Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Could you move your yak, please, asshole?; A brief summary of our "ROAD" trip.

lj-music: Le Vibrazioni - dedicato a te

Fred mentioned, and I completely agree, that the moment you see an actual, honest to God YAK, you have definitively departed the perimeters of civilized society. Living here, I've gotten pretty good at swerving between herds of cows on the highway. Even oxen don't phase me. But the second you bring a frigging YAK into the mix, someone has gone too damn far. That shit has no business in the road. Not even when, and this is more common than not, the word "road" can only be applied in the most perversely distended sense of the word. Like, even if you drank enough to find Janet Reno sexually attractive, this would still look nothing like a road.
One of the most visible trends in Vietnam is the way everything completely deteriorates the farther North you go. About 250 Km from Hanoi, people stop recognizing the word "Toilet" (This is one of those small favors I thank the French for. Any actual word the Vietnamese might come up with for bathroom would just be a nightmare to pronounce.) and instead will only respond to the word "Basin," which in my opinion is about the most pathetically optimistic sobriquet on EARTH. We began stopping to pee BEFORE we got to the towns.
As is perhaps obvious or previously known to many of y'all, Fred and I spent the last ten days driving the MOST ridiculous motorcycles from Hanoi to the Northern towns that sit on the border of China. A moiety of highway six was being completely destroyed for no obvious reason by people with (God's truth) Sledgehammers. Just as the word "Road" in Vietnam represents a complex and often confounding myriad of loosely interpreted abstract concepts, so can the same philosophy be applied to the word "Work." Moving forward from this introduction one can easily extrapolate the diverse levels of ironic meaning inherent in the phrase "Road Work," or perhaps "'Road' 'Work.'"

If you ever feel the need for perspective, no experience will slap you in the face quite as hard as driving through a veritable river of mud laced with large, invisible rocks while trying desperately to continue breathing after catching a glimpse of the most intensely beautiful vista spreading out from either side. It's potentially physically and decisively mentally paralyzing. Even when you reach stretches that were somehow overlooked by Vietnam's elite team of anti-environmental delinquent demolition experts, the pavement is still cleverly laid with improbable death traps deviously disguised as THE ROAD. Nothing is safe. All food in the North is served with bottles of rice whiskey (even breakfast) which is necessary even for the locals to avoid stomach parasites and other unpleasant side effects of eating. At any moment, you could turn a corner and be confronted with a section of narrow pavement from which the guard rails have clearly been removed, and two buses are attempting to pass by one another in opposite directions. You begin to harbor the most pernicious and violent thoughts about chickens, which far from being the generalized objects of pity and scorn morph menacingly into malicious, hateful pathological genii determined to violate any hours of sleep you might think about enjoying. It becomes a minuscule step from bird to hell-hound when you start anthropomorphizing roosters. Things that you previously found perfectly reasonable, such as concepts of personal space, hygiene and standardized safety precautions somehow become a distant network of deranged ideology, and you feel perfectly legitimate in the most outrageous situations. (One of the things I never predicted having to say with equitable regularity: "Gee, I'm sure glad I have these drains in the floor!") Your new definition of "Unspoiled Country" translates directly to the remote contingency that you stumble across a minority hill tribe in which some previous prick has not already taught the five year olds to say "Fuck You!" instead of "Hello!"

You will eat ANYTHING.

As much as I seem to have written a description that may arouse the suspicion that Fred and I staggered back into Hanoi ravaged and hirsute and wild eyed, like political criminals imprisoned without human contact and then exposed to the most preposterous and perverted aspects of society, this trip was probably the most amazing thing I have ever done, and despite the amount of time and energy we spent trying to cope with the various travails of the odyssey (Fred's complete 360 off a rock pile in first gear after being hit by a bus in mud village comes to mind)I would do it again tomorrow. It's hard to believe I'll be home in less than a month; I'm going to have a lot of adjusting to do. (I promise not to eat soup with my hands and throw used toilet paper in the sink.) I miss you guys.
- E