Thursday, January 14

Vietnam: Q&A

Here's a rundown of every conversation I've had with someone I'd just been introduced to for the last like six months:

Person: So, what do you do?
me: I work nights
P: and during the day?
me: Nothing, really. . . . Well, I'm planning this trip.
P: Oh yeah? Where to?
me: Vietnam.
P: Oh, wow! That's so cool! Why Vietnam?
me: . . . It's kind of a long story . . .

[occasionally I launch in to a long story that I'm sick of telling]
P: Oh. Um, interesting.

I have a self-catalyzing tangential way of telling stories. A story often reminds of another side-story, explanation, point of interest, preface, or caveat, which in turn has its own side-stories, explanations, points of interest, prefaces, and caveats. It's kind of like a nuclear reaction. By the time the smoke clears, it's fairly rare that I've even remember what I started out to try to say, when speaking.

Anyway, without intent to bore people I've just met with my disorganized ramblings, I sort of brush off questions with brusque replies. That being said, let me explain from the top: Why Vietnam?

The Email
I've had the same email address, for, as I write this, exactly six years and ten days. Google Mail's spam filters are the best I've ever seen. They regularly filter out the vast majority of junk mail, and almost never send good emails to the junk directory. I mean, it's not like I don't ever get junk mail in my inbox, it's just super-rare. Like this one time two or three years ago, I got an email from someone from a travel agency complaining about some American IT guy blowing up computers at the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam. I skipped over it without a further though.

Then a few months later, I got another isolated random email, containing just a rave flyer (click for full-size):

cycling vietnam giles cooper portsmouth noreast bike bicycle
I was thinking, wow, that's pretty cool. I guess I got on some mailing list for working at The Red Door or something. Cool art, exotic locale. Too bad it's on a Saturday; I have to work that night. Also, Vietnam is the exact opposite side of the world from Portsmouth (by longitude). I somedays can't even get it together to put pants on and leave my house. I tossed it in the back of my mind and carried on about my day. I mean, seriously, Vietnam? That's really far away. Also I think there was a war there or something. Anyway, I archived the email and didn't think much more about it. That is, other than a lingering desire to get out of this stifling festerpool of a crapopolis that is Portsmouth, New Hampshire. And I say that in the most affectionate way possible.

Another month or two later I logged in to check my email to find a barrage of emails asking me for help securing lodging at a four-star hotel in hanoi for several DJs and electronic music acts like Girl Talk, Ratatat, and The Handsome Furs. At this point I began to realize that perhaps there was some kind of email mix-up. I checked back in the conversation threads and found that there is apparently a New Zealander, Giles Cooper who has this gig, Club for Art and Music Appreciation which has a yearly Hanoi International Music Festival. Apparently people were forgetting his email address had a number in it or something and were sending emails to me. I forwarded him all the emails and let him know.

Which Got Me Thinking
How all that became me deciding to go, I'm not sure. I guess it's just time. That restless mid-20's see-something-before-you're-too-old instinct, I suppose. I like to joke that I'm planning a Talented Mr. Ripley scenario. But, seriously. I think it started with a masochistic urge to ride my bike farther than I had ever imagined, till I was sick and tired and starving and in a place where I could not communicate with anyone. Vietnam seems a good a place as any.

I've read a ton about Vietnam. I've learned how to say tôi không hiểu tiếng việt. Kind of. People are eager to impart wisdom such as "they like Americans" and "don't dig up any metal things you see sticking out of the ground in the middle of the jungle" and "bring some spare tubes for your bike." Hmph. My only real concern about physical danger in Asia is getting tagged by a car or motorbike in traffic. I've got a helmet and a first aid kit though, and I understand how the traffic food chain works in developing nations.

So there you have it.

Any questions?

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