Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Minsk Diaries: Ramble On Sessions

My theme song is "Vagabond" by Wolfmother, but never before have the lyrics rung so true as they do now.

"I'll tell you everything 'bout living free."

Chris and I parted ways (he was keen on beaches and booze, I on a brotherhood with the back roads), which left me liberated to roam and make my own decisions. So, I hit the open road, a vagabond with a nickelbag of words and the badges earned as a certified space cadet. I spent all day in my head, a sedentary cockpit of constant repose polar to the nomadic nature of my actions, and as a result, I feel the two weeks traveling north to south (Hanoi to Saigon) in Vietnam has been one of the more profound chapters of existence I have led.

One of the first things that I noticed was the vast range of reactions to the novel presence of my skin color and peculiar bodily structure to those surrounding me: steep, in both number and assortment of countenances. The deft jump of that fellow's eyebrow, the somewhat suggestive wink from a female, a child's ogle of pure joy, the old woman digging so deep into her nose I had to wonder what she could possibly be looking for, the standard (yet somehow always varied) "HELLO!" from a little one, and the look of pure disdain and hatred from someone who is tired of foreigners strutting through their lands. I liken it to an Avatar-like alliance (sorry it's the only movie I've seen in a hot minute), pieces are exchanged, fibers of communication swapped through gaze. There's that moment of realization, the momentary focus, then the gradual (I'm talking milliseconds here) blur of vision as the two parties pass, entangled expressions meet in an intangible embrace, then are torn apart from one another by the inevitability of time. Some attachments end in a Romeo and Juliet like parting of longing, others might need a bouncer to step in between and pull us apart. Passing so many souls makes for a taxing experience, as there is constant interaction, however fleeting, forcing my emotional being to traverse terrains more mountainous than my physical, peaks and troughs, a constant peak or trough (I do have to note that most experiences were positive). It's all just part of this unprotected, unlubricated intercourse of travel. I leave that visual to your discretion.

To me, it's beautiful that such random kindness is shared on the basis of two being cut from the same cloth, no matter the pattern. The inebriation from that feeling is one that never faded throughout.

It seemed as though the universe won't let me have a bad day. Each time I felt down, a maintenance man in an ever changing uniform would appear to tinker with my wires, change that flat, or supply a fresh spark plug in order to lift my spirits to an elevation of glee. The enlightened monk, a bizarrely nefarious English teacher, or a believed to be reincarnation of Ho Chi Minh himself - all unforgettable, and all truly sporadic, analogous to the personality of my speedometer, which hip-hopped its way horizontally on its axis to its own beat. Symbolism need not be noted.

I almost forgot about my chariot! My baby, the Red Baron. Our relationship made splendid progress, subsidized by roads that dare not go unmentioned.

i clutched her midrift with my knees, felt the thrum, a vibration needed at times for warmth, and at other times just out of pure lust. my hands cocky, coercing the beast to my slightest willing. the road married to the reptilian river running parrallel, a just beauty without the intent to please, yet doing so with its humble squandering of potential flow in favor of peace. im leaning again, a jumble of vectors, momentum, and a wildwild horse spirit, pushing her to the finite rink of relaxation and taxation, but never crossing that fabled line. oh the glorious, a Princess Mononoke road I've wandered over, lazy Sundays all over again as my mind fishtails, unable to catch hold of a foothold. valleys and peaks, placid reflections eternal proposed by rice paddies, lands capped with meek mist, not real clouds as far as vietnamese standards go. now the grade has something personal against the baron, has her chain smoking cigarettes from the rear to cope with this trial. did i just see a pterodactyl? change of scenery today, chameleon style for sure. from jurassics, where brocolli toped tooth picks speckled the green blanket of mountains scaled, where my existence was haloed by tufts of clouds, giving way to clint eastwood badlands, and scary heat, the sun exercising a scorched earth police on every atom it could find. parched ground teased mercilessly by thick, bodacious clouds. That is Unfair. my thoughts can take that muddy sideroad inhabited only by the halfnake child running after its own imagination, it can scramble through the ever green vistats of flaura and fauna slow boat its way down the lazy rivers relflecting the pressing sky.

none of this would be if it weren't for her.

My phrasebook lies twitching from its recent torture, but this situation is the only one where I condone anything short of water boarding. Anything to pry loose the necessary information to communicate. Vietnamese is difficult to a minuscule point that is so far past frustrating its difficult to find. It shares the Roman alphabet with English, but the tongues used to lay down the brick and mortar for exchange are from separate universes, a seemingly metaphysical distance at times. Attempts to speak the foreign language always came out botched or mutilated, as English is monotone compared to the song-like, tonal structure of Vietnamese (similar to its northern brother China). This makes interaction very difficult, and although I became skilled at prancing from page to page in my communication bible, it felt like everyone spoke a different dialect. So lost. Not to mention most relationships began with an inquiry of direction...

Adventures... from the $1 haircut (for those versed in Larson's FarSide, I looked like a product of the Schultz Bros. "Buck n Cut" - I swear that was the first time the guy lifted those scissors), to spirited karaoke with locals...at 11 in the morning, to attempting to deliver a police report via phrasebook (long, long story). Big Fun. But by the end of each day, I was sufficiently nackered. There was almost no way to completely wring out my bursting experience sponge on the daily, there was too much seen, too many revelations savored (especially the deep ones, i.e. ShamWows are made in Germany! - who knew?), the entire ordeal turned out to be quite that, an ordeal. Both physically and mentally racking. But it fits the mold, as Vietnam is an extreme place. Desired bleach white skin vs. scary black of the coffee, mountainous (ice) north vs flat (fire) south, and as already mentioned, the people, most men needing two packs a day, just to get by. And I think that's exactly why I loved Vietnam. Life's not all rainbows and butterflies (which is what Laos felt like at times), but those two were so much more beautiful after my fair share of engine oil and filthy looks. On the road of life, at some point or other, your going to find yourself broken down on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and you'll have to pop your own hood to see what's really going on...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Minsk Diaries: Initiation Sessions

Before I begin, I propose a photograph, from Thailand, in the hopes of acquiring some type of insurance...

when it goes (and it does, I assure you), it goes a little something like this...close to hell, but definitely not your little angel / applying for residency in bumf***ville, vietnam / Y.E.S. / "we are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it" / chain...sawed...a bit too literally / zephyr wayfarers /beelined it, keened it, missioned it / Powlesland you mingy dog, what in the HELL have you gotten us into now? /cheese with that whine? / snail of a drip, but a winged buzz / PHO X3 / you want ten dollars? / NOT so easy rider / were going to need bikkies with that, sorry / BOOM / free.

Granted, that's in no particular order, and doesn't make sense unless you have serious mental issues, but for all you visual learners...

An English bloke (a fellow gap-yearer) and I decided to raise the bar of adolescent idiocy, so the game of limbo goes a bit smoother for those who follow. On a bit of a whim, we bought Minsks: Russian made beasts, strong to no end, yet sturdy to the other end (breakdowns are norm), loud enough bring shame to muffles round the world, and ultimately, beautiful, beautiful things.

I've already described Hanoi traffic, which, when wading through, can seem a lot like a very real, fatal version of the game Frogger. It's one thing to walk across the street, but to drive amongst rage that is the road is a completely different animal altogether. I really loud, big, and scary animal. Especially if you've never driven a bike before. Genius? Check. So, a few hours after the forced growth of some rickety motor skills, we roared right into the fray, and somehow managed to escape the clutches of untamed Hanoi streets, heading north, into the wild, the mountaintop town of Sappa our destination. My chariot, the Red Baron (already a tender moniker, alluding to the intimate), is a thirsty one (gas costs about the same as in the states), but nothing compared to my parched being, yearning for a splash of experience from the road. Boy did we get drenched. Starting with the first day, the bikes were quick to bite the hand that feeds, resulting in a situation that found us broken down, stranded in the middle of nowhere, and forced to sleep at a very peculiar little man's house - the archetypal theme throughout was dealing with the failures of our steeds.

Since our bikes were being fed so well, we decided it would only be fair to implement the same culinary unselfishness upon ourselves. Ambrosial bowls of Pho (rice noodle soup) offered steam, twirling upwards, thawing frozen faces and satiating grateful lingual cavities. And then there's the coffee. I've figured out the advantage the Vietnamese hold in their evolutionary progressions: their lack of hair is designed to survive the insanely strong blends, which marshal all locks to strict attention. To me, it's perfect. It's drip coffee, and is served basically as a syrupy shot, with condensed milk to spare, there's no room in here for softies who like to water their brew down: go hard or go home. The anticipation is killer, similar to watching a pot boil, each drop teases you before the final indulgence.

I knew that riding was in my DNA, as I have a Hermann reputation to uphold, considering the diversion of my father and brother, but I had no idea of the way cruisin' would sweep me off my feet in such a romantic affair. I find it akin to skiing in many ways, but as if galloping about itself weren't enough, the scenes flitting past ensure constant stimulation: old women waddling about, hands behind their backs in traditional tribal garb, the water buffalo in repose (...in the middle of the road), the child, lost in mentation in the corner of the doorframe, old men ripping away at their tobacco bongs...you want to stop and interact with each and every one of them. The land itself is stunning: we floated along a countryside evocative of the land before time, next to rivers, through rice paddies etched into hillsides, we inchwormed our way up the sides of brooding fatherly figures, clad with milky sashes and scarves of mist, throwing a rager of a first and second gear party, with a soundtrack barring admittance to anything other than a scream or whine. Ahh to be free.

Crap weather most of the time, you couldn't see ten meters in front of you in Sappa, but that was hardly the point...
Our return to Hanoi made our foolishness concrete: a 10 hour day (6-8 is real long) at full throttle, winding up right where it all started, smack dab in the midst of all the fury, wholly delirious and exhausted, yet antsy with the forecast of further adventures.

I'll ride out to a JIJ (Jankowski Inside Joke)...Overall, I'm in love with my bike, on the topic of comfort though, I'd consider 8th Amendment infringements if anyone decides to throw the Hillary Clinton Nutcracker into the recycled gifts pile again - there's really no need as its all been done before.