to the woman who wasted 15 minutes of my time: and consequently 5 minutes of yours

This is meant to be a constructional piece so I’d like to apologize first off for the harsh tone. I will speak verbatim only to express my real feelings and not just to berate, but to educate for the purpose of her furthering success. If I let this slide, my neglect and avoidance of garish remarks, could cost this poor woman her business. So lets get to this ol’ kook already.

Let me paint the picture for you. Katie and I, were loaded with both back & front packs. Our lives loading us down, weighing on our shoulders. The hour was 11am. The sun was baking our bodies, and not just at the moment, but for the entire hike across the island – a feat we completed to save money on either boat or tuk tuk fair. So for the past 30 minutes we had been baking in the sun. Although it was still remained enjoyable.

There we two ways to cross the island; the shaded waterfront path and the rocky shade-less path. We guessed wrong. But we made it across the beautiful island and made it to the beginning of town, the suburbs as Donno refers to it as.  With about one minute logged into the suburbs, this silver haired Nashville name-dropping woman crosses our path and quickly jams up our motion.

“Well helloo there” she sings “is this your first time here now?

We nod and say something quirky like yes, which was our first mistake.

“It sure is hot today, so why don’t we move this conversation into the shade” Donno says as she scoops us up like lost little kittens.

“OK so let me help you get your bearings. Right here is what we consider the suburbs” she says slow and drawn out Now from here to the other side of the island there are only 13 bungalows. Yep only 13. So you know what that means?” she says rhetorically “There’s lots of space around these bungalows. It’s nice and quiet you see…but once you start making your way north…well that’s where the party starts, and its just back to back to back bungalows.” she says with a snarl. A snarl that she has acquired from drifting interest in her bungalows… but what I really suspect is that she just over-talks people away.

“This side of the island is more peaceful now, and you get to take in the local life.  Well, we’ve been coming here since 2007” she says without us asking “…and we came for a few months of the year, and then we came back for a bit longer, and then longer, until three years ago when we moved down here for good. And let me tell you, its been great. And would you guess what?”

“What’s that? We feign being young and polite

“We have the nicest bathrooms in all of asia…yes we do. Come with me and ill show you” she says dragging us even further.

This could have been our out but we were sucked into her vortex. So we followed her along a walkway and then around the corner of a building to a row of open stalls

with soaking wet seats and no covers. That was my first sight before she chimed in…or registered back in my ears.

“Look at these here! These are the nicest bathrooms in all of Asia” she says oddly proud. Inside the open stalls were full cartoon murals of the sea if you were on acid and actually hung out with Ariel from Little Mermaid, but aside from the paintings they were just nasty washrooms…and a fucking hassle to get to, having to walk around a corner and shit…

“…now look here” she says pointing to a quote inside a bubble painted beside a smiling cartoon fish “Don’t drink the water because it all comes from the Mekong”

I thought she said this was the best washroom ever… I’ve been to better washrooms with feces smeared on the seat.

“OK, how much are your rooms?” Katie asks getting to the only question we cared about.

“Now our bungalows are 30,00 and they look right out onto the Mekong here. Come right with me and ill show you”

Oh dear God, if we have to follow this woman one more time I’m gonna shit! She walks us some stairs and opens up the door to a wicker cubicle with a shit bed and musty smell.

“we could open up the windows to let the smell out” I whisper to Katie, who looks back at me like I’m crazy.

Really what was I thinking. It would be impossible to stay here constantly void of this clucking hen of a woman. We had to go. And immediately.

As we pull away a bit, we thank her for her time, but insist we want to check out further of the island to get our bearing before settling on a room. There’s nothing she can do, so she accepts, but not without trying to lure us in one more time.

“We’ll you have to check out our menu. Inside we have tons of facts about the island…like why they cut the cats tails off. And we have a map of the island  that you can take a picture of.”

We cringe as she grips us by the coattails and drags us into the open-aired restaurant to peek at her menu.

“Here is a picture of the island that has everything you’ll need to know.” I look down at an 8 by 11 sheet Xerox of the two islands, and it literally has an oversized star around her guesthouse and at the north tip it says party and internet central.

This was all we needed to know about the island? Ahh I hate this woman. Not hate…but hate…you know. It is perhaps the most useless map I have ever seen. More useless than a map to a Neo-Nazi rally.

Before we left she informed us that “they sell these little key chains with a flashlight on the other end of the island for $.60 and over here we sell them for $.30”

Well that’s good because if I ever want to buy one to beat her with, I can do so at a 50% discount.

We walked down from the restaurant steps as she cliché-ingly shouted out to us “yawl come back now ya here.”  It stung our ears as we hurried off; fully clenching our jaws and furrowing our nostrils until we got out of her sight to curse this woman up and down.

“Did she not see that we have huge backpacks on?”

“I know!! And she called that the nicest washroom… that was a dump.”

“Such shit and around the corner.”

“I cant believe that woman…she doesn’t get it? Who talks that long without acknowledging that we’re weighted down. And even after we told her we walked the whole island. She didn’t even miss a beat.”

“No respect. All she thought about was herself”

“…and the way she put down the other side of the island.”

“That’s the reason we came here anyways. To be a little more immersed with a fun crowd.”

“I wonder how she fairs with the locals on the island? ”

“OMG! I think she just ruined yawl come back now ya hear for me!”

We kept on walking and eventually made it into town where we met another crazy man who followed us for a while, and mistakenly took us for people leaving the island over just arriving. He asked us if we knew a beautiful woman Roseanne or something American. We assured him once again that we just got here. He finally understood with one of those AWWW ENLIGHTENING MOMENTS and then he gave us a heads up not to stay in room #2 at Melina’s because he just had sex in there with her. Which I thought was very nice of him, aside from me not wanted to see or talk to him anymore. He had a very dark & drunk & weathered exterior. He told us he’d been coming to Don Det for the last 5 years. And Katie and I could totally tell by the way it had aged him. We thanked him and carried on eventually finding a bungalow with a much nicer, and en-suite bathroom. Suck it Donno!

THE MAD HATTER OF HOI AN

Hoi An is famous for tailors. And if that wasn’t enough the whole town has to tell you. Every minute of everyday. It’s impossible to leave your hotel without a woman on a bicycle on your trail like a hound on an ambushed quail. What’s funny about the ordeal is that the

Tourist on tourist on tourist..

Tourist on tourist on tourist..

women want you to follow them to there shop. Although I haven’t let myself been dragged down that route, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on the other side of town. Yah, let me walk 20 minutes to your shop when there are fourteen in front of me that I’m not going into. Blasphemy! But hell it’s all in the name of the game. And it must work if they are out there. That is unless they’re on their last desperate legs clinging on for dear life. If I had a heart I’d say let them live, but you have to wean out the weak. Darwin baby! Too many dealers saturate the market and no one makes money. While it just gets fucking annoying. It’s lose-lose. A terrible cocktail when your town’s livelihood is centered around one product.

After the women, we are faced with the bicycle & motorcycle shops, restaurants & corner shops spokespeople, endless motorcycle tour guides who call themselves Easy Riders, more tailors and a hailstorm fruit & sunglass vendors- all hell bent on making a sale. It takes about two minutes to walk to the first set of lights before entering the town and we start everyday with the same routine “No thank you…Sorry sir…Nope, just walking…It’s ok I have my own bike…I’m from Canada. It’s my forth day here…Nope not even tomorrow…No, I’m not looking for clothes…I’m sorry I don’t need shoes…that’s ok! I’m full, but thank you! No tours, just walking! I’m from Jamaica. I live by beach! I really don’t want to come in your shop! I’m not looking for anything…thank you! No I don’t need a suit. I’m sure they are beautiful, but I don’t want one! I just ate a banana! I have sunglasses thank you. No, I’m sorry I don’t need two pairs! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! (insert aneurism)”

Why am I still here I’m sure you’re wondering? Well, the town is just too damn enchanting. Now that’s not a word you hear me throw around too often. Check for yourself if you like…go ahead I’ll give you a minute.

All the tiffs aside, Hoi An is pretty chill. I mean hell, we ended up staying here ten days. Which was more my fault than anything. But while we waited there was much to take in. The puzzle-piece streets all share the same feel and design. The town has

Traditional vs. Western Medicine

Traditional vs. Western Medicine

an old-world-Asia dynamic with a symmetry that flows from building to building all slapped in a couple of coats of a rustic yellow- think adding a little soy to your mustard. Equally dressed in harmonizing antique wooden beams and storefront signage as if tailored by the same fabric. It’s a weird and wonderful uniformity that creates a magical Disney-esque feel. At night lanterns illuminate the streets and satisfied people. Alongside the river ancient women sell dreams for a dollar. Singers sing songs and play with the crowd whose eyes grow with foreign erection. Cafés serve up ice cream cones to mothers and backpackers and grandparents and children all excited for their first lick, who ultimately are dreading their last. The workers loosen their ties as much as they can and all is beautiful for those with full bellies.

The last ten days have all blended together, woven with chocolate banana pancakes for breakfast, flowing in and out of shops in search of funky fabrics and profitable relationships, lantern-lit strolls, and sipping coffee and 15 cent beers playing hand after hand after hand of rummy 500 and dreams of hats…hats…hats!

Japanese Covered Bridge

Japanese Covered Bridge

THE GREAT FABRIC & TAILOR HUNT

Ahh but alas…on to my newfound obsession…dream….project…venture…making-it-rain racket. I haven’t had too much success in the past. Particularly because I have the attention span of a bobble head. It’s more of an un-attention that has festered throughout my lifespan. But I always step back up to the plate…strike out or not…I’m always up swinging.

So, back to hats! The idea came to me on a walk. Somewhere after a bombardment of vendors attacking me with a condor’s grip, I started thinking a suit would be nice but it’s just going to get all crumpled up in my pack. So I thought about what I could get made. Something smaller, something that I could get a lot more use out of than a heavy suit. Then it hit me! BAM! Like a spike through Jesus! HATS! I’ll get a hat made. And so I was on a mission. It was quite easy actually. And even though I only found two hat makers in town, which included one that was rude to his wife. Well that and he was charging twice the going rate of the other. So I found my man. I still don’t know his name, but his wife’s name is Huong…she calls me Sweetlou.

After showing him the hat on my head I told him that I wanted to make a duplicate using a different fabric. He understood and pulled out his cotton roster. I wasn’t digging his selection so he pointed me to the fabric market. We agreed on a price if I supplied the fabric and I asked for the dimensions. I learned that you can make 4 hats out of 1 meter (1 meter also makes 4 ties). Each one 30cm by 140cm of fabric. I also learned that a baseball caps brim is 7cm. I wanted to make my hat a little unique so I cut the brim down to 4cm and hauled ass to find some fabric.
Travel Vietnam Hoi An hatmaking

I didn’t even make it to the fabric market. I was approached by a woman in the fish market who followed me, asking me the usual questions, so I gave the usual answers. I’m from Canada. No, not Vancouver…about one hour from Toronto. But this time I answered yes to her next question.

EDUCATION FOR DUMMIES

I pointed to the tie around my neck. But before we get into that, you need a little education. Education is important you see, because without it you are ignorant and I don’t like to keep my readers in the dark. So I’ll tell you what I said without further education and then I’ll fill you in…here we go. I said so close to verbatim I’ll just go ahead and quote myself. “I want this fabric” I SAID POINTING TO MY TIE “same- same. If anything is not same-same I don’t want it and we can stop right here. Same-same blue…same-same flowers…same-same everything.” She said something to the tune of Yes, of course follow me. I knew not to get too excited because I am educated you see. Now it’s your turn.

If you go shopping back pretty much wherever outside of tourist Asia you will get a similar answer in and around I’m sorry we don’t have that fabric, but I can show you something else if you like. This in turn leaves you in the driver seat. It’s your decision whether you go with the person or not.

Bowties on bowties on bowties...

Bowties on bowties on bowties…

Knowing that this woman is possibly just riding me along, you know a one trick pony just tramping the laps for ol’ times sake, I decide to follow her because she’s cheery and actually knows where the market is. We get inside, and to quantify for simplicities sake, let’s assume there was a scale from one to chaos. It would be somewhere in the you gotta be fucking kidding me.

Immediately upon entering I was bum rushed by a wallop of mothers with raging hard-ons to shirt, shoe, shave and suit me. I grabbed a tight grip on the woman as if she was a lone plank and I had capsized. I slid through the market rejecting all the mother hens with the old I’m sorry I’m with her point & nod.  Alas we found her nest and by gollyTravel Vietnam Hoi An fabrics would you believe it…she points out about every other pattern aside from the one draped around my neck. “Not same-same” I said shaking my head…”Not same-same”. Although it didn’t come off as whiny as it now does on paper. It was much firmer and macho- you had to be there. Well I’d love to tell you the story ended there so you could get on with your day instead of listening to me talk about fabric…but it doesn’t…I ended up buying a half a meter of a similar one after they tried to swindle me on triple the price, but I play a tough game and did my research and knew the market rate for cotton. September 2013 market prices for locals on durable cotton is in the ball park of $4-6 bucks a meter, with a discount if you buy in bulk. The market price for a foreigner on the same strip of cotton is $6-8. The lady highballed me at $7.50 taking me a rook. So I came back at $3 for a half, which was a fair price for me and for her. She waved me off. So I was done business with her. I carried on until I found another fabric for $3. I was on a sort of fabric kick and all I could envision was a hat for everyday of the week. Then month. Aww sweet Derek Christ! Why not start a business? Surely I can get a discount if I up my meters and I can turn this into a full fledged business.  Everything seemed great except the thought of having to deal with these sharks at the market… I needed an in.

KT Edit: So where was I during all this fabric-chaos, you’re wondering? Well, sure as Hell not in the market with Lou! I avoided the cloth market, and spent my day reading while my computer had a spaz attack, crashed, and rebooted. It seems to have recovered, thank Nguyen.

BRANDING & CRUNCHING NUMBERS

So I had the fabric and I had the man. Now I needed a personal touch. But what? After little delegation, Katie said why not Sweetlou, my nickname, and then I threw in circa 1983- the year I was born. Pretty fresh. Bam! Now I needed a leather man. But how were they going to imprint it on the leather. I was itching for it to be stamped or branded.

I met the woman the next day. She was selling leather shoes. Inside her shop she had scraps and I asked her how much it cost for a small strip of leather and if they do branding. They didn’t. They embroidered. She said I could choose any leather and fabric and we agreed on a price. Although it was high! But for a couple of hats I could justify. If I wanted to start a business, this was one area I’d have to cut down the cost. Her name was Thuan, and over the week I popped into her shop everyday.

Thuan’s a wonderful woman, 40ish, two boys, 9 months and 7 years, and she works 29-30 days a month from 8am to 9pm and sometimes later if she’s in the middle of a sale. She’s worked to the bone day in day out but knows that everyone else is too and that If she doesn’t perform it could be the axe. Fortunately, things are going well for her and the stores flipping a lot of soles- just some shoe humour. I asked her about wages because I’m interested in world dynamics and she asked me to guess. Hmmm, 4 million Dong? (equivalent to $200 a month). A low guess, but I had found out that some of the staff at the restaurant I frequent make around 1.5 million Dong A month. You heard me right. People get paid by the month not by the hour. And at 1.5 million/month working the average dozen hours a day that works out to be about $2.50/day. Which is about 20 cents an hour. It’s a cruel world out there. So next time you think about spending 5 bucks on a drink- remember that someone had to work 24 hours for that and that’s without a word of a lie. Believe me when I say I get it baby! I get it loud and clear! We are different. We are all born in different circles. Different worlds! Some of us have been raised with the finest of everything without ever having to ask someone what it costs before picking it up- but anyway you cut it bub, the math doesn’t change, only the heart of the matter does and what you can do to help. When you ask yourself What’s the purpose of life?” I’d like to think that i’s about spreading love and raising the status quo.

Thuan and SweetLou

Thuan and SweetLou

Thuan told me people in her field make between 5 & 7 million Dong/month, which is a decent living if you have a lover that’s bringing in around the same. Throw in a kid or two that are also bringing in a little loot and life could dandy. In a land of 15 cent beers you can easily drink away your tears and put a few in the bank for a rainy day. But the days are long and they don’t stop. That’s the ultimate problem. There’s no time to bring in a supplemental income when you’re strapped to the daily grind- this is where I come in.

I’ll be genuine and honest here. I’m looking out for me first off. I’m number one in this game, but I have a heart. I’m a decent guy and I’d sure love to help some people out along the ride. So I put Thuan in my roster for connections. I promised her nothing, but explained my business and said that maybe she could be a missing piece of my puzzle in sourcing leather, embroidering, and shipping since she said she had hookup at the post-office. I had her make 2 Sweetlou circa 1983 patches, paid her, grabbed her business card and kept up the search.

EMBROIDERING SCHMEMBROIDERING

Across the street, down the road, or take 20 steps in any direction and you’ll have walked into a dozen or so leather shops all offering the ol’ same-same business. I popped my head into a good 4 or 5 and they all tried to hustle me doing the ol’ 3 times the price trick. Well it’s not working on me. You see, I come from a long lineage of Jews. And what do you think us Jews talk about while saddled up at the deli counter or in between prayers at temple how to make the perfect bagel? Hell no! We talk about DEALS! How much we saved! Where to get the cheapest jar of gifilde fish! Which magazines have the best coupons! Did you hear Wegman’s has GrapeNuts on sale for $2.95 for a 540/gram box. It’s normally $3.95 for the 370/gram. Well, I just saved $17.49 dollars on a pair of Levi’s. Moshe wanted to go to Marshall’s but I told him that Target was having a sale. Guess what? They were $10 cheaper and even more when you add what he saved on the tax. We’re Jews. We can’t help it. And we don’t want to. It’s in our DNA and it’s as much apart of us as a good scratch behind the ear is to a dog.

So after giving up on a few I stumbled into yet another leather shop. This one flaunted its cow and buffalo hide in rolls on both sides of the shop. In heaps the way a burger is pieced together with morsels of flesh and fat from the entire range of cattle. I got down to business, but this time, for some reason I brought up stamping the leather. Something I had lost all hope in when it appeared to be a lost cause- embroidering it was, I guessed. So I asked her and she ran out back pulled out a stamp that she had made in Ho Chi Minh. She assured me it was possible and that she could do it for me. All I had to do was come up with a design/brand and she’d have it made for me at a cost of $200-$250. Then she would charge me $1 for each piece of leather and her time punching my logo onto them. Which after the initial cost of $200 would save me the exact same $1 to $1.50 in embroidering. Things were looking good. Then they got even better.

THE IN!

Having managed to find a way to cut the cost on the leather and having already worked out a reasonable price on the tailoring, I needed an in at the fabric market.

Fabric market” she said “Oh…too expensive! You have to go to [such and such street], they have much better prices. And such big selection.” She raised her hands from floor to ceiling to depict the stacks of fabric. Show me…where, where, how do I get there?” I shouted amped as a civet hopped up on mocha coffee beans. Having staff hanging around she got one to show us. So Katie and her hopped onto a motorcycle while I was given a bicycle to ride alongside.

I knew we were there when cafes were replaced with wall-to-wall shops heaving at the breasts with fabric. The girl knew which one to go to and parked right in front. Although they all looked the same to me. Right in front of my eyes, miles of meters stacked in groups cotton, silk, rayon, canvas, then stacks of floral print, stacks of children’s animal prints, stacks of every fabric you could ever pull from a catalogue all piled to the ceiling just like the woman’s hands.

After digging for fabric like one would for funk in dusty record collection; with fine detail, precision and keen eye I had a stack of 6 prints and was looking at getting 3 meters of each which would make 12 hats a piece and 72 in total. All we had to do now was discuss money. The girl told me they went for 80,000/meter but she could get me them for 70. Just for kicks I threw out the number 65 although I was already ecstatic about the 70 price tag since the market charged me 120 for the identical fabric. She came back with 66 and we ended up shaking hands on it.
SAMSUNG CSC

GOING POSTAL

So in a matter of a few days I had locked down all they key players in the birth of my new found hat empire. The only tasks remaining aside from branding, marketing and sales, was to look into that hookup at the post office. Behind the counter sat the typical pregnant woman that pops up behind every office scenario countrywide. I toss her my hat to weigh so I can get an estimate of the cost to ship my order. She tells me the weight.

“Ok what would it cost to send 50 of them?” Turned out to be $35 by sea and $70 by air. She talks to another woman who grabs a folder and meets me on my side of the glass. She goes over the usual. Where and what are you shipping? Sea or air? I answer them all and make some light small talk before pulling out a business card and ask if she knows Thuan. At first I thought she had, but it turns out she knew the owner of the shop. The business name printed on the card. Either way she told me she could give me a 10% discount on air travel and that if I called her she would get her staff to pack it in the smallest box to curb the cost. I thanked her, grabbed her number and walked out with the last piece of my puzzle.

With my giant bag of fabric I flew to the tailor and dropped the bag before him. I tried to read his face, looking for something to tell me if he was excited for the work, or if a tremble brewed in his brow. Shit I couldn’t tell. His wife assured me that he was on board. Well that’s good enough for me. I went over the details one more time about the brim size and liner and style, the only thing that troubled me was the back. I wanted a snap-back. Well I really wanted a full back, but everyone’s cranium doesn’t match my perfect skull, so I had to fall back on the snap-back. Then he said that he could add an elastic back, which makes the cap universal and answered the query to my dilemma. It also ended up being the easiest formula, which also meant the most cost effective. Wham Bam! I’m in business. Now I just need a name!

Travel VIetnam Hoi An hats

to be continued…

Dalat is a town we loved a lot… or some other clever title.

Day 4-Awesome Architecture 

We ate eggs and a baguette for breakfast SAMSUNG CSCfrom this average looking spot we found, granted it only cost 90 cents, but were used to being spoiled for 60. Our destination today was the Linh Phuoc Pagoda and we found it pretty easily after stopping a few times to peep the vague Lonely Planet map. Without bullshitting, just entering the gates put me in a peaceful state. Surrounded by an insanely detailed temple, entirely constructed of broken bottles, glasses, cups, delftware and ceramics. The entire temple was hand-painted with a mosaic of colours and then decorated with animals, gods, temples, Buddha’s all out of the broken materials- truly an incredibly dedicated masterpiece. To its side stood a towering sisterSAMSUNG CSC temple that housed an immense bell, which we both rang after we attached prayers to it via sticky notes. And to its side was a 51 foot Buddha statue, that from a distance looked as though it had spent a lifetime undersea and was entirely covered in tiny barnacles and crustaceans, but as I walked closer and closer until standing by its side with my head reaching its shin, I saw that statue was covered in flowers, little plucked chrysanthemums, all at varying ages of life, some decaying, some full bloom- beautiful.

Behind these three monuments was a fourth in the process of construction. Outside sat buckets of broken materials and little pallets of paint alongside brushes- it was a glimpse of art in progress. Inside the entrance, which was nothing more than a wall of SAMSUNG CSCrough concrete, we walked into a room of 50 to 75 six-foot golden Buddha statues that surrounded a lone Buddha that towered to the ceiling of the four-story structure. The concrete Buddha must have been set recently, standing there like a giant cookie cutter in the sky… on a table were brochures that displayed an image of the golden Buddha it was to become. With a box of incense to its side and prayer matts in front, we slipped off our shoes, lit the incense, stuck them in a giant vase, and prayed- for what, I cannot tell you; it’s with Buddha now.

Leaving the grounds was just as peaceful as entering and until I arrived at our next destination, I was engulfed in pure self reflect. Arriving at the self-titled Crazy House, we were submerged into a whole new level of respect and astonishment for its architecture that cannot be genuinely described without using the word crazy.

Where do I start? Perhaps with WTF is the Crazy House? Well, it’s the expressionist vision of Hang Nga. Graduating with a PHD in architecture from the University of Moscow, she moved back to Vietnam (during the Vietnam War- she’s pretty badass), to create her vision amongst the hills of Dalat. Using animals and nature as her inspiration she set out to dismantle principals. OK there are the facts! Ok, Ok… I’ll get to WTF is it? It’s a huge tree house, more like a tree mansion. It’s like a real life Salvador Dali painting. There are winding SAMSUNG CSCnarrow staircases on the roof, staircases wrapping in circles, mini rooms that seem impossible to get to, ladders and descents, all entwined with nature. A dozen or so guestrooms all dedicated to a theme, whether it kangaroo or bamboo- each room is built from the inside out crafting round beds to fit into the natural space. It’s a giant playful guesthouse, where Hang Nga lives at the top. At the epicenter of her work in progress, she resides in a giant fairytale like room elevated above the grounds, with giant antlers above her door, a giant gong on her front porch, a bulls head & horns attached to her banisters, and broken mirrors like shining silver decorating the facade…which is reached by floating paths that weave throughout, like a dream in motion. All of which I just stated, is about 1/100th of what the Crazy House embodies!

crazy house

We left with our minds blown. Today was a tribute to the creativity, dedication and skill that we all possess once it is tapped and unleashed. After that we just went to a night market to grab some chow mien.

Day 5- We hiked a lot. We hiked Dalat.

Breakfast: Eggs and baguettes yadda…yadda nothing special. With bag packed we cruised out of the city, past a quaint pint-sized hamlet, bursting with produce, flowers and coffee and onto the grounds of Lang Biang, a 2167m mountain in the clouds. Lonely Planet said it would take 4-5 hours up, while the guide said 2… I figured we could do it in 1:37- we are Canadians. I was wrong. It turned out to be 2 hours on the dot. Like seriously on the dot. Just outside the grounds a guy rushed out onto the street and ushered me into his restaurant/parking lot. He said “$1 dollar parking (equivalent to 21,000 dong)”, beside was a sign that said 5000 dong and some random word above- I took it to be parking… he said “ok, 5000″. Katie pulled up behind me to park, and with the park grounds perhaps 100 feet from the restaurant I saw a bunch of bikes parked up there and wanted to investigate. As I started backing up, the guy says to me “ahh, no parking”… I checked anyways. Pulling up to the gates, I paid, and they told me to pull my bike ahead. Mother!! I waved Katie over and she slid on through.

The park cost 10,000 to enter. And unknown to us we found ourselves on a one-hour hike up a road, yay, the same road speeding jeeps ran tourists up and down every other minute without breaks or without any concept of space or safety- many times were we pushed up against a side railing as they revved up and swept past us, with two open lanes- pure ignorance. After about one hour of ‘hiking’ we reached a park entrance. It was a little wooden cabin with a smiling woman inside who was eager to speak to us. “Oh, I’m so happy to talk to people.” We soon found out all the jeeps were continuing up the hill to the radar station, a smaller peak, and a much shittier one since it’s now filled with all the lazy gusses bussing to what they think is the top.

The woman, who introduced herself as Blui (blu-ee), told us that we were the first ones to go through the park today. We were thrilled to find out that we would actually be hiking through nature today and not some goddamn devils racetrack. Blui told us that just last year they started charging to enter this park (lucky us- and to think we just paid 10,000 to climb up a road). We happily paid the $1 each and our feet touched soil for the first time that day.

The hike was 2.2km. Blui said it takes her about one-hour to climb- I guessed 37 minutes. I was once again wrong. It was an hour on the freaking dot too. First we walked through a pine forest, then down a valley, and then up a steep climb to the mountaintop. Heaving like a pregnant woman the whole way up. Once we broke through the clouds we knew the peak was close and it rejuvenated us both. Hopping up the last steps it led to a cleared out summit. Katie was jumping up and down, and we were soon immersed in a 360 degree white backdrop- not even the faintest decimal of pigment broke through.

hiking dalat 2

Posing for shots with the elevation placard, on our feet, then on our hands we got a bunch of touristy business out of the way before we perched up on a cliff and looked out into a true abyss. In peace and solitude, the only sound made out was the chirps and flutters of finches at play weaving and cutting through the clouds. Katie looked over and with a shot of surprise she shouted in my ear, something to the tune of “ahhhhh”, I instinctively looked over my shoulder, and it was as if a magician appeared and unveiled the land below.

The clouds had opened up for us, and below, once a blank canvas before our eyes, was filled with an image of a rolling jungle that led to the edge of a town. Soon the entire cloud vanished and the peak became brand new playground for us to explore with ooh’s and ahh’s around every degree of shift.  After spending an hour on the peak, we started our descent when we ran into a French couple making their way up. We were the only four people on the mountain out of the four to five hundred that took the jeep up throughout the day. And we found out from Blui that foreigners are really the only people that come to hike the mountain, and in her own words, we also tend to respect nature much more than the locals.

hiking dalat

When we got back to the cabin, we had some time to get to know the real Blui. And she turned out to be a marvelously interesting woman. At 31 she was single, which is a little old for Vietnamese culture, if not the world, but she is outdone by her 40-year-old single sister. She is actually part of the hill tribes known as the K’ho Lat, and actually isn’t Vietnamese. There are 5 K’ho tribes, of which I could not repeat. In her culture, the women search for a husband, and when she wants to propose to a man she has to buy a buffalo as an offering. At the moment buffaloes don’t have much grazing area in her region, which brings the price of them up- with current market price in the range of $1200 USD a head.  Although she’s not interested in anyone at the moment, and she’s quite happy being single. You go girl!

We pried into her family life and she told us that she had one brother who died of cancer and another of epilepsy, and another who is an alcoholic, who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning to find people in his tribe to drink with- and since it is well known that he is an alcoholic and women search out the men to marry, no one is interested in marrying him (at all).

hiking dalat 3

We had some questions about the Lang Biang Mountain we had just climbed. There was supposedly five peaks along the range, with the tallest being the male and a shorter one following suit as the female. *Blui told us the story behind the two mountains in which is inscribed with an air of love & tragedy.

 A woman named Biang had fallen in love with a man named Lang,

as the story goes, and the two went into the mountains to pick wild

fruit and basically just enjoy the nature. Behind the scenes, a man who also

had desires for Biang, wore the mask of a magician, and turned some of the

fruit poisonous. When the two separated in the forest to pick fruit-

Lang ate a piece and fell ill to poison and died on the spot.

Biang in search of Lang eventually found him dead, and for two days she

lay beside him crying, with her tears flowing down the mountains creating

a lake at the bottom called Dankia (the golden stream). And as for the mountains, they

symbolized each of their tombs, and over the years earth grew over

them making the mountains grow higher and higher .

*Now this is just one version, I had found a varying version online- but who am I to dispute which story is more accurate than the other.

We parted ways with Blui and began our descent down the mountain. Nearly at the bottom we ran into a bunch of bus drivers awaiting the tourists at the top- they were all set up on a blanket on the gravel in front of their busses drinking shots of rice wine. As we passed they offered us a shot, which we took with a smile, hoping that they wouldn’t barrel into us on the way down. We left after having conquered the mountain, just as a new busload of people were called to enter the jeeps. The two of us sharing an experience that none of the one hundred plus busloads will ever get to experience.

We cruised back into town with calves of iron and ended up back at the night market filling our faces with chow mien.

Day 6- Last night in Dalat

Today was a chill day that would make Bob Marley proud. With nothing on our agenda, or perhaps nulling everything on our agenda- who’s to say? We grabbed a breakfast, tuna baguette for me & egg baguette for Katie then just hit a café. The rain perhaps halted our potential plans of going to Elephant Falls, but we hit the road tomorrow and we both decided we could get on board with a relaxed day.

eggs

So the café turned into pizza, which turned into another café which turned into a six hour writing session at Café 13 filled with coffee, tea, cane sugar coated peanuts, chicken sandwich and French fries… and… and…. Yeah, let’s call it a cheat day… Cheers to us! The owner, My, of café 13 is this voluptuous middle-aged hippie that leaves a trail of euphoric musk as she sways about her abode. Needing to have that smell in my life, I pry and she tells me she makes it herself. Although she speaks fluent English, she does so with a Vietnamese drawl, quick and nasally, and almost all of her words escape me. I’m left nodding, saying yes, smiling politely- all the tell-tale signs of an ignorant traveller. I let a few hours pass before I tried her again… you need to tell what the name of the scent is… it’s enchanting, I need the recipe… please!!” I might have begged, but one will stoop low to get what they want. She smiled and went to another room to write it down…. She came back, handed me the paper, and promised me not to tell anyone.  So, this is where you’ll hate me. I asked her what proportions she mixed together… which I also didn’t really get a tangible response- so I have a little guesswork it in for me. No harm in a little challenge.

viet

The café was a cesspool of starry-eyed backpackers, all lured in like a bohemian bug-light. Throughout the night, our table sat a couple of Aussies and a solo-traveller from Holland- all of us exchanging our version; where we came from; where we’re going- the same flagship conversation that ignites all relationships on the road.

Throughout the night the sounds of beating drums and screams and laughter filled the air. The beating drums snaked through the streets as giant colorful lions ran into homes and anywhere with life- underneath the wild lions were children controlling the puppets rhythmic swing. It turned out to the first day of the Mid-Autumn MoonFestival, and these lions danced through the streets bringing good fortune to those who let them into their homes. As we were curled up in blankets on the outdoor couches of the café, a stream of lions came in gyrating to the beat of the drums down the street- all doting masks and ordinate costumes that draped over two children operating this colorful beast. The lion, now in my face, unhinged its wild jaws, and as I took out my hand and placed money in its mouth, it took the donation leaving my limbs intact. Snapping its jaws in a thankful manner, it danced off, leaving me with a blessing of fortune.

The legend behind the festival goes something like this.

A couple were out in the woods, though it seems like this is how all stories start in

Vietnam, and the woman ended up urinating on a sacred banyan tree. And would you

guess what happened? The tree uprooted and started to float away- wherever trees

float to. The man, trying to bring it back to earth, jumped up and grabbed onto the

roots, but it was no use- he and the tree ended up floating away to the moon. Since

then, the Vietnamese burn fake money and light incense and send out lanterns to

guide the man back down to earth. All I can say is…good luck Apollo.

All right enough stories…I’m done writing for the night- so go find something else to do with yourselves… I can’t entertain you all night… ok? Now go on… get!

Gettin’ jacked off in Ho Chi Minh

I don’t recall why I left the house, but I needed to get out and go for a walk. Maybe being cooped up was getting to me- I just needed some fresh air.

I hit the streets with the intent to explore. After getting off the main road, there are a few alleys and side streets that end up leading to the foreign district, Bieu Vien, a spot that’s always a veritable blast to the senses. Filled with fast-talking entrepreneurs that are hell bent on selling you sunglasses in the evening, to the barrage of do-it-yourself masseuses, to the extensive foot & motorbike traffic whizzing past fiery facades. The street can become a real nightmare to those with vices- though with one month under my belt, I slid through stealthy avoiding all lured attempts and traps.

No fun for the reader, but I live for myself, and not for arts sake.

I discovered a few new alleys and was further propositioned by a barrage of motorcyclist-cum-taxi drivers who are straight flabbergasted at the thought of someone walking for pleasure. It is obvious it is not a Vietnamese pastime. It seems as though everyone in this country is an entrepreneur, which I respect greatly. It is rather intimate putting yourself on display day in day out- facing reject, ridicule and worst-of-all the lack of acknowledgement. I have to give it to the Vietnamese for being scrupulous about making a buck, although their approach is in dire need of education. (This concept can & will be discussed in a whole other blog)

Each motorcycle taxi would approach me, either by waving, flagging me down, following me for blocks, or their most effective approach at winning clientele, grabbing my arm.  After I assure them that I am just out for a stroll and not interested, they change tones, and then ask if I’m looking for marijuana. Indeed I am, but not from some grabby dude, and especially not in a country where a little weed gets you locked up. Then in a last attempt to make a buck off of me, they ask if I am interested in sexy ladies.

So they went from transport enthusiasts to drug dealers to pimps. Not a bad area of expertise, but it lacks originality after the 20th person approaches you- then it becomes somewhat of an annoyance. And after skirting the city for more than two hours, it definitely was that.

Looking to remove myself from the spotlight, I slid down a back street to find some kids playing a made up game, a midnight produce market, a wrinkled lady taking a piss against a lamppost, a resting spot for tired cyclists, and a man getting a full on massage face down on a blanket on the sidewalk.  I left the street with two bags of groceries filled with peppers, onions, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce and the ever-popular dozen eggs.

Now in pursuit of home, I stayed true to the back roads and avoided all walks of life, that is until I reached Tran Hung Dao. Being the street my house is on…it’s kind of unavoidable. Out of the corner of my eye, I passed two girls on a motorbike- who out of my suspicion I immediately labeled as prostitutes, trick-turners if-you-will. Now I don’t usually go around stamping people whore or saint, but everyone has instincts and its normal to generalize- goddamnit it’s healthy. Having walked past the girls, the two slipped from my mind- twas just another normal sight of the chaos that is Ho Chi Minh.

With my house nay two blocks away, and my dogs foaming at the mouth, I was indeed already imagining my key in the slot. A little too soon perhaps, because the two women on the bike had followed me, looped around and we were now gazing in each other’s direction. “Massage” one said, trying to act all sweet and innocent, while the other went for the bullocks “sexy time… $20… room right over there” she said pointing. Then the other chimed back “massage… no sex… nice girl”. It was some sort of good whore/bad whore routine- thinking back now I can picture them practicing in front of the mirror, to each other and their friends.

Being a nice guy, perhaps naïve… ok definitely naïve, I apologized and just stuck to my no thank you’s and have a good night’s. I pushed on for home. The girls on the other hand looped around and hit back with the same barrage of sales techniques, everyone’s an entrepreneur like I said before, but this time one girl jumped off and starting grabbing me while spouting the same routine. I pushed off with the same response and pushed on.

This happened two more times before they finally understood that I wasn’t interested and sped off shouting, “Ok, bye-bye.” Watching them drive away I sighed relief, and, not even out of concern, I believe my hand grazed my pocket-an empty pocket. I checked my other. Keys. Then my back pockets. Both empty. Are you fucking kidding me? Then it sunk in. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Katie just took out three million dong ($150- $30 of which I spent throughout the day) for me because my bankcard had not been working. Then it really sunk in. Fuck my credit card. I burst into a full on sprint, rounded the corner, sped down the alley and even stirred the neighbour, as he popped his head from his shell.

It was the typical key fumbling entrance. I burst into the room out of breathe and explained the ordeal to Katie as I was simultaneously logging onto Skype and MasterCard’s website to get the number. Fortunately, it had not been tampered and they cancelled it on the spot (and received a replacement within 3 days).

Aside from the $130 dollars, I had removed my health card and drivers license from my wallet. Unfortunately my motorcycle registration papers were in there, which would be a hassle to sell my bike without. So I figured another loss of $200 on the back end. Trying to be positive, I told myself that it was only money, and although a pain in the ass, at least it wasn’t my passport, my laptop or backpack, and my wallet could have easily been carrying the $300 Katie owed me, but due to problems at the machine she only gave me half. Whatever makes me feel better, right?

The end. Lesson learned. It took 16 countries to finally get robbed, and I guess in some way I always knew it would happen. I am a traveller and it’s all part of the game. Hell, even taking everything into consideration and carrying my wallet differently and not letting someone invade my space- I’m sure it is going to happen again. As much as it’s easy to assume everyone is a thief- I can’t let this experience tarnish the values I place on the majority of mankind. I won’t let it. People are good. These two whores I’m sure are good people too. Something I would soon question.

Anyways, a week had passed and just yesterday I went to my gym to work out. I had taken a week off because I had gotten a tattoo and the maintenance required me to avoid sweating or getting wet, yah I know what you’re thinking, a week off the gym nice excuse. Anyways, I walk in, run on the treadmill, and then sit down in front of a fan because it’s just deadly hot. The owner behind the counter says something unknown to me, and I get up to humour our language barrier. On the counter in front of her is a wallet that looks strikingly like mine. She picks it up and hands it to me. It’s my wallet. The look on my face must have been priceless for she doesn’t know the story behind it. I open the wallet and the golden Sai Baba is staring me in the face… all I can do is smile. Lost for words I’m trying to piece everything together.

The owner points to my wallet and takes out my gym membership, which had the address on it, and through motions she explained she found it on the street in front of her gym. Baffled, I tried to weigh the situation. Did my thieves actually have the heart to return my wallet (cashless, but of course!) or was it completely a coincidence? You tell me! With the stunned look stamped on my face and my head in the clouds… I come back down to earth… and standing in front of me was the owner with her hand out, reward style. Was she in on it too? Who fucking knows! I’ll just have to chalk it all up as a $130 story.

Gettin’ Inked In Ho Chi Minh

I don’t know where the urge came from, but it started hitting me hard. Snapshots of globes, airplanes, bicycles, compass rose’s, pencils, sugar skulls and mountains all etched in black ink like an about page on my forearm. Some of you will call it ‘hipster’, but I’m assuming you’re saying that from behind a desk in some office, really living it upJ Honestly, I never thought of having a single visible tattoo and now I’m picturing sleeves, interwoven with random pieces of me permanently spackled saying “fuck your corporate suit & leisure Friday attire having asses.” Really, that’s not what its about, I just had a change of heart and wanted a tattoo.

The last tat I got I was 17 and my mother had to leave work to come sign consent for me at the parlour. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am sitting in Saigon Ink, Vietnam minutes away from being inked with a tribute to home I nostalgically created.

 

good ol' King Street

good ol’ King Street

The concept was to pay homage to Dundas. To be honest, after travelling the world and living/working abroad for over three years, I don’t think I have ever been this quite vulnerable of being home sick. And it’s not even to that degree. I have been analyzing the issue and why I think I miss home so much is because of the nature. Ho Chi Minh is undoubtedly a monstrous city, with a boasting a population of nine million and up, but the people aren’t the problem- the problem is that its flat and there the city planning hasn’t taken into account any green space.  The few parks in the city, though nice, leave me craving a park where I can kick off my shoes and run around tossing a Frisbee or ball, both of which you don’t see to much of around here. And to trump that, there isn’t a mountain in sight, unless you count climbing the steps of one of HCMC’s towering Saigon River skyscrapers, which I f*cking don’t.

But, back to the tattoo.  After strumming around the idea of tattooing the silhouette of a map on my forearm with the flight plans dotted to and fro the countries I’ve adjourned- I made it a little more personal and paid tribute to my home town of Dundas, Ontario.

SAMSUNG CSC

Dundas, now amalgamated with the town of Hamilton, is located in between Toronto and Niagara Falls. It’s about a 45-minute drive in both directions and sits at the apex of Lake Ontario, which snakes into Princess Point, which snakes into Cootes Paradise- a dipping point I used to drop in my canoe. Dundas is a quaint town that has pretty much two roads running in and out of town that are sandwiched in between a glacier sculpted escarpment. Its beautiful- you would love it! Heading West into Dundas, the Northern escarpment is home to Tew’s and Webster’s Falls and the Dundas Peak along with a snaking network of hiking and biking trails that peak out along bluffs that present wicked lookouts for stoners, photographers and nature enthusiasts.

On the south side of the escarpment you have the Dundas Conservation Area, home to meandering creeks, an ancient apple orchard, and an ample array of wildlife, flora and flowing hills.

The Dundas Conservation area sits across the street from two houses my family has spent the last 20 years in, and a five-minute drive from where I was born. To say it’s my second backyard would be on point, and my dog perhaps knows it just as well as I do, usually because she’s the one leading the way.

SAMSUNG CSC

The focus of my tattoo is actually from a spot that my dog leads me, it’s a creek that’s just off the John White trail, and when the path comes to a fork she’s in an all out sprint. By the time I get around the corner myself, she’s up to her neck in the cool water.

My dog Karma and this creek was the inspiration for my tattoo. Since I grew up and moved around, and perhaps my family will move again one day- I didn’t want to use their address as a home base- so I used the GPS coordinates of this peaceful refuge that holds a close spot in my heart. On top of the coordinates I had three small pine trees tattoos symbolizing the Dundas Conservation Area that the creek embodies

tattoo vietnam saigon ink

(i'm aware thats a pen in his hand)

Detailing some port tattoo touch-ups (i’m aware thats a pen in his hand)

If you care to check it up on a map, or perhaps make it there one day, this is where it lies- Now go play!

N 43 15’ 1.951”

W 79 59’ 11.63”