(Failure to) Quicken the Pace

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog.

via Daily Prompt: Quicken

Today was supposed to be the day that I made magic happen: apply for (more) jobs, run some errands for the house to pick up things like a blanket so I don’t freeze again tonight, write, and begin learning the Vietnamese alphabet. However, my efforts to quicken the pace were halted. The motorbike I rented and have been riding around town had other plans for the day, which consisted entirely in fucking with me. It was like bad joke. Apparently, she thinks this is a game. This ain’t a game…

At first I thought it was just my inexperience with carburetors– “should the choke be up or should it be down? I don’t know but it’s freezing. Let’s try both.” Neither my Yamaha R6 nor the Honda CRF 250 had carbs. After fiddling with the choke in different settings, I at least got the bike to turn on, stay on, and not die when in idle. “Eureka!” Or so I thought. “Nope!” I leave the cafe in Tây Hồ and head towards my apartment in Ba Đình. Out of nowhere the bike simply turns off despite being in fourth-gear, cruising. Confused, I try giving it gas to no avail. Still coasting, I try to start the thing while in motion using the electric starter. I pull over, thinking I simply ran out of gas. The bike felt as if it wasn’t getting enough of something. Eight hours later I still don’t know what that something was because it wasn’t gas; I digress. I pulled over to the side, checked the gas levels since I have no fuel gauge. “It’s got gas,” I thought to myself as I jiggled the bike and had gasoline splash around the floor, lightly, leaving a urine-colored blotch on the pavement. For the next twenty minutes I fiddled around with the choke again just to try and get the damn thing to start. However, the things I did before did nothing.

After trying unsuccessfully a little longer I felt silly. I was stopped right in front of  a car-wash and the people kept looking over, exchanging glances with one another, and speaking in Vietnamese, laughing. I don’t speak Vietnamese. I bet they were commenting on how I had probably never ridden a motorbike before; “silly tourist”. I played with the petcock again, looking busy and telling myself their bikes probably break down as well. One of the workers comes over and I presume he asked if I needed help. However: language barrier. Also: masculinity. So, I politely decline and hop on the bike. I hobbled over to a friend’s house about 2-km away from where I pulled over, arriving sweaty and gross, simultaneously freezing and over-heating from the exertion. He isn’t home but his roommate lets me in. Waiting, I fall asleep on another friend’s bed. When I wake up an hour and half later he still does’t seem to be home. Nobody is. Feeling like I should give it another go, I fiddle again with the stupid nobs: what I believe was the fuel ratio knob, the choke, and engine idle RPM speed. At that point, I don’t even know what I did but it worked. I left the house, eager to get home and begin my day.

The plot thickens. I pass the round-about, wait at the same light, and take the same turn to the main road to my house as the bike stutters again, stalling and slowing.  I finish coasting and realize I am in front of the same place– again! At this point I could do nothing but laugh as I make eye contact with the same individuals from a few hours earlier. This time I don’t even pretend to know what I was doing. They invite me into their little outside waiting area; it was made of bamboo and covered with tarps, featuring a bong for thuoc lao, a table and a tea-set. They invite me to sit, where they give me seemingly endless cups of tea. One guy in particular seemed to understand English quite well although he either couldn’t or wouldn’t speak English. However, he understood that I needed to call my rental guy.  I show him my phone, which is at 2% as it always seems to be when I need to make calls. He lets me use his. After I hang up with the rental people he texts them the address. We wait.

I must have been there at least an hour drinking tea and trying thuoc lao as we laughed. They had a fire going to ward off the cold and ash rained on us the whole time as if it were snowing. Were it not for the Vietnamese faces around me, I could’ve sworn I was in Kieslowski film, in Poland or Russia. Meanwhile, the two shackled dogs barked and fought each other amidst the ash, smoke, and smog. The guy sent over by the rental company finally arrives, smiling. He fiddles with the same damn knobs I fiddled with it. However, maybe he actually knew what he was doing. It’s possible. Although the bike still didn’t feel 100% as it had a few days before, it got me home. I hadn’t eaten so I parked my bike at home and left the maze of alleys to treat myself a little; today was a little stressful.

So far, this is the only productive thing I have done all day. Today I failed to quicken the pace but perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck.

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.

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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.

 

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The dragon’s mouth. 

 

 

 

 

An Exercise in Patience & Calm Pt. I

My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

I have just arrived in Vietnam. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would make it through or expire on the way. It didn’t start well. Upon asking to purchase a ticket from Pakse in Laos to Hue in Vietnam (after a 3 hour van ride from Don Det), the guy laughed at me and asked if I was sure. “Yea, I am quite sure,” I replied, trying to glean the humor from his sarcasm. I knew the reason for his response: the trip from Pakse to Hue was notorious for being absolute shit in every way possible. Not only were the buses supposed to be crap, old and barely functioning, but the roads were worse. Compound that with drivers, who often drive the whole 13-hours with little rest and you’ve got a recipe for an awful time. After handing him the 220,000LAK, he gave his disclaimer: “This is going to be the worst ride of your life,” which he followed by stating that he would rather not even sell tickets to this route–“but if I don’t, the others will.” I took the ticket and informed him, in my own sarcastic tone, that he really sold it. I did confess that I had already read about the route’s problems and knew what I was in for: an experience.

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From Pakse to Border

The bus didn’t leave until five and it was two-thirty. He offered a shower, which I accepted. The past week of Mekong-water showers had made my skin feel funny despite the liberal use of soap. Hungry, I went across the street to Jasmine, an Indian/Malay place that I frequented in Pakse and which had a sister restaurant on Don Det. I showered, ate, played with the little girl they were taking care of then then hopped on the free tuk-tuk to the bus station.

Looking back, the bus wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Actually, I think it was pretty bad, I just have a tolerance for that kind of shit, often necessitated by my being polite to others. After all, the driver is barely to blame for the shitty route and shitty bus– a job is a job. In Thai we use the phrase mai pen rai to signify that a transgression (whether real or perceived) doesn’t matter; it’s okay! During my month in Laos I learned the corresponding phrase to be bor pen yang. It certainly helped that I was traveling alone. As I arrived to the station I asked which bus was leaving to Hue. The guy pointed to what I kindly describe as piece of crap with decals that read “VIP” on the front and sides. The driver was washing it diligently though, which gave me some hope; if he takes that much effort to wash and clean his bus, despite the fact the he is about to drive it through the dustiest of roads for 12 hours, I felt a little reassurance with he whole endeavor.

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VIP AF

I hopped on and was surprised to see only twelve seats and none of them filled. He motioned to me, implying that I should eat and told me that we didn’t leave until eight– it was five. The lady who sold me the ticket from downtown Pakse said the bus left at 5:30. Knowledgeable of a scam in which you pay for a VIP bus and get put on a lesser bus, I walked around, asking the ticket booths and other bus drivers which bus was going to Hue. They all pointed to the scrap heap. “OK,” I thought to myself. I walked back, drank a beer, had some soup, then had the genius idea of stringing up my hammock in the back of the bus, where there were no seats, just empty space. Hello, travel-hack! I perked up, thanking myself for dragging the hammock around with me everywhere I went. The driver laughed when he boarded the bus and saw me hanging and swinging from a bright-orange hammock strung along the inside of his bus; I doubt he had ever seen such a sight.

Just before eight, the rest of the passengers arrived, all four of them. All were women, one of which always held a large stack of bills for some reason and would pull it out, count it, and return it to her bag. She must have done this a hundred times. After the first few times, I lost curiosity in the matter. While the hammock was great, swinging back and forth with the sway of the bus, it was short-lived. Photo Feb 21, 6 32 26 PM.jpgOur first stop was just forty minutes from the bus stop, whereupon the driver and few guys filled up the entire back of the bus with goods. There were hand-woven baskets, red bags, blue bags, and green bags– oh, and bags of charcoal. Even now, in Vietnam, I still have flour residue from the the bus. Reluctantly, I took the hammock down and sat in a seat that reclined–for the time being. Within the next six hours we made five more stops, each to pick up more goods. I had no idea a bus could be packed so tightly. The bags contained flour, sugar, and rice. Mind you that each time they stopped to load the bus, everybody had to leave and wait outside, meaning that the last two stops I was awakened to the driver yelling “You! You!” That was the signal for me to get up and out of the bus so they could load. Mai Pen Rai, I told myself. By the end of that last stop, there were bags in between every seat, and in every nook of the bus, including the top and bottom compartments. My seat no longer reclined, since I was in the far back. However, the lady in front me only had me behind her, not a hundred bags of rice, so she reclined all the damn way, forcing me to move a seat over, which was so stacked with rice at my feet that I was practically in a squatting position.

At some point, I managed to fall asleep, awoken only by the driver throwing a blanket over me, which was a nice gesture. The only time I woke up after that was somewhere in the early hours, after we had already stopped a few kilometers outside the border to sleep, waiting for it to open. My legs were cramped. I really needed to stretch! Thanks to the rice bags, my own bag, the women’s bags, and bus driver who was sleeping on the floor along the walkway, stretching was literally impossible. So, I ended up falling asleep with my legs on the top of the headrests of my own seat, upside down. To anybody who saw, specifically the lady to my left, I looked insane…

To read the rest of my trip to Hue and then to Hanoi, stay tuned– it will be up tomorrow. After all, I have to give you freeloaders something to look towards to, no? I can’t give you everything all at once! 

Greetings from Circle-K in Hanoi’s Old Quarter!

P.S. Here is the little girl I was playing with in Pakse just before leaving– she really wanted to play with the phone! Reminded me of my own sister, Isabella.

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Cutie!

Bangkok to Khao Yai National Park

I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing.

It’s finally time I start writing about my adventure traveling throughout Asia

My travels began in Bangkok, which treated me poorly; see previous post. Upon waking up on my third day I encountered two people whom I had met the previous night. They were Chilean and had just arrived in Bangkok. I had met the brother in the morning. He was staying in the same dorm as myself. I, being an early riser, was walking about as he continually got up to go to the bathroom, which at some point resulted in a brief exchange of words. I’m confident he was wasted the night before. His sister I met the night before at around three in the morning. It was by no means a formal meeting; she waltzed in barefoot, her brother nowhere in sight, still dancing to whatever tune was in her head from the bar she had just left. We went upstairs at the same time and I, directly behind her, thought to myself that she was walking really funny. noticed she was walking funny. Assuming she was just drunk, I chuckled to myself and continued towards the men’s dorm as she continue hobbling up to the female floor. I later learned that she had pedal edema
(swelling of the foot) due to her recent work in a New Zealand fish factory, in which the typical shifts were twelve hours. For her job, she had to stand for those twelve hours. In any case, breakfast was free at the hostel. Naturally, sober, hungover, or still drunk, everybody convened. There, we formally introduced one another while eating scrambled eggs and toast.

The fact that I spoke decent Spanish allowed us all to connect pretty quick, which was nice. Being sick the entire day before, alone, I not only enjoyed the company but also the brother-sister relationship dynamic they shared; it reminded me of my own siblings. We warmed up to each other. My knowledge of (Mexican) Spanish was very arduously tested through their Chilean Spanish, which was filled with slang and words that meant something else than what I previously thought they meant. As we began to wrap up breakfast, the brother invited me to join them going up North. Not only was the South flooded at the time but I also, for whatever reason just didn’t feel like going to the South yet (and still don’t– I left Thailand without heading that way). Heading North felt right.

After breakfast, we walked outside and hailed a cab. We wanted to go to the bus/train station, telling him we were on our way to Khao Yao National Park before stopping in Lop Buri. Khao Yai was as beautiful as any national park: wildlife, although we only saw monkeys and the occasional bird. While writing this I actually learned that several parts of Danny Boyle’s film, The Beach, featuring a young Dicaprio, were shot here. Lop Buri, on the other hand, was small and known only their insanely brazen and numerous monkeys. They were known to walk all over you and known to pull passports, wallets, and whatever other things lived in traveler’s pockets. Admitting it was a slow day for him, he volunteered to drive us all the way to Khao Yai National Park, which was quite a distance. However, after calculating the cost and time of getting there by bus, we accepted. We were also limited by the sister’s feet, which were quite swollen and would remain so for at least a week. The price was about the same.

About two hours later, we arrived in Khao Yai. Almost as soon as we arrived, just after we had spent a few kilometers swerving through monkeys while altogether stopping the car and letting them cross at their leisurely pace in some points, it began raining. It was mostly a light rain but our poor cab driver’s car started having issues going up the long winding asphalt roads. We were either too heavy or his car too weak– or both. In any case, the brother and I continually hopped out to push the car up, allowing it to gain enough traction and speed to make it up hills. On the third or fourth time however, his car started smoking and he pulled over, clearly distraught. I don’t know shit about cars and the language barrier prevented me from understanding what was actually wrong with it; it’s likely he also didn’t know. However, he was very insistent on taking us to our destination and also clearly apologetic. We didn’t blame him and did the best we could to console him and let him know it was OK. Despite his still insisting on being able to take us, he conceded and helped us flag down a car, explaining to them the situation. They smiled at us and motioned for us to hop on the back.

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The Duo

Stuffing ourselves and our large packs among camping equipment and boxes, we sat our butts on the rainy floor of the pickup and began our two-day hitch-hiking excursion in and out of Khao Yai National Park.

The family who was transporting us were also clearly looking to camp. Together, we were turned down by two camps due to them having reached capacity. The campground that didn’t deny us entry was completely packed– tents setup in every direction. “Fuck,” one of us murmured. It was the weekend. We had no tents and relied on rentals, of which we quickly learned were already all taken. Of course, the rental people spoke absolutely no English and were clearly unsympathetic to the fact that we spoke no Thai; barely any eye contact was made on their behalf, which I took in stride and smiled regardless. A kind Thai man in front of us, who spoke English quite well, told us that if we waited there would likely be items returned which we could rent. We waited. Not long after, people returned some equipment and we managed to get a tent. ONE tent. I don’t know why we were trying to skimp on money at that point, it was our first week of traveling. However, we did, even though we could have gotten a bigger tent, or a second, small tent. Our single tent was only made to fit two, which was clearly stated everywhere. Big mistake.

As you can imagine, the night was rough– more for me than the siblings, who had each other to lean on. The brother and sister slept like rocks, quickly and easily. I was amazed. After sitting there, crammed against the side with a rock poking into my lumbar, bags at my feet and head, I gave up and decided I’d rather sleep outside; mosquitoes were not a huge issue from what I saw. Besides, I this cocoon-sheet-mummy thing, which would keep me protected from bugs. Upon walking outside to a suitable place, I find that the grassy floor was damp and out of the question. I had few options, of which the more
suitable was the top of a stone garden hedge whose surface was somewhat flat; at least it was consistent– no sharp protrusions. My other option was a cement bench but I found the rocks somewhat ergonomically geared to the contours of my body whereas the bench was just flat and hard. I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my  newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing. With no choice, I squeeze back into the tent where I nudge myself in the corner, closest to the zipper-entry, with my DSLR at my feet and using a shirt as my pillow. I suppose exhaustion overcame me. I managed to get some semblance of sleep, waking three hours later to sunlight and heat.

During the day, the brother and I trekked for some hours, moving through the jungle-like terrain that ran parallel to a river. Despite crocodile warning signs advising against swimming, we saw none. We also saw no elephants, which we had hoped to see. Still, the trekking was nice.DSC_0572.jpg By that time, my ability to understand and respond in Chilean Spanish was compromised and my travel partner noticed. We laughed about it and admitted how exhausting different languages can be when we are not wholly proficient in them– his English was worse than my Spanish. We spent the rest of the day hitch-hiking from different trekking and view points while his sister rested her foot at the camp. By three, we packed up camp, returned everything, and flagged a car to get us out of Khao Yai towards Pak Chong, where we planned on taking the train. DSC_0561.jpgA group of older ladies, who turned out to be teachers in the far North of Thailand, picked us up. We stopped, ate lunch together, and continued on our way. It was raining again, which made the ride in the pickup more of an experience and, somehow, more enjoyable. We arrived in Pak Chong and waited a few hours until the train left, drinking beers and using wifi to tell people back home we were not dead after all.

We purchased tickets for the commuter train, which was a local train. We had no idea what to expect. The train journey, however, will be left for a future post.

Spoiler: I had no seat for five hours…

Old Memories: A Golden Key

I will dedicate a separate section in my blog to the stories that should remain untold were they not some of the best memories I have…

In Brazil, we have a saying and while it isn’t difficult to translate, the translation itself, naturally, doesn’t have the same effect. In any case, when we say “fechamos com chave de ouro,” it literally means that we locked it– or wrapped up– the experience with a golden key. I first learned of this phrase in Brazil when I had lived there for almost a year, just after finishing high school. Before I divulge what caused that phrase to be uttered to me at the end of a long night in the interior of São Paolo, I’ll provide some background.

The city was São José do Rio Preto. It was, by no means, a huge city but neither was it a small one. That month was noted by rolling blackouts throughout the entire city; it was surreal. I had never experience a big city in absolute darkness. Since my father’s apartment building was smack in the middle of the city, at one of it’s busiest intersections, Avenida Alberto Andalo, I would pass the time sitting on the veranda watching and waiting for the often daily car accidents; the sounds always heard first. For many reasons that year was a special year. But, considering the day I just had in Don Det, Laos, the phrase popped up in my head and since I have never written about this experience before I figure I might as well this space as an introduction to my Don Det experience.

That year (2010?) I spent a lot of time with a friend of mine, Guido, nicknamed Jelly because he used to have blue or pink hair (I forget). More commonly, since shedding the colored hair, he went by Blondie because he was light-skinned and blonde (in Portuguese: ‘Geléia’ and ‘Loirinho’). Guido came from what some might call a broken home. He lived with his father in a modest apartment in the same complex as mine. We often hung out, played soccer, and talked more than anything. Occasionally, we’d go out drinking. That same month, for example, he took me and my then-girlfriend out for drinks on the main strip. Indicative of his character, he offered to pay for everything. Wanting to decline knowing that he worked hard for a lot less than I, I chose to accept; to decline would be rude, plain and simple. He wanted to show me a good time– me, a Brazilian-Gringo hybrid; in Brazil, I was often referred to as ‘Americano’ among friends outside the family.

So, here we are: live music, absinthe, whiskey, beer, singing. This was at least 5 years ago and by now I know the problem with the end of that last sentence: mixing different types of alcohol. Well, actually, maybe mixing anything with absinthe is a bad idea– a flawed design, conceptually ugly. But, I did it. We’ve all had that realization on a night out where the drinks were flowing…that “oh shit, I’m too drunk already” realization but it’s still early. I could moderate with liquor, but moderating with beer was never my strong-suite. Til this day, I blame it on beer temperature: the longer it sits there, the warmer it gets. I, like most Latinos, will refuse to drink warm beer. Although, in Asia, where refrigeration in remote areas is substandard, I’m getting better about being a snob regarding near-frozen beer temperatures. Anyways, I’m stalling– I was wasted. The last thing I remember was talking to some Argentinians at the table next to us. Well, I wasn’t saying much. On my end, there was much more listening and blank staring interspersed among efforts of composure. The last thing I remember is that the Argentinians took interest in my girlfriend. Guido could already tell I was wasted. I leaned over to him and asked him if shit was about to go down. Like the G that he is he told me to chill the fuck out and, when the Argentinians asked who she was with, responded that she was with him. That was a smart move. As I stubbornly kept drinking my beers, I became lost in a sea of blank stares, people singing along to national songs I couldn’t keep track of nor knew the lyrics to. Oh, and alcohol.

Thinking back on it, that was the second time I blacked out from drinking. According to witness reports, aka my girlfriend and Guido, I tried to jump a cactus or some other type of plant after leaving the bar. Mind you, when I get very drunk I get ridiculously silly, like a child, and laugh at everything and often run away from people– literally. I imagine I am a royal pain in the ass. However, I find solace in the fact that I am a happy drunk. I jumped over the plant but didn’t make it. Instead, I over-shot it, landing on something and falling forward, head-first onto the side of the curb. After being unconscious for at least a minute, my friends escorted me along the 1-km route back home as I laughed too much for own good while bleeding from a gash on my forehead. In Brazil, all apartment complexes have security guards at the entrance. It just happened that my father was managing the buildings that year, helping out. I recall being held outside by my friends for a while, not far from the entrance but away from view of the guards; were the guards to see me bloody, they would’ve for sure called my father, which nobody wanted. I don’t think I was in a state to care much. I don’t know if I just kept walking towards home, or if they decided it was time to just go and risk it. In any case, we reached the gate. While I don’t remember this part, I assume they took one look at me and dialed the three-digit extension to my father’s apartment.

The night ended with my father coming and getting a good kick out my drunken self. I remember my brother telling me in the morning (and laughing his ass off while saying it)that when my father put me in the bathroom to undress and shower all the blood off me, telling me to “wash my head,” I responded by asking him “which head?” Writing about it now makes me laugh just as hard…and I’m literally sitting here alone. Okay, not alone, I have a beer. Honestly, I think my family and friends had more fun witnessing me in my “state” that I had drinking. At least I hope so.

Fast forward to what must have been no more than two weeks later. There was a massive black out. Guido and I took that opportunity to “borrow” bikes from the complex’s parking structure. The way I view it, the tires were flat and we walked them to the gas station, filled them up, and rode them until returning them; if anything, we did the owners a service. However, they noticed the bikes were gone and asked for security to review the camera footage. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I get to the whole “being caught red-handed” shenanigans, I have to tell you what we did with the bikes. Naturally, after filling up the tires, we rode to the “represa,” which is a man-made lake, sort of like a damn. We rolled a joint, which in Brazil is easier said than done; the weed comes in bricks, packed together. To break it apart, people use a key, giving the phrase “chavecar,” which literally translates to “key-ing” something. Disclaimer: I swear I didn’t intend for the double key reference, but just go with it– it works. After rolling this joint, several kilometers from home, and smoking it while fucking with the capibaras (which are like big, coarse-haired pigs with weird faces), we continued our way across town.

Mind you, Guido was bustin’ wheelies for the majority of the time, whether downhill, uphill, or weaving through traffic with one hand in the air and the other on his seat. To this day I still don’t understand it how he managed that, stoned nonetheless. I was riding the bike like a normal human. Well, as normal as I could while enjoying the adrenaline (and high) as I weaved through traffic. We were on our way to the favelas (slums) to pick up weed. This is a part of town that my other friends would never go to for fear of whatever there is to fear there, which I guess is plenty: gangsters, guns, drugs, etc. We show up to this guys house, who Guido knows personally. We get off our bikes, ask him for some weed. He doesn’t even respond, just goes right back in the house. Guido seemed confused. I probably seemed nervous; I was. The guy reappears after a few minutes, walks up to us with his Nike hat and hands Guido a handful of weed. My friend motions to give him money and the guy declines: “Don’t worry about it, Loirinho.” He walks away without awaiting a response.

Like two kinds in a candy shop, we roll our bikes over to a nearby corner bar, roll a joint just outside of it. As we roll it, the monkeys come out and start harassing us, which turned out to be a great way to pass the hour. Thirsty, we walk over to the bar and ask for two cokes. Minding our own, just talking and going over the day, and how great it was, someone who must have been the bar owner walks up to us and asks us if we do cocaine. “No,” replied Guido, which was probably the more appropriate answer to a stranger we didn’t know in a sketchy part of town. Thinking back on it, his street smarts outweighed mine. Without thinking much, I replied in the affirmative: a simple “yes.” I knew Guido did cocaine. I had seen him do it and had even done it with him for my first time. In Brazil it doesn’t come in baggies, it comes in those little plastic things a florist puts on a rose, filled with water, kind of like a capsule. One gram costs 10$R, which is about 3$US. Promptly, this guy invites us to the bathroom, where he had what I think was a kid’s elementary school workbook on the top of the ceramic toilet cover. On the notebook, he had the biggest line of cocaine I had ever seen. For about five minutes we struggled to finish it. In the end, we had to request for the guy to come in and finish it off. Higher than before, we took off, laughing our asses off along the way as I fucked around and spoke of the day, reveling in the crazy shit we had done while he continuously pulled the gnarliest wheelies.

Riding the several kilometers back home was the first time I had heard the phrase, uttered to me as we pulled up to the security gate. We quickly learned that the owner of the bikes was pissed. He was even more pissed to find out that it was the complex manager’s son who had taken his own son’s bike. Arguments and (minor) trouble notwithstanding, we truly did wrap up that night with a golden key.

Now that I have spilled digital ink on this story of years past, I can continue on to the present. However, two-thousand words later, I am sure you will all thank me for committing it to a second, separate post.

I just couldn’t resist relating this ‘day in a life’…you never know what memories disappear, are taken over by fresher memories. I have so many of these memories that are absolutely worth telling yet, at the same time, are also the ones which you don’t– or shouldn’t– tell. Honestly though, I really don’t care who wants to judge me. I lived my life and I hope you lived yours (whatever that means to you).

Do you have any of these, from years past, that you want to share or perhaps simply can’t help share? Come on, I know you do. I am not the only one…

Geography and Intersections.

By studying Portuguese in college and learning the language well enough to write a thesis, as if in English, I thought I was getting in touch with my roots. Sure, in a way I was, but my roots within Brazil begin and end with family; everything else is historical. How could I, in aiming to get in touch with my culture, my “roots,” have forgotten to examine my most literal roots: family.

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.”