of my own proposed timeline for being abroad. I needed to keep K in mind because she had her own move to organize. The jobs posted for Vietnam we either in the north in Haiphong, but really the companies said those positions were full, but if I wanted to go to China, they had positions. Forget that. No China for me.
I walked through the Hai Chau Distri one last time buying my favorite bahn mi, and eating great pho. I sat and drank coffee with Tam and Tien at Tam’s uncle’s shop that also functioned as a hardware store. I watched the people constantly on the move. They felt very lucky meeting me, since I made their weblog. There has been traffic through it every day. They felt I was unlucky meeting them sine they couldn’t help me find a job. I felt very lucky meeting them. They were able to make my move through Asia a bit easier. They lessened my alienation. They also educated me about their country, which holds a special place in my heart.
I finished packing my bags Friday night. They were torn apart, property was pared down, and my spirits hovered right above borderline. Tien had taken me out for a “dry chicken” lunch. Rotisserie chicken. We picked up my passport that was shiny, new and stamped appropriately, or so I thought, had a quiet lunch and I returned to my hotel room. I watched my third showing of Jaws on HBO and surfed the internet for a few more hours. I looked for work, sorted pictures and played some scrabble. That evening I would meet up with Tam and Tien for some beers and have a send-off. Sigh, I couldn’t believe I was leaving. Nothing had gone any way expected.
Dinner was actually with Tam, Tien and Tua, Tam’s brother in-law. We sat in the open doorway of a restaurant close to the Dai A Hotel. We ate bbq pork ribs, squid sushi style, grapefruit with chili and salt and a plate of banana flowers with shrimp and beef and peanuts. It all was quite fantastic. I wish I had eaten this way my whole time in Vietnam, but it is quite expensive to eat that way. All of the clientele there were businessmen. To celebrate we didn’t drink our usual local beer selection of La Rue, but Heineken. It was a quiet occasion with a bit of political talk. We talked of American politics, but I didn’t give much of my true opinions. Earlier in the week Tien explained to me how rich kid in his country would get out of trouble because of their parents payoffs. I told him that the same thing happened in our country and he didn’t believe me. I didn’t tell them of Occupy Wall Street, nor about the high rate of unemployment or even the fact that teachers in our country do not get the respect that they deserve. I was surprised to hear that they really liked Bill Clinton. It took me about 10 minutes to figure out that they were asking me about Condaleeza Rice. We went through the list of U.S. Presidents since the American War and talked about how Kennedy was killed by the mafia. I did let them know I felt Obama could have done better, but it’s all politricks anyway. We left the conversation on the note that Obama was so-so.
It was an early night for us. We made our way to get bahn mi for a late night snack, as the cart closes earlier than one would think. It is a popular cart and I wanted to impress Tam and Tien with my ordering skills. We said good night to each other and promised to meet at 0530 for coffee the next morning. Mr. Hung would pick me up from my hotel at 0600. The last night in my hotel room was quiet. Jaws II was showing that night and I watched it anyway because my DVDs away already packed away. I finalized which belongings would go where and laid back to wait for the morning to come. The streets below were becoming wet with its nightly rain and people continued to move about, as if I had never been in their country. I would miss it here. I would miss the people I met. I would even miss the little baby in the lobby that would shy away from me every time I walked through.
I brought down one of my heavy bags from the room and woke the young man to unlock the front double doors so I coud leave for coffee. I had hoped he would help me with my other bag when I returned. I stood outside for a few minutes waiting for Tien and one of the regular motorbike drivers that hung around the hotel doors, held up his phone saying he was calling Tien at the time. I watched as two young men jogged by, but noticed they were in full run in plastic flip flops instead of running shoes. The morning was kind of wet, but there wasn’t a full rain. A few old men made their rounds swing their arms in wide circles in their early morning exercise. The street was amazingly quiet, but I knew that it would soon be loud as people made their way to different cafes before heading into work. Unlike American culture, people do not run in for a cup of coffee and jump in their cars going to work. Vietnamese people wake early just so they can sit and luxuriate on their one up of thick strong coffee.
I hopped on the back of Tien’s motorbike like so many times before. The café was a three minute walk from the hotel, but we rode anyway. I greeted everyone as if I had been drinking coffee with them for years. We sat inside instead of on the sidewalk. Early morning coffee was quiet. Tam didn’t have one smile the whole time. Soft music played as people gathered around the small plastic tables and we sipped hot tea as our café sua da was being constructed by Tam’s uncle. He’s a funny man, always joking around.Tam calls him a dead chicken and his uncle refutes this claim by saying he has many girlfriends. Tien and Tam spoke about more changes they wanted to have made to the weblog. Tien bought a few lucky papers, otherwise known as lottery tickets. Others read the paper as the day opened up. Time ticked away as we waited for Mr. Hung to call when he arrived at the hotel.
Once the call came through we donned our helmets and rode back to Phu My. I took one last picture of the café. Mr. Hung sat on his bike as I brought my other bags down. Soon Tam had my huge suitcase strapped to the back of his bike. Tien took my red bag with my computer in it and balanced it on his motorbike with no straps. My heart beat fast worrying about it the whole way as I watched him weave through traffic from the back of Mr. Hung’s motorcycle. There are no bus stations in Vietnam that I know of. As many buses as I have taken they tend to stay right outside the city center and wait on the street side. Motorbikes drive up one by one dropping off people who would be traveling. We stood around for a minute. I asked Mr. Hung for my bus ticket and he said it was all arranged I didn’t need a ticket. I even inquired about once I got to Laos. He said he didn’t arrange my trip further than Vien Chan. The deal was to get me all the way to Bangkok. “It’s easy. There are many travel offices in the city of Vien Chan.” That’s not what we agreed upon. I thought he would get me all the way to Bangkok.
I took a deep breath. The bus ride was to be 24 hours, so I should be okay getting another ticket. It was 0700 at the time and bus still wasn’t ready to leave. That just meant the I would get to Vien Chan a little later. I was more concerned with dealing with my bags once departing the bus and I had no clue as to how long I might have to wait for the connecting bus. Well, I was on my way. I waited and spoke with Tam for a bit. He asked me about my trip and I told him what Mr. Hung said. He didn’t seem too happy about the situation and for that I appreciate Tam. I knew he was concerned about me. He asked me if I had any dong for when I got to the border and I told him I had a little. Really it was only 20 dong. The rest of the cash I had was American dollars which Tien helped me exchange the day before. I stood by myself for a moment and then decided to pick my berth. I wanted to get something comfortable as I had been on sleeping buses before and I didn’t want to sit for 24 hours with my knees in my chest for 24 hours. I also wanted to be by the window and watch Vietnam turn into Laos.
The temperature was already on the rise. I squatted on the sidewalk and watched as others tossed in their luggage next to mine. I let the Vietnamese language soak in a little, but there was no way for me to decipher what was being said. Tien came from the other side of the bus with two bahn mi in hand for my trip. I thanked him and gave him a quick hug. I shook hands with Tam and they said they had to go. They wished me luck and rode off into the building traffic of the city. It was one of the saddest goodbyes I had ever made with friends. I am tearing up as I write this and remember the nights of beer and food. I was already missing their jokes and jeering. I reflected on watching football (soccer) and learning the little bit of Vietnamese I had already forgotten because of not using it. My brothers rode off to continue building their lives are tour guides as I waited for my bus to take me into another unknown. I continually have them in my thoughts.
Well, the bus didn’t finish loading up for another two hours. I ate both bahn mi before I even got on the bus. As the bus loaded with products other than luggage people drank coffee across the street, but soon enough we were off. The later we left then the later we would get to Vien Chan and the better it would be for me to navigate my next bus ticket and such. I loaded into my berth as others climbed up around me and before I knew it I was being moved. I was reluctant, because I didn’t want to be shoved into anything smaller than I was already in, but I was told to go to the back of the bus to the upper platform. It was definitely much roomier, but I was sequestered from everyone else. The seat also didn’t raise enough for me to be fully seated making it hard to read. My window access, even though I was by the window was tiny. I had to lay fully relined before I could fully see out the window. I did have access to extra blankets and pillows, so I made do with the situation. I made myself as comfortable as I could get.
The bus rumbled through the edge of the city, swaying from side to side. It honked and jerked around other cars and motorbikes. They drivers in Vietnam are amongst the worst in the world. I said a prayer as the city disappeared behind me and the green became more lush and the roads shrunk. The sway and jerks lulled me into my first sleep of the day. I had made an attempt to read, but there was not enough light in my opinion. The bus rose into some hills and into mountain like curves.
We were in Vietnam still when we got to lunch. At least I think we were. It was the typical roadside stop that was open air, but the toilets in the rear were actually western. I washed my hands and followed directions to a table of seven. As I sat down an older man left his seat not wanting to sit next to me. Everyone kind of gave him dirty looks for doing it. I imagine they felt he was making an ass of himself. I personally didn’t mind. I stayed quiet as the food made its way to the table. It wasn’t the most attractive meal, but it was included in the bus ticket. There was boiled pork, some fish in a claypot, rice and some green vegetables. It was good enough. Someone at the table ordered rice wine and asked me to partake, which I did. It was good for my head.
A few hours later we were at the border. We got off the bus and were handed slippers to wear instead of our own. We lined up in the immigration office to get our exit stamp. I was ready. I had my spanking new passport with the appropriate visas and I wanted to get across the border. I took my money, credit cards and passport out of my backpack and put them in my pocket. I donned my slippers with the confidence that this was going to be easy. In the back of my head I remember Tam asking me if I had money in dong. We all lined up in front of the two available windows and one by one people were stamped and allowed to leave. As I approached the window a new busload of people tried to make a new line. Most were women holding very small babies and looking wet and sad. It, of course, was raining buckets outside and I noticed our bus had moved from the covered area.
Well, there was no way I was going to let anyone cut in. I stood my ground and placed my blue and gold passport atop the battered green ones that he been pushed forward from the back of the line. Then it was my turn. The gentleman in uniform took my passport and ran the chip through the credit card slide contraption. Then everything came to a halt. Why?!!! He kept looking at it, flipping its pages. He looks at me. He looks at it again and at this point I can feel everyone getting a bit anxious, but not as anxious as me. Eventually he calls someone over to look at it. Damn! The first man gets up and then motions for me to get out of line. My heart dropped. What could be possibly wrong now? I had gone through a gazillion steps in order to get my passport in order and I just wanted to leave this country. It had to be the blue passport. So I get out of line and follow the man who came out of his glass office and followed him a few feet from the line.
“There is no entrance stamp.” “I know. I lost my original passport and had to get a new one.” “Where did you get your passport?” “I got my new passport in Hanoi and then my visa in Danang.” “Where did you lose your passport?” “In Danang.” “Well, you have no entry stamp.” “I know. I can’t have an entry stamp because my first passport was lost. This is a new passport and it wouldn’t have an entry stamp.” “How long have you been in Vietnam?” “Since September 1.” “Will you be coming back to Vietnam?” “No.” Especially given all the trouble I have had with this damn passport. “Wait here for a few minutes.”
I waited a few minutes. I watched as the rest of my bus was processed through the exit. I waited some more and watched as the next bus load was processed through. I went back to the window and tried to explain that I needed to get on my bus. “Please wait a few minutes. I talked to my supervisor.” Where is this supervisor? I shuffled along in those damn plastic slippers around the floor and sat for a minute and shuffled some more. The rain really began to come down and soon I was the only one left in the hallway. I went back to the window and just gave him a pleading look. Other immigration officers were processing stacks of passports for travel agents and pouring them into bags. I could make out one other blue passport and thought it was mine. I stood watching at the window as the man who sat to the first one I talked to came out of the glass office to speak to me. His supervisor had been there the whole time?! OMG! He came out of the office with a young woman to translate for him.
She asked me the same questions as the first man. She tried to explain to me that my personal information on the front page didn’t match the computer. Ten minutes previous to this meeting I again played Tam’s voice in my head about money and had taken out 100 bucks from my stash and placed in my front pocket. I fingered the money as we spoke wondering when would be a good time to offer him the bribe, but I really didn’t want to let go of the little cash I had. He kept turning the pages of the passport and finally allowed me to show him the page that states that it was a replacement passport. The young lady finally told me it was fine and I expected to be on my way. They both went back into the office and still I had to wait. I waited at the window and watched him, waiting for that final stamp. I watched him flip through the pages again and again. He continued to look at the front page as if was going to change. It’s not going to change, man! Just stamp it!!! The rain was falling. I am sure the bus had left me at this point, but I tried to not think about it.
He probably looked at the passport for another three minutes before finally stamping it. I said, “Cam on neiu, ahn,” Thank you very much. and made my way out the door and walked a quarter of a mile to the Laos border, in the rain, in plastic flip flops, with only my credit cards and passport, splashing mud onto the back of my shorts. I reached the immigration office in Laos, drenched and filled out my entrance application. I didn’t see the bus anywhere. There were no buses anywhere. It left me.
I thought maybe it was around the bend. I walked in the rain, sad. Everything I owned was on that bus. I was drenched. I wanted to burn that damn passport, but there was no way I could even start a fire in this rain. I left the immigration office dejected. My cell phone was on the bus. I couldn’t call Tien. I couldn’t call K. I started to cry. I couldn’t believe my situation. I was wearing plastic slippers, not even my own shoes. I think I was more distraught about those plastic slippers. Everything, I mean everything that meant anything to me was on that bus and it had left me. I started to cry, and hard. I softly wailed. I just didn’t know what to do. I forced myself to keep standing even though I just wanted to collapse right there. I mean I was glad to have what I did have. I knew I could eventually make it somewhere, but I didn’t know where to start so I just started to walk.
I walked another quarter mile past a truck weigh station splashing more mud on myself. Then I turned back and shuffled to the weigh station where no one spoke English. I stopped at the unidentifiable office and found a woman in uniform who spoke English and asked her when the next bus would be coming through. She told me 2000 and it was barely 1430. She told me I needed to wait at the immigration office. I thought maybe I could find a ride, even by motorbike, to Vien Chan. I had no idea where I was. All my research was for travel through Cambodia, which in hind sight I should have stuck to no matter how long it would have taken to get to Bangkok. I at east had friends of friends there. Man, I need to use my instincts better. I sloshed back toward the immigration building and asked some men in uniform if they knew how I could get a ride to Vien Chan and they of course had very limited English. Then all I wanted was a cigarette and a dry place to sit. I was soaking wet and feeling oh so pitiful. I am sure I looked it too. Argh, Vietnam, why you gotta treat me so bad?
I continued to walk toward immigration when someone who was riding my bus came running from the office. He asked me if I lost my passport. I told him that they just took a long time letting me through. He told me the bus was down the road and we were going to it. A motorbike with some long haired cat driving stopped within feet of us and he got on. I got on the very behind them. So the three of us squeezed onto the motorbike and made our way down the road in the rain through massive puddles. I was hanging on for dear life and praying that I didn’t lose those damn plastic slippers on the way. Rain in my face and a prayer on my lips, we drove about half a mile and around a curve to see the bus parked on the side of the rode where everyone had been drinking coffee waiting for me. They gave me a towel as I boarded the bus and I crawled back onto my platform. I am so grateful to have thought about packing another shirt. And I totally love my cargo shorts by Union Bay because they tend to dry really fast.
Those were my darkest moments in Asia for sure. I don’t know to this day what I would have done if I was left at the border. I’m glad I didn’t have to bribe any officials in order to leave Vietnam. That blue passport has been the bane of my existence. I had changed my shirt and directed the air conditioner onto my legs in order to dry my shorts as we made our way through Laos. I laid my shirt out and laid back for another nap. I felt like I was on an alien planet. Feeling abandoned almost equated to an out of body experience. I was far from centered. I was all the way to the right looking left. What else could possibly happen? I was almost not allowed to leave the country that told me to leave. What if I had paid a bribe? Could I have been sent to prison? I couldn’t figure out at what time I could have set the course of things differently. Okay, I was set for Thailand. I just needed to make the next bus.
The bus stopped again somewhere in Laos for dinner. The meal was unrecognizable and smelled rank. I got up from the metal stool I had sat on and moved to the porch. A few of the riders asked me to sit at their table but I rubbed my belly and shook my head. The young guy who I met up with at the immigration office asked me to move to a table and I asked him for a beer. He said no problem and got me a Beer Laos. I sipped on it for a minute and was invited to sit in a hammock on the porch near two young Vietnamese men. They spoke little to no English. One had a bandage on his arm and a bag of bandages and antibiotics. I tried to ask him what happened, but he only said he was fine. More than likely a motorbike accident. I was brought another beer and the dinner ended soon after. Everyone in their plastic sandals made it onto the bus as a second bus parked almost on the porch. We sloshed through the mud, took our places and I laid back to sleep again.
Instead of sleeping immediately I watched the Vietnamese comedies that played on the TV screens. I didn’t know what they were saying, but it was easy to follow the story. The show I remember most was set in a fashionable café. A young man was being quite nasty toward a few girls and across the room another man threw a can at his head. The one that threw the can was with four other guys, but the guy hassling the girls had his gang spread throughout the café. Then it was kind of like Michael Jackson’s BAD video. The fight was uneven, but the smaller group showed to be formidable. The leader of the small group won the girl. I wish I could describe the gang fight because it was quite hilarious.
The rocking bus, with its braking and acceleration lulled me back to sleep. I was soon joined on the platform by two other Vietnamese. We got cozy, almost spooning and slept through to the next spot. I woke to shouting and watched the people file off the bus. I had no idea where we had stopped. It was three in the morning and I wanted to just stay on the bus until we started up again. The next thing I knew one of the crew told me to get off the bus. Once I made it to the front they said you get off here. I couldn’t believe we were in Vien Chan. We weren’t supposed to get there until about 8 am. “Are you sure,” I asked. “Yeah, taxi take you to city center.” A man popped up in front of me saying he was the taxi and another was loading my luggage into the back of a mini-van. Holy shitsnacks! What am I going to do now?! There were few lights shining in what looked like a bus depot. There were a few trucks and a line of tuk-tuks. I ran back into the bus to grab my belongings and hastily packed my backpack with my pillow, wet t-shirt and grabbed my flip flops.
I made my way off the bus still waking up. My eyes were dry and I needed to put eye drops in them. My body was tight and I needed to stretch. Discombobulated, I stepped off the bus and walked to the mini-van. I didn’t see my red bag that held my vacuum pack clothes that cushioned my laptop. No way! I put both strap of my back pack over my shoulders and ran after the bus as it began to drive away. I was yelling, “My bag!” Some of the crew pointed to the mini-van and I said, “No! One more bag!” I was pointing to the red of my backpack as I forgot the word for red in Vietnamese. The bus stopped and they pulled it from under the carriage. Tuk-tuk drivers tried to take my bag from me saying the taxi wouldn’t take me to the city center. In the dead of night, there was no way I was going to take a tuk-tuk anywhere. That’s a daytime trip for fun. I walked back to my taxi that was filling with people. I sat in the very back bag grasping my backpack. The driver tried to take it from me to put in the back, but I wouldn’t let it go. I was my security until I made it somewhere.
The taxi drove to another part of the bus depot where another bus was unloading all types of goods. These good were being strapped to the roof of the mini-van. Loads of goods like cigarettes, motorbike parts, diapers…It took about 45 minutes for them to fully load up and everyone else took a seat. The van drove down dark roads and when there were street lamps I noticed that everything was in Laos script. Now I am screwed. I can’t read a thing. How will I find where I am supposed to go? I tried to keep it cool. I didn’t have a specific place to go. Mr. Hung said that there were many travel offices in the city, but I knew that none would be open at 0400 in the moring. I watched as everyone was dropped off at their destinations. Eventually I was the last person sitting in the back of the mini-van holding my backpack.
“You go hotel?” I pointed to the word travel in my pocket dictionary and he said, “Okay.” He walked to the other side of the van and then said, “We go café first.” ”Okay, sure.” What else was I going to do? It was barely 5 am and I had no idea of what to do or where to go. I wanted to freak out a little and began to hate Mr. Hung for saying it was going to be so easy. The last store we stopped at the driver grabbed me an ice tea to sip on as he had more rounds to make. We went back to the bus depot and picked up a load of lemons. It was nice to have the familiar smell around me. We drove through a market that was setting up for the day and dropped them off. Not knowing what to do and feeling like I just wanted to sleep and then regroup. I tapped the driver on the shoulder and asked if he knew of a hostel I could stay at. “You know hostel?” The driver said, don’t worry and he drove on. Oh my God…
I sat with my tea and backpack. My luggage had been moved to the back seat next to me. We wound through dark streets. I tried to get some kind of marker I might recognize later when the day actually started. Man oh man. The driver pulled up to a house that had the bottom level open. It was an opening café. It was his opening café. A thick tall man was setting out little metal tables and little plastic chairs. It was close to 530 at this point and I had a long wait ahead of me. I jumped out of the van and asked where the toilet was. After squatting to relieve myself I felt halfway normal. He asked me if I wanted to shower, but I couldn’t imagine digging through my luggage to find clothing and soap. I refused, but ordered a café sua da as the broth for pho was being skimmed over a newly started fire.
Sipping on some hot tea, waiting for the coffee I noticed that there was a travel agency directly across the street. I pointed to the office and then to my watch. My way of asking when it might open. He told me 8am. That was still another 2 and half hours away. Our coffees came and we sat smiling at each other for about half an hour. I tried to ask him if he was married, to no avail. We finally were able to exchange names as the sky became blue from deep violet. I watched a line of monks make their way collecting food for charity. More and more tuk-tuks took to the road, mainly carrying produce. The motorbike engines were loud, but there was no honking of horns. I continued to sip my coffee as the day opened up to everyone and wondered if I should and could fly the rest of the way to Bangkok.
Soon Tuan explained that he and his brother were actually from Danang. I asked if he knew Tam or Tien by showing him their business cards. No. He left the table once his younger brother came out of the bathroom and took his turn to shower. I finished sipping my coffee and just watched their day unfold. The tall think one did some calisthenics; the young one drank tea, but soon joined Tuan, after he showered in working on the mini-van. I watched them clean it, and change a bulb in the headlight. I grabbed my backpack so I could get a notebook and record what was happening to me. I was lost in Laos and did not know my next move. I guessed could have hung out at the café until the travel agency opened up. After I closed my notebook they asked me if I wanted soup. I ordered pho and sat with Tuan and his brother to eat. We share the herbs and ate in silence.
Tuan pulled out his phone, dialed a number and then handed the phone to me. A man was on the other end asked me where I was trying to go in fairly good English. I told him I needed to get to Bangkok. He told me I needed to get to the Thai/Laos border. First, he mentioned I needed to take a bus to the border and then get another bus to Bangkok. I tried to ask him about fights to Bangkok and he ontinued to talk about getting a bus and how much it would cost me and then the phone died. There goes my flight idea. I gave the phone back to Tuan who called the man again. After a few interrupted calls he figured his phone was out of minutes and got another phone. He handed the phone back to me and the man told me that the driver, Tuan, would take me to the border for 30 bucks. I agreed and then we got back into the mini-van to go to the border. It was seven in the morning at this point and I was more than ready to finish my trip. I also wished I had taken Tuan up on his offer of a shower.
We rode for about fifteen minutes before we hit the border. It was full daytime now. There were more motorbikes on the road. Stores were open, but traffic was light. In the back of my mind I thought that I was totally taken advantage of being charged 30 dollars for the ride, but I didn’t care. I was on my way. At the border the driver and his brother asked for 40. I still didn’t care. I would have paid fifty. I was nervous about the border crossing. Considering what I had been through at this point I expected the worst. I made it through the exit and tried to walk out. As I waited in line I watched as everyone in front gave the female guard crumbled denominations of Laos money. I only had American dollars. I was sent back to the exit fee booth and paid my buck fifty to leave Laos.
I made it fifteen feet before someone offered me a taxi. I hadn’t exchanged anything to baht at this point and the middle man wanted to charge me fifteen bucks to get to the bus station in Thailand. I told him ten and I was on my way. He stopped at the Thai immigration office of entry and told me he would meet me on the other side after I got my passport stamped. Those holding U.S. passports can be in country 30 days without a visa. Not having a visa and only planning to stay two weeks I got my stamp and ended up at the bus station. Maybe it was how I looked, but I was immediately shuttled to a bus going to Bangkok. I told them I needed to get to Pattaya, that’s where my friend Ken lives, and they told me I needed to transfer. Fine with me, Bangkok would be out of the way and meant a lot more time on a bus. My bags were loaded, I made it to an ATM to get bahts and waited for my bus to get on its way.
The bus ride was long. It made many stops and at every bus station I made sure I went to the restroom. Which were the nastiest in the world. Vendors climbed onto the buses at every stop, but they were selling unrecognizable things. I sipped on my water and ate on sugar crackers believing that I would eventually get to where I was going and eat something I recognized. Again I slept, lulled by the rocking of the bus. I did notice that there were no sudden stops or big sways as the bus passed cars too slow for it. The bus drivers are much safer in Thailand. That’s not saying much. The roads are definitely in better condition in Thailand. There wasn’t much countryside to be seen, at least while I was awake. There is just a lot of development along the highway.
My ass again began to scream, but I shifted from cheek to cheek to muffle the cries. I looked out the window whenever I could and I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. A TV played the news through the snowy background. We reached my transfer at 445 in the afternoon. The bus station was more subdued than the recent others. One side was for arrivals and the other side departures. I must have walked around the station 4 times with my two rolling suitcases and backpack before I found someone who led me to the correct ticket office. I bought my ticket to Pattaya and checked in my bags. I had 30 minutes to spare. I made another bathroom stop and hit the mini-mart. I recognized pork rinds and grabbed a sprite.
Waiting for the bus I tried to procure a SIM card for my phone so I could let Ken know when I might be in Pattaya. No luck with that, I waited and hoped I would be able to make change for the pay phone. I tried to call three times on a payphone and I just didn’t know how to use it. Yes, it has picture directions, but I couldn’t figure it out. With my bags checked I walked around to stretch my legs before folding up into another bus seat. It began to rain a little bit, but that was nothing new during my travels at this point. I knew there was flooding in the country, but I had no idea where that was happening. The bus pulled up to its berth and was ready to load. It was the most posh bus I had been on in Asia. There were two levels. The seats were real nice and there were LCD TV screens. The bus was over booked and I was glad to have purchased a ticket when I did. People had to sit on stools in the aisle with no back support.
Once we were on the road a Thai horror/suspense movie began to play and I cracked open the pork rinds. I put my iPod on and watched the movie with Aretha Franklin soundtrack. There was a bit of traffic. There was a lot of rain. The reading lights didn’t work so I was forced to sit in darkness. . Again, I was lulled to sleep, but preferred to have read. I was woken suddenly in front of a 7-11 and told I was in Pattaya. I don’t know why I wasn’t at a bus station. Groggy from my sleep I grasped my bags and pulled them into the 7-11 so I could finally buy another SIM card and finally call Ken. SIM card bought and installed I called and woke up Ken. I couldn’t describe where I was and I didn’t understand where he was. I handed my phone over to one of the 7-11 employees and Ken figured out where I was. I was very happy to see him in his new red car. Bags loaded and hugs given we made our way to his modern condo and crashed out to sleep. He had to work in the morning and I was exhausted even though I slept most of the way from Danang to Pattaya. It was definitely a joy to finally be where I needed to be and see a familiar handsome face. I am very grateful he opened his home up to me to stay for a short bit. But of course the story continues.
Chacos were not made for Vietnam. The lack of proper tread sometimes made walking on any path a problem. There was also the issue of rocks and gravel finding their way under the straps and the soles of my feet. One should consider wearing close toe shoes on a motorcycle tour. With that I can say I regret not bringing real shoes, other than work shoes, to Asia. On that note, let me tell you about one of the most exciting and thought provoking thing I have done since coming to Vietnam.
I have known Tam for about a month now. I created a blog for him to advertise and inform travelers of their opportunity to see the real Vietnam. With the uncertainty I have been dealing with here in Danang, I became a little saddened at the thought of not taking a tour myself. I finished the bog and have been editing it ever since, just to make it just the way they like it. I am not a web designer or designer by any means, but wordpress is free and can appear as close to an actual programmed website as ever. There is a little more tweaking I would like to do, like adding some music. They have been happy about it so far and I think it is the least I can do for a pair of men who have only been friends, almost like brothers actually, to me. Again, they are good humored and generous. I consider them family. I think it makes us all feel good as we aim to please each other.
The day before our trip there was torrential rainfall the whole of the day. So much so it began to seep through the walls of my hotel room. I didn’t know if we would actually leave for the trip. Tam promised that when there was rain on the coast, there was sunshine in the central highlands. I shrugged off the clouds of the early morning, got my breakfast of banh mi and an Asian pear and settled my thoughts. I chose to do a three day tour of the central highlands via the Ho Chi Minh Trail going north. I planned to see Khe Sanh, go to the DMZ and crawl (almost literally) through the Vinh Moc tunnels. I met some Vietnam Vets at my mother’s surprise birthday party and I kept thoughts of them in the back of my mind during the whole tour. I also have another friend, named Pepper, who before I began my trip was put in the hospital due to illness. He is a big sensitive black man who I respect tremendously, and I played through my mind his stories of his experience in Vietnam.
The first time climbing on the back of Tam’s bike I slipped, because Chacos suck. On and ready to go, we moved through the city center. Big buildings began to disappear and more and more trees lined the road. Weaving through the smaller motorbikes, the noise of the city disappeared and we were soon in the countryside moving along Highway 14. I’ve never seen this much green or water in my life. Where ever we went we were close to a river or a spring. About every half hour or 45 minutes we would stop and take a break. Tam is very knowledgeable of his country’s history. It was great to learn little tidbits about things I would never think about. In our country individuals choose to become police officers. Sometimes here it’s kind of like reform school if a young man has problems with drinking, fighting or being part of a gang. We stopped in a village where I forgot the name and saw a typical meeting house which they don’t use it much anymore. The further we rode the more I just heard the motor of Tam’s 125 Honda. At another “rest stop” I was able to walk around a garden and check out a waterfall.
The gardens were very beautiful and there was another showing of how Chacos suck on wet stone paths. There is a lot of algae growing on the rocks making them very slick even though they may seem craggy. I met a few men walking through. They insisted in using English, which is the case most of the time, asking me where I was from. A lot of times people think I am from India. Typical first three questions in a conversation is, “Where are you from?”, “How old are you?”, Do you have any children?” I’ve begun to lie and say I have two boys. I consider BJ (a child who was at BCC) and my godson Oscar as my kids when I talk to people. It just makes things easier. They love children here and feel that they bring happiness to marriage and life.
We began to hit some curvy roads, but we were no where near the mountains yet. At another stop we saw where they consistently harvest tea. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. A sea of green puffs growing in this vast area. There were little white hats amongst the green and it was those harvesting, carefully picking the right leaves for a good tea. From there we moved on. I looked left and right as we drove through the country side. Sometimes there would be houses lining the road, but mostly they were scattered.Some were wooden structures with tin roofs, others were made of brick with a layer of plaster and colorfully painted, but browned with age spots. These are very poor people, but Tam said only 30% of people in the countryside choose to go to the city centers to work at a company. The further we go into the countryside Tam would point out the areas where the minority people lived. They have more things than you would think. We drove down the rode and I noticed a billiard hall with two large regulation tables. The men were shirtless in the heat, drinking coffee and playing pool. Passing the open air pool hall there were woody chips laying in the sun by the road. Tam stopped once more and explained that it was cinnamon. It’s cheap if bought in the countryside, 100,000 dong per kilo.
About 50 meters down the road we stopped and met with some Katu people. Tam knows about 32 minority languages. There are 54 different minority people living in Vietnam and mostly in the central highlands. He spoke with him for a minute and then described to me how the cut the whole tree down for the cinnamon. After breaking of a stem from a branch I chewed on the brightly flavored cinnamon. As we chatted for a while groups of children were walking through. Some were very shy, but all waved and said hello with no accent. They laughed and pointed and some just stared.
One gave a peace sign and we moved on toward Prao. The whole way the children waved and shouted hello over the roar of the motorcycle engine. The countryside, of course, included a lot of rice fields, sectioned off and at different stages of development and harvest. They extend from the road into the base of the mountains. Our ride began to climb after seeing the Katu children lining the road side. The mountains are covered with lush jungle that the minority people were once scattered in, that is until the government created the villages so they can keep an eye on them. After seeing the Katu I crossed a rickety, squeaky bridge into the quiet Baco minority people’s village. No one was really around except for a mother and her baby. Most of the kids must have been of school age because the village seemed deserted. Then my camera died, but not before seeing satellite dishes for television and housed without doors. Before entering the village I bought a few bags of candy for the children. I gave one piece to the baby and then we went down the road, but not before Tam explained that the kids bathe in the river. For a long time people would get sick drinking the river water. The government now supplies the village with potable water. Water water everywhere, but the government gives to drink.
There was another village of Ede people. I crossed another bridge and climbed a steep path, praying that my Chacos wouldn’t fail me. It hadn’t begun raining yet, but everything is wet and can be very slick. There were many children here. They were a little grubby and some didn’t wear any pants, but they were attractive. Once I brought out the bag of candy it was like a Burt Center Christmas. They pulled at my shirt and pushed each other down…“More, Mister Chow.” They were not satisfied until all the candy was gone, even to the point of grabbing the empty bags and tearing them apart amongst themselves. Once they knew the candy was all gone they scattered among the buildings sitting and eating their candy. It was an intense feeling to be surrounded and clawed at like that. I totally have sympathy for volunteer Santas.
We stopped in Prao and had a chicken noodle dish that was amazing. The chicken is much better in the mountains. A this point of the trip I told Tam my camera lot its charge and I couldn’t take any more pictures. He didn’t quite understand, sometimes I speak too fast for him. Vietnamese people would prefer to assume what you mean as oppose to saying they don’t understand. If I sit and nod my head with them smiling they know I know they don’t understand and we will go through the conversation again. Prao is the deciding point of where to go on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Left, and you head south. Turn right and you head north. We went north.
It might have seemed like we followed one river, but there are many rivers in Vietnam. I know it wasn’t the Mekong River because that emerges in the south from Cambodia. The strong rivers cut through the mountains feeding rice fields and tea plantations. Tam stopped on a bridge for a second and let me walk a bit. It felt good to move after being on the biket. I kicked some rocks and made my way around a corner. I was just amazed at the vegetation on the mountain cliffs. I took some pictures and made my way to the other end of the bridge where Tam stood smoking a cigarette. This particular stop he pointed out some bare spots on the mountain and told me how the mafia (we call them corporations) would pay the government to cut down trees large and small. He also told me of the damage, mainly in the south, that cutting the trees have done. Now the water will run from the mountains and kill the rice crops. Every year without the trees the water floods people’s villages and their food source.
I really like riding a motorcycle. I prefer to be a passenger. My friend David taught me how to be a passenger and I thought a lot of him on this trip. I hope one day he makes the same trip. I also kept thinking of the song Da Dip…when i dip, you dip, we dip. I was almost plagued by the song at every turn we made. I did notice that it was kind of difficult to help dip if I was busy checking out the scenery. After another walking break Tam and I met up with a young man from San Diego who had been teaching English for two years in Saigon. He was making one last hurrah through the countryside before returning to the States. It began to rain on my walk and as I talked to Nick, Tam took out rain gear for the both of us. Poor Nick only had a poncho. He had been in Hue when the rain began and said the streets had flooded about two feet before he left. We said our goodbyes and good luck as he was on a small motorbike, or better known as a scooter. We had already passed a section of road that was covered in mud and gravel, which Tam expertly got us through. Nick had a long journey ahead of him.
We passed waterfalls where the water was coming from Laos, that’s how close to the border we were. Water skipped down steps created to divert water to the river below. With so much water in this country they have to be inventive on how to move it safely. That’s another thing I think K would geek out on.
Coming down before Aloui we had a distance of straight away and I could look up to the mountains. Rows of vegetables K could recognize grew in rows between the rice plots. There was an amazing hot spring shooting out of the ground. It’s where the villagers shower.
We made it into town dry, but my booty was a bit tired from the day. 10km before reaching our guesthouse we passed a motorbike accident. It was the first I’d seen since being in Vietnam. I heard they happen quite often, but that was my first. We arrived at the Tenda guesthouse and unloaded. There was another Easy Rider from Dalat. He was an old friend of Tam’s. His client was from Australia and they had been on the road in the rain for 9 days out of an eleven day tour. They basically took twice as long to get somewhere as we were doing. We left Prao at lunch from Danang and they had only come from Prao that day.
Tam unstrapped out belongings and parked the bike. We got settled and I immediately plugged my camera in to charge. I couldn’t stand another day of losing my charge…dang it. After settling in and washing my feet of road grit we sat on a big patio around a table drinking tea. There we met a driver of a rich family from Hanoi who came to Aloui to find the remains of their family lost in the Vietnam war. Hamburger Hill can be seen from said patio. Vietnamese people, being superstitious, come from everywhere to find any remains to burn to ashes and put in an urn to place at a church or pagoda. Still covered in landmines no one goes up into the mountainside of this area.
Before some dinner I edited a little more of Tam’s blog adding more personal description concerning his three day tours into the highlands. I tried to think of ways to get his blog up toward the top of the internet list. There are many Easy Rider websites. He was confused as to why he couldn’t find his site. I told him we needed more people to find him directly, type in his address or maybe his name. I may have to create a facebook page. I did find though that over 50 people had checked it out since it had been up. It might be because of the readers of my blog, but I hope that true traffic flows through and finds out about his tours. He is excited to have his own address. http://easyriderdanangtamtam.wordpress.com/
Dinner was fish from the river, pork with vegetables, and more veggies of green beans carrot and bamboo. I didn’t care for the bamboo too much. It’s chewy. At dinner the driver from Dalat confessed to not sleeping too much due to the rain and stressing out about being safe on the roads. The real story is that it had been a long time since he had been this far north for the tour and had forgotten his way. Hearing that the rain would subside a bit he said he would sleep good this night. After dinner I realized how tired I was and crashed out without talking to K. I didn’t think Tam would snore as loud as he did, so I had to push earplugs into my ears to try and drown out the noise of the fan and Tam. It only muffled it a bit, but I had a real nice sleep.
Day 2 we woke to more rain. We sat for breakfast of an omelet and French bread. Two coffees with milk and we were on our way. Tam professionally packed our gear. No one really likes riding in the rain, but Tam was more concerned with the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see everything because of the rain, through the clouds and mist. I was enjoying the ride. I thought that what I could see was awesome. Vietnam is a beautiful country, rain or shine. We took it slow out of Aloui. Tam pointed out what was Hamburger Hill behind a shroud of clouds. I wish it hadn’t been so wet so I could take out my camera. I decided to keep it dry and hopefully there would be an opportunity later to snap some photos. The camera was at least charged and ready to go. Until it got drier I was determined to imprint everything I saw on my mind. Something as beautiful as the mountains shrouded by rain clouds would make for an interesting water color painting.
Tam took on the mountain roads like a pro. I continued to play the song Da Dip in my head. Rain fell and then receded. Before long we were stopped by the road to rest our bums. I wasn’t too sore there, but my back began to hurt a little as I forced myself into good posture. It helped with the butt pain. On the side of the road was a large river running parallel to our path. I said hello to a water buffalo grazing on the other side of the road’s railing. The further I walked someone was walking to meet the buffalo with another. I stretched my legs a bit and washed out the road gravel from my Chacos. Our first stop was to be Khe Sanh which was a 100km away. We didn’t stop to see any minority groups, but we did stop to get some great Vietnamese coffee 4km from the Laos border. With a little bit of milk and strong coffee it tasted a bit like chocolate. We were resting as about fifty school children made their way down the road in the rain.
Nothing stops in Vietnam when the rain comes. People work, walk, and cook in the rain. Sometimes they wore rain gear hiding another one under it with them, sometimes they walked shirtless and barefoot. The rain is nothing to these people. In San Francisco I wouldn’t risk getting my feet wet. We got back on the bike after waving the children goodbye. Clouds hid all kinds of view the higher we were in elevation, but then the view would open again as we came back down. Strong rivers flowed over rocks and boulders. There were some areas that were clear cut of trees and some areas that were being mined for gold. The lushness of the greens and the plants along the way were mesmerizing. At one stop in the rain Tam touched these pants that folded up after he touched them. He said they went to sleep. It was neat to see. A minute later a small goat came out of the bushes and it called to me.We started a short conversation. I told him I was American, I was 38 and I had two boys, but I was just passing through. He came real close to the bike and then hopped up into some other bushes to continue eating. We didn’t see too many goats in the country, but there were some. I wished it hadn’t been raining so I could have caught more digitally.
Another stop before reaching Khe Sanh and I crossed a bridge by foot following some school children. While walking I stopped to rinse out the rocks from my Chacos and then watched as people panned for gold under the bridge. Tam began to tell me the history of the bridge and the importance it had during the war. We were 16km from Khe Sanh at this point. The Vietnamese win in Khe Sanh was pivotal to the winning of the American War. We also came to a pivotal part of our trip and a pivotal moment of my thinking of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
I really loved the countryside and the people in it. I watched the country side pass by and my mood began to dip as I thought about all the fighting that had happened in this area. The rain had begun to subside a bit to a drizzle as we pulled into the city of Khe Sanh. After lunch of beef fried rice, we made our way to Ta Con Air Force Base. We went down a few country roads. Some busted, rusted trucks littered the road side. Motorbikes whizzed past us as we turned down the road leading to the former air base. I thought I was just going to see some tanks and a few helicopters. I was not prepared to feel much of anything, but I did.
I bought a ticket to walk around the site where the American army abandoned their efforts. The rain continued to persist but it was almost unnoticeable, except for the drops that collected on my glasses. My rain gear kept me warm as I walked up to each dead aircraft. They stood as remnants of a time before me. As a child of an Air Force serviceman I grew up going to air shows. I would marvel at the immenseness of the planes and helicopters. As a child I watched in awe as the Blue Angels would show their nimbleness through the air. This day I was saddened. Deep down I remembered the veterans at my mother’s birthday. They had wished me luck on my travels as they wore ball caps stating their Vietnam Veteran status. I thought of my friend Pepper. Tam showed me around the site and told me more of the war he never fought, but remembered as he was a child during that time. The beauty of the countryside made me feel even more for a people I didn’t know. What I was seeing now wasn’t so back then. People lived in fear, soldier and civilian alike.
I think this is where my thoughts of war and government became solidified. I didn’t doubt that people were fighting for what they believed, but why? Why did they, why do we fight? My thoughts moved from the past to the present. The boys who died in the American war were just that, on both side they were just boys. The same is happening in the Middle East. I thought about Adil and how I was speechless when he spoke of his town being bombed as we ate bbq beef in Hanoi. I felt really dumb. Massive fighting went on in this area of Vietnam. People struggled and are still struggling to survive. Men on both sides of this war were brave. The difference is that the people of our country do not know and have not seen what was here. Americans were witness from afar.
I couldn’t help but think of the war movies our country has grown to watch and revere as truth. I thought it was sad that these movies were all we knew of what happened. The fear that these soldiers must have felt as the government insisted that they move on. This is where the U.S. armed forces lost traction. Many men on both sides gave lives. They stepped over dead people to persevere. The images struck me deeply. I couldn’t help my mood change driving past the coffee trees that grew around the old air base. Tam drove us back through Khe Sanh mentioning the 25 year life span of the trees as if we hadn’t been to someplace that seemed so sacred now.
We stopped at a very historical bridge along Nghi Road. Tam explained to me that the National Liberation Front (viet cong) would come down from the mountains and swim under the bridge and across the river into the villages in the dead of night. The NLF were scattered everywhere. No one knew who they were. They wore many shirts under another. Whenever there was an incident they changed their shirts. They could have been anyone. The next official stop was another 60km of road. Some of it washed out. Tam maneuvered us safely through mud and gravel at very slow speeds. The rain came down harder and harder, but we kept on. We stopped at a pagoda with a large golden statue high on a rock. It seemed so odd to be there after Khe Sanh. I think it explains a lot about a people. No one was there. It was very quiet. I tried to quiet my thoughts. I knew we had more to see with the goal to make it to see the Vinh Moc tunnels. I had seen them on the history channel’s Cities of the Underworld. Before we made it there we pressed on to a military cemetery, which was Vietnam’s equivalent to Washington D.C.’s Vietnam’s War Memorial. It was a beautifully sad place. It was here I promised myself that if and when I come back to the United States I would visit to give my respect to the monument in D.C.. Children died. Some saw war for four months before they were dead. In the army at eighteen and dead before they were nineteen, all I could imagine is the wasting of lives. These kids never had a chance to live. A part of me felt so bad. I don’t think I was giving up any loyalty to American soldiers, but it feels so different being in a land that was so torn apart.
I was done for the day. Emotionally I was worn. I had seen enough of the remnants of what was. We joked about ghost’s haunting to keep the mood light, but I just wanted to leave. It was beautiful and quiet, but what haunted me was that I had so much sympathy for these people. I hope to have the same deep feelings when I go to D.C. My country has never been invaded. Since the Civil War, there has been no bloodshed on American soil. I can only speculate as to why the U.S. government felt they had business in this poor small country. I’m sad that Americans ever came here the way they did. Walking amongst the head stones and learning of the families that search to this day for their family’s remains hit my heart. I was glad when Tam told me were going to move on, because I didn’t have the words to tell him I wanted to leave.
We had a lot more road to put behind us. I tried to sit up straight to alleviate the pressure on my bum. It helped a little, but then my back was aching. I needed to relieve myself so I was happy to make it to the DMZ zone. Under the Vietnamese flag there was an amazing mural surrounding the base. We walked over the old Hein Luong Bridge made of wood and iron. After, we went to a war museum which was flanked by two bunkers. One was French and the other was American. The images in the museum were like nothing I have ever seen. I could really appreciate the pride this country has in surviving the French and Americans. We were inside ten minutes before before I noticed I was actually being filmed. I walked slowly around taking in the pictures and the artifacts of the place. Old bombs, pictures of soldiers walking over the dead, old women, one from the north, one from the south hugging at the news of the end of the war. Then there were the picture of the children.
After my walk through I was asked by the director of the documentary, he mentions this later, about my opinion of the museum. I didn’t really have words. All of it had been sucked out of me during the day. I just mentioned that we do not see these images in the United States. We hear a different story. I told him the museum was amazing and thought provoking. After their questions they asked me to write in the museum’s guestbook. There was a very old man in a military uniform already writing down words of his own. As I waited my turn the film director told Tam the man’s story and then he told me.
This very old man was a brave man. Tam began to translate his story telling me he had fought with the Vietnamese army against the French and had both his legs blown off at the knees. He then crawled, I don’t remember how fa,r to the flag that stands at the DMZ zone. Fitted with prosthetic, he then fought the Americans in the America War and survived. It was an amazing story of survival worthy of a documentary. I was so touched to have met him and be involved in the film. There at the museum was another old man who rode his bike from Hanoi to the same area carrying the flag for Vietnam weighing 15kg during the American War. I was so caught up with emotion from the day I forgot to take a picture of them both. The day had been long on the road and rich with history. My head was swimming as we got back on the bike to drive to the next hotel. We didn’t make it to the tunnels that day, but I was happy for a mental rest.
The hotel was empty and we had a quiet night. Tam wasn’t happy about the weather, but we had made a good trip of the day. No wifi in the hotel, usually used by government officials, I put my sore bum to bed and snored through the night without talking to K. We try to skype everyday.
The next morning was no better, concerning the weather. It was still raining as I woke up and watched the fishing boats make there way out to sea. Tam and I had a bit of coffee before breakfast, chatting with the cafe owner. I wish I had more command of the language as I hated looking to Tam to tell me what he was saying. He was a very nice man with a big smile. He looked no older than 30 but was 45 with three children. His wife ran the cafe while he worked as a doctor. After, we skipped back to the hotel for an omelet and bread before loading up the bike one more time. The third day was the longest day on the road. We were to be in Danang that same evening. We climbed into out rain gear and back on the bike and headed out to see the Vinh Moc tunnel system. It was only 6km from the hotel.
On the ride there, there was still evidence of the bombing that happened during the war. Holes in the ground bigger than a humvie grew green grass. Trees grew around the edges. We road along the ocean and could see many men working on their fishing boats. Cows wandered in and out of our way as we dipped through shallow puddles in the road. The rain had stopped once we reached the sight. I took off my jacket, but kept the plastic pants on as we walked through the entrance. Down paths we were witness to the trenches the Vietnamese people crouched through once leaving the tunnels. Bamboo grew in tight bunches all around us.
I began to sweat in the humidity. Instead of rain on my brow there was sweat. There is a small museum before walking down into the tunnels. It holds the film projector they showed films on and other communication equipment. There were maps and other war paraphernalia. t this point I had to take off the rain pants. The humidity was rising and the rain had stopped. My San Marcos Rattlers t-shirt went from purple to soaked. We met a old, small deaf man who had grown up in the tunnels during the war. The constant bombing that happened caused his deafness. I followed the man down onto the wet steps. I had a camera and flashlight in one hand and placed my other hand on the walls to steady myself. The steps took us deep down and the stairs had been carved into the ground.
The steamy tunnels were slick, holding in the humidity and water coming from the ground above. I dripped with sweat within the first two minutes of our descent. My camera wasn’t fully charged, but I was able to picture some of the 1x1m alcoves that served as homes for families. It was so claustrophobic down there. I couldn’t imagine having to live underground to survive anything. It was dark and the flashlights didn’t give off much light. I kept it pointed down in order to see my steps. Like I said, they were slick with moisture and I was wearing those damn Chacos sandals. The tunnels twisted around and I had no idea where I was going. I followed the little man until we exited by the ocean. I was happy to be in the ocean air. At this point my shorts and t-shirt were soaked. I thought the tour was over and we walked up some steps into another entrance. I didn’t want to go back in, but I followed him through back to where we entered. What a nightmare it must have been to exist in those conditions.
The ride to Hue was clear and the sun began to shine. With our rain gear off and the sun shining above us we came in for lunch of bbq beef and bun. It was a nice cool, but spicy dish which I really enjoyed. From there we went to the pagoda. This pagoda was home of Thich Quang Duc who set himself on fire in protest of the policies of the Diem regime. The relic of the actual car he drove from Hue to Ho Chi Minh City is kept at the pagoda. I was also moved to see the statues of warriors at the front of the pagoda. There were a few with black faces. It reminded me of my friend Pepper who is now really sick and in the hospital. The last two days of the trip were so intense for me. I really wished my camera had been working, but I will always have the images of Pepper as a warrior and never forget what people will do in order to fight for what is right.
Our next stop was Hue. I’ve been to Hue three times and never been to the Citadel or the Pagoda. This trip I did walk through a bit of the immense Forbidden Purple City. I would have stayed longer if I wasn’t so fatigued. I was also impatient with all the tourists around me. The pagoda had been so peaceful, with its chaotic history. Taking a break on a bench at the Citadel I found my limit. A group of kids stopped by my bench and all they really commented on was how it would be great to have a paintball war in the Citadel. I wanted to scream. Instead, I found a quiet place under a tree and said a prayer for Pepper. I dedicated this tour to him. I remember his stories about his time in Vietnam during the war and how he felt about the people. I hope he heals. I am sorry but my camera’s battery didn’t hold up to the off and on I put it through. I do have some pictures around the Perfume River. There is a little park that runs he length of the river that includes different sculptures.
We left Hue for Danang. We took Hai Van Pass back into Danang City. It would have been beautiful if it hadn’t begun to rain again. It didn’t just rain though. There was fog and heavy rain. At that elevation it actually got a bit cold. Tam was weary and we pressed on home. I know I will go back on a sunny beautiful day and spend some time at Lang Co beach, but that will have to happen in the future. I plan to have K with me next time.
The tour was amazing. The best way to see the real Vietnam is from the back of a motorbike with a knowledgeable and humorous man like Tam. I will never forget what I saw even if I forgot a little bit of what he told me. I wasn’t able to record what he said, but there is no doubt anyone could learn a great deal about the country without him inflicting on you any political view. To this day he even has questions as to the why of things. I have my suspicions as to some of the whys, but I will just chew on them a bit more and try to find the words to explain what I felt and what I saw and what I believe about governments, people and war.
The last weekend I spent in Danang was full. Tien and Tam were touring the central highlands when I found out that I was going to be able to stay at least two more weeks in Danang. The night before they left was kind of somber thinking it just might be our last night together. I hadn’t even been able to gather the souvenirs I wanted to leave them and their children. They left the same morning I went to immigration to get my exit visa. Tien had a friend of his be available for any motorbike needs I might have while he was gone. I imagined I was going to get the exit that day and they would require me to leave over the weekend. I was so happy to hear that I could stay until October 20th, that meant I would be able to go on a central highlands tour of my own with the boys. I would get it at a cheaper cost than the normal tourist because of the effort I put in on creating their blog site (http://easyriderdanangtamtam.wordpress.com/) advertising their tours. Because I am a friend and I helped out I would get a full three days through the country meeting minority people, swimming in waterfalls, and possibly riding elephants. For sure I was going to see some war history as we rode along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Trust me when I say it made me real sad to put together their bog site thinking I wouldn’t be doing the same due to visa problems. They were very excited to hear that I would still be in Danang when they got back. I am also glad. I didn’t want to leave my friends on such a sad note.
The Friday they elft ended up being quite wonderful. I had energy to leave the hotel and go write a blog entry at the Young Cafe. After three times going in and working on my laptop they have been the most gracious serving me my Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. Sometimes, one would look over my shoulder as I worked, pointing out pictures that they recognized. They weren’t into helping me with my Vietnamese pronunciation, looking for me to point out my order. A lot of time, even on the street they prefer I use English. I think it is a combination of wanting learn or practice English and my Vietnamese pronunciation is horrendous. Others, eating or drinking, stare, but they smile when I smile. It is a fashionable cafe serving mainly young students or workers. Lunch is also very tasty and cheap. When I am in there they make sure I have everything I need within reach.
Every other morning in my hotel I force myself to a set of push ups and abs to fight depression. It has done nothing to keep me in shape. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I have lost a lot of the muscle mass I worked on for the past year. I do not believe I have gained any weight, but there is not enough meat in my diet to maintain mass. The tire around my waste and back is a little more evident and that is something I want to work on. I had Tien’s friend meet me Saturday morning at 8 to go to the beach to run and swim. The whole time I have been here I have not been able to fully enjoy what the beach offers. The Hai Chau district is quite far from the beach by foot. You basically need a motorbike to get to different places around here.
The days here have been absolutely beautiful since the last typhoon pizzled away. High clouds in the morning break away by 8am and the sun begins to warm the city. It was a Saturday morning and My Khe beach was empty of people except for a few swimmers and a few ancient looking men pulling in some sort of fishing net. The beach looks like any other, but the smell is totally different. There a sweet smell that kind of mingles with what little salty smell there is. I had planned to swim a little bit, but walked instead along the water. It was cool on my feet as I shuffled along picking up sea shells. There isn’t a thing spectacular about the place, but the sound of the waves will lull the senses as a beach should. With my plan to swim Tam told my driver to take me to My Khe instead. I guess China Beach isn’t that safe to swim this time of year.
The sun rose higher in the sky as I walked. The heat of the day grew, but there was a breeze to keep everyone cool. I made it to a section of beach where there were chairs set out under umbrellas. A young woman beckoned me toward her and i went to check out what she had to offer. For 20,000 dong you can rent a chair and they will bring you food and drinks. I forgot my money in the hotel, but I also had plans to go to Bread of Life for a pancake breakfast.
Bread of Life is a wonderful cafe that is serves western food and staffs deaf kids training them in ASL and vocationally in baking. It’s owned by an American woman named Kathleen who is simply delightful. It was quite busy when I arrived. I enjoyed eaves dropping on the English conversations. I watched as the English teachers came in before their afternoon tutoring sessions. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t recognize me. I didn’t feel it was worth my time starting up conversation because I am leaving in a week. I think that what is really disappointing is that they stick to themselves, avoiding other Vietnamese and Vietnamese places. I noticed a certain superiority that they held in their posture.There is something about “expats” that rubs me wrong. People who prefer to stay alien to their surroundings. Then they wonder why the Vietnamese people give mad dog stares as they walk down the street.
It was a quiet weekend. I thought about my next moves from this point. I continued to look for employment online. Emails were sent with no response back. My mood would dip and rise at the drop of a pin. The morning could move slowly until I ordered my bahn mi in Vietnamese, but then it would drop as I opened my email to an empty box. I thought about coming home every thirty minutes. If I had an opportunity to skype during my day I would see the cats gathered in the background and miss their soft fur and loyal presence. Karli’s face was in front of me, but I missed her soft cheeks under my lips. My time abroad would be so different if she was with me and I second guessed my decision to leave her behind.
I continued to work on Tam’s blog site, changing pictures and finalizing his itineraries. I would look over to my luggage and try to figure out how I was going get everything back in the bags, how I was going to lighten my load for travel. Before the end of the night I got a call from Tien telling me they made it back to Danang City early from their tour. They dropped off their Dutch clients in Hue and made their way back by Hai Van Pass. They were downstairs in the lobby. I put on some clothes and met them downstairs where we went to have some beers and some food.
This was one of the times I wish I had my camera. We sat down around the short plastic table on the short plastic chairs and drank some LaRue. They ordered some food. It ended up being some tiny clay-pot dish that cooked at the table. Inside two small bowls was a bit of beef, some spinach like vegetable, a bit of spicy broth and an egg. The bowls sat atop each other and then on a dish where they poured some fuel and lit it on fire. When the fire went out we ate what was inside the bowl. Rat ngon! I could have taken more pictures this whole time, but then I felt like a tourist. It began to rain really hard that night. I didn’t know if we would actually leave for the tour of the central highlands. We did.
Please be patient for my next blog posts. here has been a lot of drama in my travels and I am trying hard to get all the words together. In the mean time, please check out another piece I wrote.
Before I left SF for Asia a close friend of mine asked me to make a guest blogs appearance. The topic was Ancestral Threads. Seeing how both my parents have traveled the world, including Asia, I felt an honor to carry on this tradition, but more honored to grace another blog page. Please follow this link to my piece. I encourage you to read the other posts that have been add…
This was meant to be published in early September…
San Francisco has been having the most miserable summer. While the rest of the country is boiling I keep a Giants sweatshirt on. I refuse to wear close toed shoes, but need to wear jeans in order to offset how my body processes sensations from the frigid wind. I can count on one hand how many times the sun has come out in my neighborhood. It’s only when you pull yourself out of those neighborhoods that you see the dense wall of fog ready to swallow you up. It reminds me of an old Stephen King story called The Mist. It also reminds me why I am leaving. Don’t get me started on politics and the state of the nation, the weather alone is reason enough to get me raving…
I am totally affected by the weather. I’ve been watching the cold fog flow down Page Street from Golden Gate Park. With the flat being as cool as the outside I wrap myself up in a blue terry cloth robe over jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt my parents gave me from their Alaska cruise. A friend of a friend revealed how they haven’t been able to stop crying the weather got her down so bad. All she wanted was a nice day to do some kayaking. I can relate. One reason it took me so long to post an entry was that I was feeling lousy emotionally. I went to a friend’s going away dinner and them BAM! It hit me. I have a lot of goodbyes to make. Departure to foreign lands has slid up on me and I had a really hard time trying to organize some goodbye gathering. I became more and more frustrated as I would pick a day or venue and then something would go jank. Weather janked up my mood so much that after 13 years I am over this weather.
Another reason I held up on a blog entry, besides boring you with my status during the nuclear winter, I thought I would wait and share with you my trip to home to Texas.
In the past, visits to see my parents were wrought with anxiety, frustration and loneliness. I never liked SoCal. Upon moving there from Texas my parents knew they wouldn’t stay in California.They were always bound to return to the south. When they first returned my initial reaction was, “Why the hell did you move us out in the first place?” It makes sense why, but I’ve come to believe that the move simply made me a different type of Texan. I am grateful for the opportunities I had and have outside the great state, but I am more grateful that it’s my home, full of family that love me no matter my mood, what I say or my gender expression. Some people don’t like Texas. They had a “bad experience”. Well, it sucks to be you, because I love it and feel blessed. It’s a Texas thang, you wouldn’t understand.
Given the anxiety I have been prone to feel on visits I focused my thoughts on my impending move. It was K’s first visit with my extended family. She was a bit nervous, but I kept my nervous vibrations to my move to Vietnam and my plans for the first week. I had opportunity to check out my parents new homestead during the 2010 holidays, but I decided to leave early. Family can be so overwhelming.A t times I have felt that everyone makes it their prerogative to be themselves, speak their mind without accountability for their actions. Others list my personality defects, We didn’t teach you to speak that way. Yet that is how I am spoken to. This could be my own perception clouded by the past, but when are you allowed to be an adult around your parents? When can you say I don’t like how I am being spoken to? Never…It doesn’t matter how old I am, I am the child. I still buck against that. It’s nature.
It’s been a decade since I was home. I was in Austin a few years ago for my godson’s baptism, but I only saw my mom and auntie for a few hours. A short fellowship. 10 years since my grandfather’s 90th birthday at the same recreation center I found myself home again. It felt good.
K and I flew into San Antonio late Friday night. We walked into the steamy air for a cab ride into downtown. Country music on the radio and AC flowing into the backseat, we rode through the surprisingly empty streets. Interesting enough our cab driver was born in Texas, grew up in SoCal, and returned home. I don’t remember her exact words, but she mentioned the honest and pathetic love a Texan feels for his state. It is so true…It’s a Texas thing, you wouldn’t understand.
We woke to 90 degree weather and ate our breakfast buffet watching people before moving along the river walk. Sweating profusely I noticed open containers of Lone Star and margaritas…it wasn’t even close to noon yet. We went up to the Alamo and walked through the garden. I’m still upset that Ozzy Osbourne pissed on the Alamo… It’s a Texas thing, you wouldn’t understand. After sweating through my polo shirt we cooled off in the hotel until my dad picked us up. Then we went to the airport to pick up the last surprise for my mom.
* * * *The surprise* * * *
The planning began in June. My dad had made an attempt at a surprise party before, but failed. This time he really thought things through. I am really impressed how he pulled it off. Around May is when I decided to move to Vietnam. I needed to visit my parents before I left. After trying to coordinate a visit around K’s work schedule my dad told me of the party in August. Then I proceeded with plans to leave the States in September. Things became a little stressful in the middle of July once I bought my tickets for the Texas visit. Each call with my mother she would ask me when I was going to visit. Each time I hung up the phone I could hear the sadness in her voice. It was really hard to not give away that I was indeed coming to visit. When I think about it now I could have fabricated a story for her so it wouldn’t cause her pain at the thought of not seeing me before I left, but it was a great surprise.
It was hard to hold my tongue. When I set the date for my departure there was a real urgency to go out and visit, but I couldn’t tell her I was on my way. I wanted to comfort her and reassure her. Inside I tried to keep it light and make note that it was going to be an awesome surprise. At the same time it hurt my heart to hear her sadness. I told K to not call my mom, just in case she let it slip that we were coming out. Everyone was good. She didn’t have a clue. There were people she had seen earlier in the day that were at the party and they didn’t give up a thing.
I was cool, man. My dad was sweating it out. Not because it was 104 in the shade, but he had left her at a family reunion with her brothers without a word. He got up to go to the bathroom and then left to get the “special packages”. Needless to say, she was on fire…Why did he just leave me? Where did he go? That’s not like him…Her brother tried to calm her. Cool your jets…I need to go get a watermelon. She texted my dad, she called and left messages. I wonder what those messages said.
* * * *The party* * * *
Brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces showed up to celebrate. There were long time friends from her time teaching in the Philippines, and teaching in Texas. A few of her elementary school friends showed up. There were families our family was stationed with in the Philippines and a teaching friend from SoCal who drove cross country for the event. There were balloons, food, red velvet cake, a slideshow and my brother played the MC. At the surprise moment a few special guests, including K and I, were sequestered in the back to be introduced one by one. K and I were the last to come through the door. She had the same look she had when I gave myself a mo-hawk, but without the fainting. It was worth all the sad endings to our phone conversations.
Then there was the after party…sweating on the porch with a Shiner Bock and some hot fried chicken. It was hot…in the 90’s in the middle of the night. We sat, joked around, talked about the upcoming days, and had some beers. Before it had gone dark I walked K around what use to be my grandfather’s farm. We walked over some seriously scorched ground (the weather had been in the triple digits for the past two months) to where my mom went to school and I played with my cousins. A bit down the street is the church my mother grew up in. Heat was releasing itself from the pavement. If it wasn’t the sun then it was the earth heating everything around us.
* * * *Bethel* * * *
Bethel means “House of God” It’s more like, the house that God built. My parents have been successful in their lives and they credit it all to their faith in God and Jesus Christ. My parents are hard workers and disciplined individuals. I am glad that they passed that down to me. With their hard work and years of faith and growing wisdom they deserve every comfort they have. I don’t know where my parents slept in the house full of guests. I think they have a secret underground lair…K and I were given the master suite. Okay, listen. When I grow up I am getting a Tempurpedic bed. I can’t forget the stereo system that is wired throughout the house. Very cool.
In the sitting room, attached to the master suite, K and I watched a documentary on the Mekong River and its beginnings in Tibet. Once familiar with the TV remote the show came to a close and we decided to cool off and wash up in the cavernous shower that included three different shower heads. I’m going to have one of those too. After showering off the heat of the day we snuggled on the couch for further documentary on the Mekong River, except it focused on the River Delta in southern Vietnam. The Nine Dragons emerge and spill into the South China Sea. We learned about Con Dao Island and green sea turtles before passing out.
The next morning was bright. A cup of coffee, a few tamales and I was ready for another chill out session before heading to Lockhart for BBQ. If you watch any food show you have seen Smitty’s on TV. I remember going there as a child on Sundays. BBQ and a Big Red. Some of my favorite memories circles around food and this was the ultimate. It is actually their pork chops that converted K from her vegetarianism…
Greasy fingers, the sweet taste of Big Red and the sweat on my brow felt like heaven. Unfortunately, there were no pork chops for K. No matter, she likes brisket too. The drive back included a visit to my grandparents grave. I also looked upon my cousins grave, taken at the age of 32 from heart problems. It’s almost a year since we lost Dustin. He was so young with young child. It makes me so sad to think about how he is gone. The rest of the day was lazy…too hot to any damn thing. Later in the afternoon we walked around the block to the pool. The sun was setting and the cool breeze brushed over our wet skin. There were puffball clouds in the huge Texas sky. Orange burnt the western sky as the sun dipped further past the horizon.
I had so many feelings about leaving my parents and home state. I was overwhelmed at Miss Pam’s confirmation of the love and pride my family has for me. I hugged Mrs. Ward (a true southern gentle lady) goodbye. I’m very gad she has become part of our family. I hugged my mother once more. Moments before she had taken me aside and prayed over me. She gave me her class ring from Texas State, a B.S. in Education.
I watched the dry country pass by from the back seat of my dad’s truck on our way to the airport. I enjoyed the classic rock playing on the radio. The clouds floated in the large sky. The sun slid to the horizon as the Tundra pulled up to the curb. Last hugs were given to my dad and brother and K and I stepped into the airport. I did all I could to not start bawling at the gate. I kept myself busy eavesdropping on the people surrounding me and watching to detect those who really belonged in San Francisco and not the south.
Wow! I will be on the other side of the world, 12 hour difference. That is the furthest anyone can be. The love for my Texas deepened. Born in the Philippines, growing up in Texas with family has left the most indelible mark on my life. It’s a Texas thing, you wouldn’t understand. The laughing is the most memorable to me now. Humor is a family tradition, as is education, sport and hard work. I look forward to leaving for Vietnam in a week. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized that I look forward to coming home to Bethel, to family and a home made country breakfast. I look forward to seeing big trucks, cactus in trees, and Smitty’s BBQ…It’s a Texas thing, you wouldn’t understand…