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Published: March 16th 2006
all those ducks are alive and flapping around as they are speeding around on a moto
It was one hell of a week. There's nothing quite like speeding around on the back of an old Honda Federal through the Vietnamese countryside. I should have been killed a thousand times over, or at least been hideously maimed, but I survived the week relatively unscathed except for a stomach bug that all 3 of us Westerners got. I saw so many things that I'm getting quite overwhelmed trying to figure out how to describe them in a couple of crummy blog entries. As I am not feeling inclined to spend the remaining 4 months of my time in Asia here in this Cambodian internet cafe writing down everything, I will describe the highlights.
We stopped all the time- every 20 minutes or whenever we were numb- to talk to people, to watch people working, to see the view. I saw so many cool things. I saw a group of prisoners dressed in striped jumpsuits breaking rocks out on the highway, although the stripes were vertical so its not quite like the old cartoons.
We met so many wonderful people, some of which had never met a foreigner. We stopped at a village that Duc had never stopped
The people use bombs from the American war to hold pots over the fire. I was a bit nervous but I figured if they haven't blown up in 40 years why would they start now?
at before and the whole village came out to see me, as they had never had a foreign visitor. I stood there for a couple seconds trying to rub out the red mark the helmet had left on my forehead, resisting the urge to start tap dancing or whistling "Dixie" or whatever you do when a bunch of people are staring at you. Its a bit stressful because you are the first and possibly last foreign visitor these people might ever see so you represent all Western people and you must make a good impression. I gave all the kids some pencils- everyone desperately needs school supplies, we took some pictures and they asked me to write something in a notebook, which I did saying thank you for letting me visit your village and for your hospitality etc, and then this girl about 17 years old gave me a bag that she had made herself. Its one of my favorite possessions because a girl in a Central Highlands village (Duc does not even remember the name of it) gave it to me. It was a lot of fun getting off the beaten path, but after all the attention sometimes you
just crave the anonymity you get in places like Nha Trang and you just want to be another bloated white face in the crowd.
I guess the lessons I learned during the week were:
1. I was surprised to see the work involved in producing things I always assumed were made by robots or something of that ilk. Silk, tofu, bricks all take lots of humans working and the work is usually incredibly mundane and repetitive. They work so hard. It really makes you appreciate the career choices we have.
2. How incredibly stupid and irrelevant the vast majority of things we call "problems" really are
3. The results of extreme human determination. The things they did, the way they lived to get what they wanted- "liberation" or "reunification"- I can not imagine caring that much about anything, ever. I blame MTV.
And most importantly
4. Actions have consequences. As (relatively) fantastically wealthy Americans, our actions affect so many people, and we will never hear or think about 98% of those consequences. The price of gas in Vietnam is about $2.40/ gallon- even more than it is in Oklahoma, which must be astronomical when
you are living on $1 a day. Duc said the price of gas has increased ten times over the last year or two. Why? The Iraq conflict. In many ways Vietnam has done a spectacular job recovering from the American war, but in some ways its still reeling- most notably the way the current government still treats the Vietnamese and Montagnards that sided with the US and the South Vietnamese.
One European started lecturing Duc and some other Vietnamese guides about Vietnam's problem and how there is no wildlife because the Vietnamese eat all the wildlife and how Vietnam's human rights record was not as good as China's, because China has a pretty decent human rights record. Duc gave me this look like, what the hell do you white people smoke all day? and all I could do is laugh and point out that Stephen Colbert was very disappointed that China kicked the United States's ass in the capital punishment Olympics. It was just weird. Europeans should know that its impolite to tell another person that their country of origin is a shithole, unless the other person happens to be an American and then its fair game. Yes, Vietnam
has its problems, but so do all countries.
Duc was a great traveling companion. The first day when we were in the Central Highlands he started throwing clovers at my fleece jacket like some sort of makeshift dartboard, and I told him he better not be sick of me as we had 5 more days together. We spent the 3 days in the Central Highlands with some other Easy Riders and tourists which was very fun but we went on to the Mekong Delta alone. It was a solid week of almost constantly being together so I definitely am feeling his absence here in Cambodia. He even asked me to sing for him, which almost shocked me into silence because usually I resort to forcing my talents on captive audiences, but I pulled through with Steppenwolf, the natural choice when you are on a motorcycle. I respect him very much, he's led an amazing life, and the only reason I did not start crying upon our separation was because we made a deal to do another tour when I come back to Vietnam in May.
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