Yes Hue!

It took a little while to get our bearing out of Hoi An. It’s been a running theme for us to wait until our bags are packed and the roads just sitting there ahead of us, open, tapping its Travel Vietnam closeup Louwristwatch, with an enough already sort of chagrin. That’s about the time we actually open up a map. I wasn’t in the mood to look at any maps. I was in more of a fuck it lets just ride kind of mood. Which doesn’t really help any situation. We had been about three minutes out of the city when we pulled over to grab the GPS when a motorcycle pulls up. Now, I’m gonna be flat out when I say that I know I’m getting grumpier and more cynical, but sometimes I just plain don’t feel like making small talk. Hell, I never feel like making small talk and I’m not generally a rude guy, but this trip has been shifting my gears. So we’re sitting there on the side of the road when a guy pulls up and makes with the usual where ya from sort of bit…ok buster, enough’s enough. I’m just pulled over minding my business. There’s no need to get into my life story and it really makes no differenceTravel Vietnam Hai Van Pass KT what my name is to you. I’m tired of it and just want to get on the road, on with my day, and out of this damn town that has eaten up the last ten days of my trip. I hold my breath while Katie does the talking and he assures us that if we just go straight for 200km we will be at our destination. That’s it. That’s all folks. He smiled a big joyous helpful smile and took off down the road. He didn’t try to rent us a room. Offer us a ride. Nothing. But there I was shooting down his kindness. I wasn’t going to let him be kind. I’ve been tricked time and time again and now I’ve jumped into assuming everyone is wearing a mask of deception. A mask of greedy personal interest. A mask of what’s in it for me. I’ve been tricked into running from kindness. I apologized by giving him my final attention and thanked him, and again when I passed him on the road.

The road was your average Vietnamese road. Which means 100 different things all in rotation. Riding through the streets is like looking at old family photos on your projector, but on repeat. It’s beautiful the first time. And the second. Maybe even the third. But then you start noticing the smalls things in the photos. And you nitpick them. Each town Vietnam wide has about 10 buildings on repeat; hair salon, cellular phone shop, pho or rice joint, café, hotel, mechanic, corner store, baby clothes shop…hell maybe it’s only 9 on repeat. Either way it’s the people and the piglets that make the drive exciting; and the scrappy puppies and oxen that don’t give a fuck about you or the traffic or the whip coming down on them. It’s all this that makes the trip exciting and then you have endless mountains looming in all directions like they are waiting in line at the checkout with a cashier in training.

One of the many friendly Viet we met

One of the many friendly Viet we met

On the road to Hue we zoomed past Marble Mountain without stopping. It was too close to Hoi An to stop, we needed to zoom today- but it left me a little upset that I didn’t check the Lonely Planet to see what was close around to explore for the ten days I spent relaxing. I chalk this up as a fault, but something that ultimately I won’t regret when the end of the trip rings near. Marble Mountain sounds exactly as its moniker. It’s a goddamn marble mountain. You can climb it. Look over the edge. Sit on it, if you like. Or sing a tune and see how far it carries. We passed it with our eyes. By the foot of the mountain, shop after shop after shop sold marble statues of Buddhist gods; Shiva, Brahma and the other one.

Mm yes, chicken internal organs please!

Mm yes, chicken internal organs please!

We kept zooming. All the way through Danang which seemed like a pretty hopping city. The town was built on a river and three giant bridges connected it to the other side. One of the bridges was lavishly decorated with an enormous golden dragon that wriggled from the top rungs to its underbelly that ran below the bridge, snaking almost to the water, only before raising, and lowering again. We ended up crossing on another bridge. It wasn’t the same.

Hai Van Pass

Hai Van Pass

The road out of Danang followed the coast and we drove a good 15 minutes along the gulf without a car insight. It led us all the way to the Hai Van Pass. A monstrous mountain with a Travel Vietnam Hai Van Pass shrineroad sliced off the edge like an endless piece of cake. Up and up and up we swerved, taking turns with a delicate lean as if our bodies were being dipped over the edge in a foxtrot. The view held me captive. It was captivating. The bends gave way to multi billion dollar views – towering mountains like green skyscrapers; endless lumber scored the land and I thought about the billion dollars I could have in my pockets if I chopped it all down and sold it to Hilroy. I decided to let it live and just kept riding.  Each bend folded in and out of beaches and towns that looked a fraction of their size. We kept riding higher. Then it came to its peek and broke, broke, broke downward falling for 12 minutes past mountains wearing hats made of mountains, and big brother ocean patting little brother mountain on the back since birth – best of pals they are.

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We conquered it all in one swoop and road off to Hue (HWAY). A drug dealer welcomed us to town and even escorted us to a hotel that was sandwiched down a small back alley. He waited outside while we unpacked and reminded us that whenever we wanted drugs,

KT buying drugs...of the poem variety ;)

KT buying drugs…of the poem variety ;)

that he was our man. We thanked him and checked in & took a load off for a short while before heading out for dinner. On the walk we met a street corner poet selling his poems printed on 8X11 white paper. Katie bought one for 50,000VND. He pulled out another sheet. One he was extremely proud of as he pointed to the signature Umberto Eco. A woman had passed his poem on to Mr. Eco and in return he received a letter of gratitude for the poem that stirred his heart. The poet even offered us a ride around town not as a tour guide but “for our pleasure” – He was one sweet little guy.

We ate Chinese food then walked along The Perfume River. A river that got its name from the sweet smell that drifts downstream from the floating petals that overflow from buoyant orchards. All along the river booths were set up selling snacks and little trinkets and cacti and paintings and belts all on rotation.We walked for hours and ended up back at our hotel in a deep sleep.

Citadel

Citadel

The blinds won the battle and we woke up a couple hours later than expected. We left the room, found a restaurant serving eggs and bread, and then spent the next 45 driving in squares about an impenetrable Citadel.  We eventually found a parking spot after crossing a moat and paid a ticket attendant who we think jived us for 5000 Dong. After we parked we had to walk ¼ around the building to a further entrance.

Moats on moats

Moats on moats

Inside the first building a luxurious golden thrown sat risen above ancient wooden planks. The enormous room was empty aside from tourists, no photography signs, and 40 or more giant cylindrical pillars holding the roof in place. The citadel had been destroyed by the US in attempts to save it from the Viet Cong who had occupied it for three weeks during 1972. SAMSUNG CSCIt’s funny that it takes destruction to set a people free. Or does it? It’s best not to tempt the US. I was searching for truth, trying to get a feel of what life had once been like 200 years ago walled inside of a world of politics, philosophy, arts and aristocracy. We walked and climbed our way across the sprawling grounds, knowing both enveloped in morbid thought that we have walked the same paths where men and women stood and  fought and cursed and cried and bled and crawled and died. We found a lake in the north east corner of the citadel in as much despair as the remaining Travel vietnam hue citadel pondtemples-turn-ruins. The water flooding past its broken perimeter as if it was the crumbling stone that had raised the tide. I am blessed with the glimpse that I was allowed today and I can only dream of its once peaceful past. We left the grounds humbled and passed once again over the moat to rejoin the outside world. We drove over to a restaurant on an island to get a drink and cool off in the days extreme heat. We sat and read and wrote and drank for hours; Coffee with Baileys and cans of ice cold Huda beer.

Travel Vietnam Hue reading

This is what I wrote:

With my legs crossed

On a wooden stool
At the fork
Of The Perfume River-
The water folding like origami
Fused with a scope
Of blues and pinks
Drawn by hints of night sky.
Hand crafted vessels
Lay asleep along the skirts
Tired as the hands that built
These archaic beasts
With primitive tools
I’m on a mission
To unearth the unknown.

A looming motionless flag
Raising itself like a student chosen in class
Stands guard above the tortured citadel
Opposite the river
Once a home to emperors
Artists and intellectuals
Once a dream and vision
Once chaos and destruction
The unfortunate formula
That haunts the murky waters
That drifted past unable reach out its arms
And put out the fire
And now the vessels run tours
In search of tombs
Imitating Indiana Jones
For five dollars
I cringe inside

We left the restaurant after the DJ spent thirty minutes of mic checks and mot, hai, mot hai, mot, hai, mot, hai, tsss…tsss, mot, hai (the equivalent of 1,2,1,2) trying to get the reverb on the karaoke machine just right. If it wasn’t that mans first day on the job I’d like to see that he was taken out back and shot, reprimanded or belittled – and I am totally alright with any one of those options. The evening was capped with dinner at this delicious vegetarian restaurant; huge plates of roasted corn, fried tofu, spring rolls and noodles and sauces for next to nothing. It’s beautiful to get what you crave. We went to sleep full and happy and were once again deceived in the morning to the hidden sun. It was time to head north.

Ancient doorways of the Citadel

Ancient doorways of the Citadel

 

FINALE – THE MAD HATTER OF HOI AN

Well the past ten days have been relaxing, but I was beginning to get an itchy feeling to get back on the road; the wind, the wonder of where & what’s waiting for us and all the piglets and oxen and endless unknown landscape along the way. Don’t get me wrong Hoi An has been great, a wonderland with time spent on leisure walks through the patchwork streets entering art shops and café’s for coffee, reading on the white sandy 

Travel Vietnam Hoi An beachbeaches on wooden lounge chairs that are free to use if you buy a $1 beer, waking early in the morning with the intent of getting efficient time to abuse the buffet, watching locals try their luck at homemade arcade games where you have to smash a planter pot with a club after walking to find it blindfolded, and being harassed in the market for garment and shaves and eyebrow waxes which Katie fell victim (KT Edit: eyebrow threading!), and learning how to make a tie from a woman who learned from her father who learned from his father, and searching for books at Randy’s Book Exchange, and Travel Vietnam Hoi An eyebrow threadingcraving Indian food at Ganesh, and holding hands in the night along the rivers and through the streets and in old quarters and beside and throughout the mob of vendors selling the world on their shoulders, and sleeping an entire day away by accident, and every other waking minute sipping all you can drink American coffee at Dingo Deli and gazing out at every dish that passed by our seats until we dug into roasted veggie focaccia’s and chicken caeser salad sandwiches and bowls of hand cut fries and more coffee even when our coffee went cold, until ten days slipped through our fingers…I Travel Vietnam Hoi An BOOKSwas beginning to get the itch to hit the open road…the uneasy feeling that I’ve been in one place for too long…when it was time to pick up my hats. I zipped over to the shop and there he was, cap on his head fiddling with the last of my order. They untied a garbage bag and inside burst with the rainbow that made up my hats. Each print stacked in tens. It was incredible. To see my vision in full form. The inside of the hats all fitted with opposing fabrics. The elastic back. The short brim. The wild colours. I tried one on. The brim flipped up on its own. They were beautiful. I checked the seams. The stitching. Each hat was identical in shape and cut. Although each one was unique because of the layout cut from the fabric. I was now the owner of 60 hats. All mine. Still without a brand. Although I had a list of contenders: Faifoo. Regimio. Gush. Backwoods. Pines. And the ever favourite SweetLou. Either way, I have a lot of time to think about it since I’ll be on the road for the good part of a year.

Travel Vietnam Hoi An tiemaking 1

Travel Vietnam Hoi An tiemaking 2

Travel Vietnam Hoi An tiemaking 3
They grabbed a calculator and we worked out the price. It was in the ballpark of 4 million dong ($200). I broke out my wallet and handed them eight 500,000 bills and I could see at that moment that all the troubles had been worth it. It had cost them next to nothing considering I was purchasing all the fabric and running around. All they really had to pay for was the thread, rivets, elastic strips and plastic brims. The project had to be somewhere in the 95 percentile of profit. And if you read earlier I told you that monthly wages ranged from 1.5-7 million/month. Well in five days he had made more than half of that. We thanked each other. Perhaps me even more enthusiastically than them and with the bag in my hand I ran back to the hotel to show Katie and have a little fashion show.

Travel Vietnam Hoi An Flood

A typhoon just missed us, but the river flooded while we were there!

That night we packed our bags. It was time to leave. Ten days in Hoi An was wonderful but we were on the brink of overstaying our welcome. So the next morning we Travel Vietnam Hoi An shipping hatspaid and lit out for the post office. It weighed in at just shy of 6kg and cost me $35 to ship by sea all the way to Canada, which they said would take three months. Hell, I don’t care how long it takes as long as it gets to my mama’s house. And with the load off my shoulders and our bikes geared up we set out for Hue ancient citadels and Dong Hoi and provincial parks and enormous record crushing caverns and onto skimming the waters of Ha Long Bay and its thousands of stalagmites and earthy islands jutting forth like prehistoric mammals that froze while coming up for air and onto Sapa and 10,000 feet in the sky and dining with hill tribes with eyes flowing from my head like two gushing waterfalls and onto Laos and Cambodia and Thailand and Muay Thai and Buddhism and meditation and yoga and the search for wild monkeys and the piece of the magical puzzle that I’ve been holding from you…only because it hasn’t written itself yet.

Like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassidy and the band of Acid heads that explored their minds and America inside the cavity of a converted school bus…we too must go further.

Travel Vietnam Hoi An SeaTravel Vietnam Hoi An Sea 2

 

 

 

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.
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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…

Michael Douglas Breakdowns, Chilling Countryside, battle of the $5 hotel…and we keep on keeping on!

DAY 11- KILLER ROADS!

After strapping my pack to my bike I noticed I had a flat (note to self) so I paid some guy SAMSUNG CSChaving coffee to fix it- turns out he was a mechanic. So far I’m 9 mechanics deep into my cruiser, which I named Michael Douglas, which was an offshoot from its original name “Mechanics Dream”. I changed the name because I thought Michael Douglas had a nicer ring and that it added a human feel to the bike, since each day it has been both my friend and my worst enemy. I’ve just about replaced everything, namely; seat, horn, tube, battery, clutch, and in a few pages you’ll read about my chain and sprocket and then in a few more pages something else-lucky me. I took a picture of the guy fixing my tire, because after at least three jobs this ordeal needs to be documented- I pay the guy $5 to kick-start my day.

The rain took a day off and the sun was like “what’s up everybody! Sorry I’ve been away, I was back to school shopping with my wife!” So that was nice. We jumped on our bikes and slid out for coffee before our 170km ride to Quy Nhon. The coffee was good. In front of us a grandmother took her daughters baby to the corner to pee- I hate to say it, but it was yellow. Last minute we decided to drive to Quy Nhon over Kon Tum. I know ehh, pretty crazy?? But really it was because we were tired of the poor roads in the mountains and were craving the beach and the sun.

See ya LATER Pleiku!

See ya LATER Pleiku!

We left early enough in the morn to drive the 7 hours. I know what you’re thinking…seven hours to drive 170km…pretty long? Well it sure is. I don’t know the facts, but the average speed limit has to be something like 30km/hr. You might want to look that up. At least that’s the way we were driving. Pretty wild ride, though. Pleiku sits at an altitude of around 750m in the ol’ sky and since we’re hitting the beach, well…you get the picture. After cruising out of town, the buildings swapped hands with rice paddies and bushy emerald mountains, casual wear for greased-&-earthed-up-workin’-garments, and cars for archaic machinery oozing with tar as if it bled from the years of use and abuse, years beaten by overtime, stolen golden years; fixed time and time again by aged farm hands in makeshift ways. Machines that ought to be taken out back and shot, sold for scraps, piled atop its fellow farmers in a rusty grave….But No…No…No…No….Those same machines I speak of chug along the country roads speaking their own old-world tongue…sputtering a charcoal smoke as if a chimney was fixed to chassis and four muddy tires. Today was a good day.

Sitting at the top of a mountain, with a valley cast out like an ocean’s view, I had no clue that the slithering road down was over twelve minutes. I threw my bike in neutral and weaved with the curves and whooshed with the wind. If my OCD had been switched with that of one who had to take a picture every time they saw a thing of beauty…then I might as well have called that place my home.

I reached Katie at the bottom a scared wreck. Poor woman missed too much she was in tears, apparently she didn’t catch me at the top filming her embrace the descent. We kept Travel Vietnam beauty daycruising the countryside passing mammoth oxen, scurrying piglets, scrappy looking pups, always itching some scratch, until my chain ripped apart and jammed up my bike as I slid across the road leaving a 25-30 foot skid-stain before coming to a stop. I rolled the bike backwards inching the jammed chain free. Katie took the chain and road off to find a mechanic after a man stopped and told us there was one 2km down the road. The rain poured for the first-fucking time today just as my bike came to a halt. I threw on my rain get-up, grabbed onto the handlebars and started running. Every time I got some steam I’d hop on Michael Douglas until I eventually hit a nice little hill that, I’m not joking here, rolled me along and stopped dead in front of the mechanics driveway…honest injun. Anyways, the new chain and sprocket ran me a cool $13.00.

Just another mechanic stop...

Just another mechanic stop…

The sun returned and we continued along our new found road- entirely etched with the beauty and tranquility.  On the road you have nothing but time, it’s like taking a sick day, sitting on a couch and flipping to the discovery channel. On our left we saw an armoured tank perched on the side of a hill. Turning around, Katie and I made eyes in agreement so we spun around and pulled up the side road. As we got closer, it turned out it was just a painted sculpture, unless they embalmed this one. Unknown to us, we had just walked onto an army training camp. Soon we were flanked by military; yielding rifles, grenade launchers, and AK’s, or that’s what they all looked like to an uneducated eye. One stopped five feet in front of us without even acknowledging our foreign presence and dropped to the ground in combat mode. Then we saw more running through a field and towards us, all dropping to the ground or beside a tree. From a bow of the bumpy dirt road, I saw a giant white smile glowing in front of the murky backdrop. That could be me. I mean in a way I am him. We are all like him. At least we used to be, and hopefully still are. What else is youth than a state of immaturity & innocence? His smile represented an existing youth, unknown were the tortures his parents and grandparents experienced. War is nothing but a youth destroyer. I hope he keeps that smile till he grows old. I smiled back.
Travel Vietnam soldiersWe reached our new home a few hours later after finding a $10 hotel and stopped at a night market to explore our dinner options- it ended up being noodles and octopus.

DAY 12- HEAVY DAY!

The next morning we paid, got our passports and strapped up our bags for a 300km trip to Hoi An we were trying to attempt. I put the keys in the ignition and saw a fucking flat tire in front of me. I didn’t scream in the sense that I made a sound, but I felt the same shockwave inside my body. Instead of losing my shit, we went for breakfast. A pretty below average one at that- just a pancake, not even proper Canadian one, three slices of banana and one strip of wilted bacon. The owner called a mechanic. He said for an extra $2.50 he’d pick up Michael Douglas himself. 45 minutes and $17.50 later we were on the road.

The road…Ohh the road…there were two out of town and we opted for the leisure coastal-countryside one; it was like if you had two children and one was gifted, which one would you love more? We had read that one of the worst crimes during the Vietnam War happened at My Lai, an area that we would be driving by if not through. It was an undercover mission gone awry. I mean how can it not, when over 500 innocent, unarmed women, children, and men were led to ditches to be slaughtered by machine guns while their homes were massacred and set ablaze. People’s lives. Real people. There were a few courageous Americans that, like helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson Jr., saved a few tormented souls from being killed by the horrors, but ultimately, I could only imagine saved from the horror that is now life.

The street divided the flowing villages, one side with homes and the other with mountains flooding into ride paddies. Families, like families in any country, sat on their porches, drank coffee and played cards, and unbelievably, smiled and jested me “hello”‘s upon passing. I know it’s been about forty years since the war ended, and although I’m Canadian, I also wear the complexion of an American- and it amazed me the love that was shared.

Travel Vietnam beauty night

Ahead in the mountains were giant craters, more so earth that died and created a ring of burnt trees along the ring of the battered earth. There were two of them. To me, the only thing I could think of was chaos- it didn’t look natural in anyway, and it added to the chills the village had already bestowed upon me. Soon it began to rain. And not rain that drizzles and then disperses, the kind of rain that is worshipped, the kind of rain that African’s dance for. So much fucking rain. I told Katie we bought the wrong jackets…we bought rain jackets…not typhoon jackets. Shut up, you had to be there!

After quickly changing our destination to the town of Quang Nhai 100km closer, we switched routes to the highway QL1/AH1 to make better timing. The rest of the road was uneventful. We arrived into town soaking wet looking for a bed.

I found a lady, but it would be more appropriate to say she found me. “hotel… hotel” she shouted, with a baby in her arm, running to get my attention. Wanting me in her hotel, she grabbed my arm with a free hand and, if I had let her, would have dragged me up three flights to the best room in the joint- but before it got to that, I asked her how much for the room.
“150!”
“150?”
“Yes…150!”
“Ok Katie, I’m going to check this place out- go next door and check out how much for a room there!” Seeing as that we had found a strip of hotels, all standing like tall houses in a row with giant garages as entrances with a little desk that reads Reception, we wanted to play the “which hotel is cheaper” game. So I walked inside with the woman, who adamantly put her baby on the ground in a “just stay here” sort-of-way, she went to get keys. Coming back, I asked her once again, because I don’t trust this woman in the slightest, “how much for a room?”

“300!” she said after fumbling around for a price, a reoccurring theme that would take place many times over this trip.
“Come on! What? You said 150!”
“No!”
“Yah you did!” I say as I turn my back and start to walk out.
“No…I never say 150”

Then the two of us get into some semantics, but I have already lost all interest in rooming at her hotel. I shout out to Katie, “babe, she just doubled the price on us…let’s go…”

As we get on our bikes the lady begins saying “ok…150…150!” I feel bad and all, and I would deep down love to support her business…ultimately for her babies sake…but not from someone playing tricks. She lost out and I hope she doesn’t pull that trick on anyone else. But really, I just hope she learned a lesson- but who am I anyways. So we cruise about four seconds up the street, pull into a driveway and she says she has a room for 100,000 dong ($5). We took it.

Makeshift market kitchen

Makeshift market kitchen

What does a $5 room look like? It looks like the most comfortable thing in the world when you’re soaking wet, so wet that even the inside of your pack is soaked, which was wrapped in a waterproof cover much like yourself. But really, a $5 room is equipped with a bed, table, TV, fan, and sometimes AC, hot water and a stranger walking into your room in the middle of the night. More than anything you could ever want when you’re on the road.

DAY 13- HOI AN BOUND

The next morning Katie searched for some dry clothes while I threw on the same getup as the day before. No point in changing and throwing a round of well-travelled clothes in a pack of semi-clean ones, it’ll stink up the pack like a shoe in a closet.  We had the last stretch of 100km to Hoi An, a town that had been on my radar when first researching this little journey of ours. Knowing nothing about Vietnam, I considered Hoi An for its fusion of beach-town meets classic French architecture. Other than a few photos on Google maps with Asian lanterns lining streets and hand-crafted dragon boats bobbing about, I had no clue what to expect. Nothing like betting it all on red and diving in head first.

The road was open as the sky above and our tanks full of petrol…a liquid, which is worth as much as gold to the biker going further. Leaving town we had no choice, there was only one road. Now a little deeper than half way into the country we had covered between 12 & 1300 km, and the road signs had now began to read ‘900km to Hanoi’, the capital in the communist north. Well it’s all commi really. Call it a socialist republic or whatever you like, but Vietnam’s steady minimum wage of ten cents an hour keeps everyone in check. God bless ya if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Well we weren’t heading to Hanoi, not just yet. We were heading to Hoi An. Same letters, but 700km closer. A town spared, much like Dalat, from the atrocities of war, and now stands as a UNESCO heritage site the whole village wide. And by driving along the highway I’m beginning to see why it was spared- there are no fucking signs ANYWHERE that point us in the right direction. Fortunately we had our GPS that kept us updated with “nope not there yet”’s & “just keep going straight.” We did.

Somewhere along the road we flew past a row of ancient temples that loomed behind gated grounds. Now I’m a firm believer that when the road offers you bounty, you reap the harvest; the whole point of exploring is to discover the unknown, and it’s hard to do that strictly glued to the seat of your bike. So we circled back and put on our adventure caps. Parking our bikes outside the gate, we got our first glimpse of the three towering temples without the blurs of flight.  Set behind a field of ruins, we humbly creaked past the gate, which, in a sense, acted as a portal back in time. The year 2013 had vanished. It was the 10th century. I try to visualize a group of people sitting around a stone table drawing up plans for these temples 1000 years ago and I’m lost in awe in every aspect of the word.
Trave Vietnam TowersOut of nowhere a woman walked over to us to sell us a ticket. It was Sunday and the grounds were closed, but money talks. I paid her 50 cents and she ripped a ticket out of her book. A bicyclist entered the grounds and walked over the same time as I asked the guide if she spoke English…she didn’t, but he chimed in. Wanting to know the history of the temples I now had a translator. It was a perfect balance of worlds colliding.

The three temples represented three gods: Vishnu on the left, Shiva in the center, and Brahma on the right. Made of a rustic brick they stood about as tall as a three-story building with the center at around four. Shiva’s temple was decorated with sculptures of Travel Vietnam tower thingsdancing women and a fight scene laid out like a comic strip all showing no wear. The facade of the temples were set like giant fireplaces, with an entrance eight feet high by four feet wide. Walking inside, the only light intruding was beckoned by the entrance. I heard the whoosh of bats before my eyes could adjust, then they came in clear. If I were a bat it would definitely be a nice place to call home and raise bat children- shielded from the elements and in the arms of god(s).

The ruins ahead were grounds for the worshippers. Now reduced to rubble, the crumbled perimeter still exists in a haunting exhibit of antiquity. It reminds me of The Hermitage back home in Dundas, a turn of the century estate nestled in the middle of the conservation area- it too a product of fragments from fire and a century of being exposed to the elements.

The outside of the temples have circular dents that can easily be distinguished and I’m told that it was from facing combat during the American War. It’s as though they have left scars on everything and everyone they came across. And even though the nation is in the process of rebuilding itself, it still wears the scars on the outside, a credo to forgive but never forget.

We left and pressed on eventually finding a placard the size of tombstone head half-hidden behind a bush that read Hoi An. Only 7km left.

Pulling into town my first impression was that it was just another tourist trap. Before we even stopped to get our bearing a woman on the back of a motorcycle was welcoming us to the city. “Where are you from?” -a line that would soon lose all value. “When did you get here?” “Just now”, I responded. “Are you looking for tailor?” Ahhh that’s the point. At least she got to it quickly. “No thank you” I replied, wanting to get on with my day. “You looking for cheap hotel? I can get room $8-$10”. Well ya I am, but you have already bothered me and thrown off my equilibrium so I excuse her even though the purpose of our stop was to get our bearings and locate a hotel to drop off our bags. It’s the same as leaving an airport and being bombarded by taxis. Yeah you need one, but you want to find it on your own terms not by some in-your-face-slick-talking-greasy-whore-monger. I prefer, and always have, the laid back salesman, the one in the back doing their own thing. Maybe they get business today, maybe they don’t. Undoubtedly they want it, but perhaps they are too tired of the hustle, annoyed with the hustle, cant bother with the hustle…so they just hang around waiting for people to come to them. Now those are my people-and you’ll always find them-they appear broken, but will warm up quickly. Good folks, probably been in the game a long time to see the flood of newcomers sweep in and steal their clientele. I get it, I understand it all too well, as a person that hates playing the game. I sympathize with these folks and try to seek them out any chance I can along my dusty foot journey.

After blowing her off…or leading her on…because these people really don’t get it, you could tell them right to their face “no…get out of here you bothersome flop, I don’t need your help or a room at your cheap hotel. I’d rather pay twice-fold than speak to your loose jaw a second longer” and they’d come right back with the old ok, you want a shirt made?- no self respect. If I were them I would have jabbed me right back, called me an American to really get my rotisserie churning, but it’s all dollars that makes this mad world circulate and if she had popped me back that would have put a halt to her little scheme.

We decided to drink instead of search for a hotel. A few beers would ease the process and we found a spot serving them up for 15 cents a draught.  (later in the week I ran out of money, or hadn’t any on me to be more accurate, so I asked Katie to borrow a 20,000 Dong bill so I could grab some beers while I went out writing…which is basically like saying- No- it’s exactly like saying- ‘hey babe, can I borrow a dollar? I want to go out drinking.’) The beer was good too, your average back-room lager, brewed and bottled in house and served up cheap. The restaurant beside had the same menu and 3000 Dong draught, but was utterly empty- I don’t know if had something to do with their name… Lamé Café.

It took an hour to find a hotel, and of course it was the first hotel in the book- pretty typical for us. The room was $8 but was about as small as a $4 room, though it was late and the cheapest we’d been offered. So we ended up staying three nights.