An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. II

When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone…

This is a continuation of the following post: An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

At around six we all began to rise with the sun. I brushed my teeth and got back to the bus, laughing to myself about what I had just experienced. It was at that point that the driver told me to leave my bags on the bus and walk over to the border to get stamped in. In an inquiring tone I motioned him to him with my hands, using my index and middle fingers as make-believe legs and reaffirmed whether or not I was supposed to “walk to the border.” He said yes, mimicking my motions and adding that he would be meeting me on the other side. Cautious but reassured by the driver who went through lengths to treat me well and attempt to explain what was happening at different times, I took a small bag with me (laptop, camera, expensive shit) and left the big bag. I began to walk the kilometer or so to the official border-crossing. As I looked back at the bus, I was relieved to see the ladies doing the same as myself, walking a few hundred feet behind me. I waited for them and we exchanged words, which neither of us understood. They laughed, I laughed, and we continued walking. You’d think that a language barrier would result in struggle and conflicts but more often it results in laughter.

The border was easy, taking me ten minutes. In line, I was entertained by four UK travelers who were drunk as hell and trying to get across without the proper paperwork. It was barely 7:30 in the morning. Oh, and they were on motorbikes.

Photo Feb 22, 7 25 11 AM (1).jpg
Guy on left was struggling the most

Seeing that this was an ordeal, the guy in charge let me go ahead of them, I got stamped out of Laos, stamped into Vietnam, and was on my way. The driver was waiting where he said he would be, standing outside with my bag. He communicated that I would now change buses and get on the sleeper bus. We said our goodbyes. I made it a point to shake his hand and wave to the ladies. Overall, I left that bus feeling quite alright, tired physically but invigorated mentally.

I laughed when the crew of the sleeper bus put my bag in their compartment and told me to walk straight for an undefined distance to an undefined space– somewhere over there, further past the border-crossing; like the previous driver, they motioned that they’d pick me up there.  Since previously putting all my faith in a bus that was much less maintained and reliable-looking, I began walking without hesitation, giving them a thumbs up in the process. When the bus came it drove past me. They pointed further ahead to a gas-station that was obfuscated from view by a bigger truck.  They  honked and waved for me to continue. I laughed again– and walked.

The sleeper bus was nice. However, I still can’t stop wondering why I hadn’t been on this bus from the beginning. Was I scammed after all, despite my attempts to thwart any such plan? I will never know. I fell asleep on this nice bus, which had a bed-like seat that reclined nearly all the way and had enough leg-room to not feel cramped. However, the distance from the border to Hue was only three hours. When getting to Hue, they yelled at me to wake up, shouting”Hue! Hue!” while poking my shoulder. The other passengers laughed and in a sing-song manner, semi mocking the Vietnamese music they played throughout the entire ride, I reiterated “Hue! “Hue!” as I got out of my seat and grabbed my bag. They dropped me off at a gas station, opened the compartment and put my bag on my ground as I struggled to put my boots on. Before I even accomplished this, the guy ran back to the bus, which had already started moving and hopped inside. I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was in Hue and had no battery on my phone. I asked the guy at the gas station where the train station was and he motioned behind the shop. Confused and doubtful, I walked to the back and found nothing but a filthy toilet.  “Well,” I thought, “I do have to go.” I took peed, careful not to touch anything, even the door, or slip on the piss all over the floor. It started to feel like Bangkok all over again and alarm bells began going off in my head. I exerted some effort to quiet them all and trotted away with no real direction or purpose, just hoping for a landmark.

While walking, I fended off the constant motorbike taxis trying to give me a ride, telling me the train station was far, etc. I embraced what I was doing and took my chances. Besides, if I wanted a ride at any point, I could throw a stone in any direction and it would hit someone willing to drive me. Within 15 minutes of walking I sighted the train station, bought a ticket to Hanoi (another 13 hours), and proceeded to kill some time– four hours to be exact.

I killed time by going to an abandoned water park, Ho Thuy Tien, at the suggestion of my friend Roxie. The size of the place compounded by the fact that it was abandoned, adding to the surreal feel of it all. The park’s center-piece stood in the center, by the lake–a dragon whose mouth one could walk Photo Feb 22, 11 21 26 AM.pngup to and look outside at the whole of the park. I met some Canadians there and we walked around, chatting. After a while, I got a ride back to the train station and hopped. For the next 14 hours, I shared a room with three young female monks who were absolutely adorable and spoke no English. After waking up from a few hours nap, they offered to share their noodles with me, beckoning me to follow them. I didn’t know where they were going, I just followed behind. Next thing I know, we have gone through eight cars in the train, ending up in the staff area. Speaking Vietnamese, the girls bridged the language gap and within a few minutes we brought the noodle soups back to the car and ate. Our only communication revolved around smiles and laughter as we ate and showed each other pictures of our lives.

Their stop was just before mine. An hour later, at five in the morning, I arrived in Hanoi. It was raining and cloudy– colder than I expected. After searching for an open hostel to no avail, I found a Circle-K, which is the Vietnamese equivalent of 7/11 and had a strong coffee. I remained there  for several hours typing and waiting for hostels to open.

As morning came about, it hit me: I live in Hanoi now.


The dragon’s mouth. 





That Land of Half-Truths

A stranger that I have only known for two days noticed the sadness that I carried with me tonight and approached me as I straddled the ledge of the hostel’s fifth floor, overlooking the center of Patze, Laos. With a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and an inexplicable sadness in my eyes, I automatically responded with a fake smile: “I just get like this sometimes. But don’t worry, I wont jump. I am not depressed or anything.” We both kind of laughed and she made an enlightening comment about how the fall wouldn’t do much anyways, I would just bounce off the aluminum roof below or get caught in the wires. We laughed and she left. I finished my beer and felt like crying.

Despite having so much time to myself in an environment that facilitates positive emotions– I mean, come on, backpacking for an undefined length of time is a dream for many, and it has been exactly that for me, for years– I still experience many of the same negative emotions that I did back home. That melancholic weight that just seems to yank me towards the ground persists; like gravity, but so much stronger. And so much more invasive. Tonight was just one of those nights. Those closest to me have seen me in these “bouts,” if I can call them that. My response has been typically to drink, preferably alone, and reflect while listening to a bunch of sad fucking music. I can’t say that it helps the feeling, or that I feel even remotely better, but there is a release that occurs in those moments. In the morning, I wake up and everything is (usually) back to normal.

In secret, I have seen a therapist. That was a load of shit; the first two meetings were purely introductory, the “tell me about yourself” shit, which leads me down a diatribe of self-pity and mopiness. Nobody wants to hear it and I sure as hell don’t want to repeat it. Naturally, I stopped going. My remedy since has not changed much. Maybe, at most, I surround myself with others. That just results in people telling me that I look or feel sad, down, depressed, or just plain weird; thanks, for the reminder. Fuck off.

But now things are different: I don’t have a job, I don’t own much (neither here nor back in America), nothing and nobody is tying me down to anything. Yet, here I stand, in Pakze, Laos, half-way across the world sometimes feeling the same as I did back home. Honestly, I don’t believe myself to be depressed. Searching around me, here in Asia, I find no cause for it. The cause is not external, it is interior. I finally realize (and actually believe) something that someone close to me told me years ago: I lead a life of small, half-truths because I am not honest with myself.

These half-truths affect others, but they are not malicious and I don’t even intend for them to exist. I guess that is usually the case with others, though.

These half-truths, or lies, are lies to myself; unfortunately, they just sort of leak onto others oozing like the clear puss from a scab. You only notice it when you touch it, often by mistake in the midst of haphazard movements.  The irony is that I have always considered myself so aware; about other people, their feelings, and their problems. Somewhere along the way I lost touch with myself, with my feelings, and my problems. This must have happened long ago. So now, here sits an the overly aware but miserably unaware person. Perhaps, as a collective, we are all so incredibly aware and knowledgeable about this or that, yet hopelessly unaware of the very essence of ourselves and of each other. Or, perhaps it really is just me.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This isn’t mopiness, like the introductory-therapy-session type of sappy talk I engaged in with my two-time therapist years ago. This is progress. I feel some weight being lifted. In a way it’s more like “promissory weight,” as in a future weight being lifted. But that weight is so heavy, that despite being in the future, I already feel ripples as they travel backwards in time. It’s a reverse-drip, the water-droplet coming up and into the faucet; the neurotransmitters flowing up-stream, which they almost never do.

I will transform this land of half-truths into a land of authenticity, both with myself and with others. Reading Clarice Lispecter’s novels, wherein she deals with the dilemma of how to say things that shouldn’t be said (for a variety of reasons), I internalized that dilemma. Yet, unlike her characters, I never let those scenarios play out as they should have; I stopped short. I am not as strong or determined like her characters. I know what I have to do. I can’t have my cake and eat it too.

I think these next couple of months will be challenging in many ways but not in the way I thought they would. I (hope) they will uplift me and take away the weight that I feel when I lay in bed awake at night, thinking, thinking, thinking, not sleeping. I hope, too, that they will lessen the weight on those affected by my land of half-truths.

As I walked past my friend, after writing this, words were exchanged: “You don’t look so sad anymore.” I responded by insinuating that it must be the beer(s). As I looked away, again caught in a moment of vulnerability and surprise, there was a pause and a response: “No, I see it in your eyes.”

I Could Not Bear a Life with Everything Perfect

Before leaving, I had already made up my mind to travel by land as much as possible. Why? Well, first it’s cheaper. More grueling, sure, but cheaper. It also provides me a better view of the landscape– from within, as opposed to above. So far I have only taken one flight, which was the one from LAX to Bangkok. This flight alone totaled 20 hours. Thankfully, there was a layover in Taipei. There, I was able to stretch my legs, albeit standing in lines for two hours to transfer over. A stretch nonetheless, I suppose. I was worried as hell about the time, though. My flight left in 30 minutes and by my judgement I wasn’t leaving the second line anytime before the next hour. Shortly after, a slender, GQ-looking Asian airport staff-member pulled aside all of us scheduled to be on the flight to Bangkok,giving us a “fast-pass,” which was nothing more than him just waving us past everyone including security. Our bags weren’t even inspected.

A few hours later I arrived in Bangkok; but my bag did not. “Was I at the wrong baggage claim?” That didn’t seem to be the case considering I recognized people on my flight all around me. “Maybe there was a secondary baggage claim for larger bags?” Nope. I tried to smile as I walked around, confused and a little worried. Then, amidst a bunch of Thai words, I read my name on a sign at bag-check stand. “That’s strange,” I thought. That’s without a doubt my name.” As it turns out, out they did not have enough room for my bag. Just my bag. My bag was literally the only bag that did not make it onto the flight. I can honestly say I was relieved that; it wasn’t stolen, or “lost in transit.” Still, I was able to smile. They promised me that it would arrive on the next flight and that they would deliver it the next day at the latest. Having no choice, I smiled, signed, and turned towards the exit, still not sure which way that even was. Of course, I went the wrong way and had to double back, towards the actual exit.

I felt surprisingly optimistic and happy despite having basically lost everything I came with.

I can still recall with absolute clarity the moment I walked out of Sukhumvit Airport with nothing but a wallet, passport, the clothes on my back and big fucking smile.

As of now, my running list of transportation times and types is as follows:

20 hours worth of flight-time;
32 hours of bus or van;
10 hours by scooter/motorcycle;
15 hours by boat;
5 1/2 hours by commuter train;

Today I leave Van Vieng to Pakze by bus. This will add another 16 hours of travel-time to my growing list. In a way, it has become a sort of game. “Can I do this whole trip without flying, even once, aside from my flight into Asia?” I think I can. When I think of how uncomfortable it will be though, I just remind myself that I am not here for comfort. At least, not this kind of comfort. In fact, in more ways than one, I am here to enjoy a certain degree of discomfort. A discomfort, however, that will be a catalyst to other things, perhaps a new way of thinking, a higher degree of patience, or the ability and desire to just be okay with everything that happens around me. This gets me thiking about one of my favorite authors. In college, I identified wholeheartedly with Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet of Apache/Chicano descent. In one of my favorites, he writes: “I could not bear a life with everything perfect.” This quote has kept repeating itself along my travels. I see people get so frustrated because their food hasn’t arrived in a timely manner at a restaurant, or the street vendor, taking her time, takes up 15 minutes to make you a sandwich; sit with it, enjoy it, cherish it. Everything is fine and there is, in fact, nothing wrong. At least not until you make it.