Friday, June 5, 2020

Vietnam Part 2

A country of wonderful street scenes

The Sounds of Nam
Vietnam is a country of superlatives: Greatest food. Lowest prices. . . Ugliest language. What if the world voted and it was decided that Vietnamese could not be spoken above the level of a whisper? I’d pay a hundred bucks a year for that. It might be the only way to make their language tolerable. It sounds like ducks gargling, but loud and mean and aggressive and painful and threatening to your inner ear. They’re not mad at each other – they’re just Vietnamese.

Here are the 2 crux problems with the language – Like Thai, it’s tonal. For Westerners, it’s nearly impossible to get it right if you’re learning it after puberty. The second is that their language was translated into Roman letters in phonetic Portuguese and then translated once again by the French. What a cruel trick. The French language subsided as the one spoken for diplomacy over 100 years ago but every letter wears a chapeau or is under dabbed with what looks like shrapnel from an ancient typewriter.

It’s not just the language. The general noise pollution is so severe that the citizens are probably hearing damaged in utero. Before you go; do yourself a favor – pierce your eardrums. Not your earlobes, your eardrums. It’ll be a lot less painful in the long term. Of course you would then miss out on the native music which sounds like a bag of cats in misery.

They could learn from the English who are the only people on the planet who can whisper and mumble at the same time.

Nha Trang – Little Russia

Pedro, a native Spanish speaker from Ecuador was Aleja’s dive instructor as she earned her certification in this seaside vacation spot.

Cam Ranh Bay, which is just 45 minutes south of Nha Trang was developed in 1965 by the US military. If you fought in Nam you probably passed through CRB. It was lost in 1975 and the Soviets made it their largest port outside of Russia, hence the heavy Russian presence there today. They aren’t just tourists. They are the shop owners and the tour guides. Russians galore!

Cat Ba Island
You probably know this region by the more popular name of Halong Bay.

Timing the Contractions
You can make a contraction out of just about anything: Cranberries and raisins becomes “Craisins” But now how are you going to contract Crazy Asians? Are you just going to tell an insane Asian (there are zero acceptable synonyms for “Asian”) that it’s too late; Ocean Spray beat you to it, and now there’s no cool contraction left for you and your lunatic Asian brothers?
Everything is a bed when you work 29 days a month

Crasian Drivers
They are the world’s 3rd worst drivers (behind Peru and Colombia), but there is no road rage. They’ll do a 6 point U turn in the middle of a busy road and piss off 30 people but nobody breaks their poker face. That counts for something. I just don’t know how to work it into the quality of life matrix yet, but they should be awarded points on some scale.

Tam Coc
I refuse to write a travelogue but be aware… you don’t want to stay in Nin Binh, which is the name this region is labeled. It’s industrial and not what you’re looking for. You want to stay in adjacent Tam Coc. Was this my favorite part of Vietnam? Maybe. I’d go back and rent a scooter and do it all over again. I call every woman of child bearing years “Mamasan” and when something is good I say, "Number One!" They always understand and repeat. Tam Coc was Number One.

Caves galore (Actually - Disney Studios Hollywood made out of painted foam)

Hue City
The Kubrick movie Full Metal Jacket is set here. It saw intense fighting during the war and a small bit of the evidence remains. Go for the history, stay for the salt coffee. It sounds terrible, tastes wonderful.

My Facial Recognition Software Doesn’t Work In Asia
That girl could be 13 or 33. I have no idea. And forget looking at the body for the deciding factor – identical prepubescent bodies. It’s hard enough just to tell male from female. There are no curves. A fully developed woman looks like me at 13 – gangly & boney with no chest and a flat ass you could iron a shirt on. I just spent 4 years in Latin America. The lower units here are like the Grinch trying to ruin Christmas. While getting a massage one afternoon the masseuse pulled Aleja’s panties down way too far just to get a gander at her whole caboose. They haven’t seen rumps like that … ever.

Hoi An
This is a gooey little fly trap of a town. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave and then stayed nearly a month when I got sick.

The hosts at our villa. I will always go back to Hoi An and stay at Green Grapefruit Villa

      Aleja runs fake tours in Hoi An
"Follow The Corn"

I Got Sick
When you are poor you never stay home no matter how sick you are so I'm always afraid of who’s working in the kitchen. I got sick. It happens. Not a bad country to get sick in though - cuz of all that soup.

Not my cup of tea: Loud, congested, filthy, atrocious air quality and a shortage of smiles. We used it as a hub to visit the neighboring attractions. However, one of the niceties of South East Asia, and this is across the board – They will never ask you to leave if you’ve stopped ordering food. You can have one cup of coffee and sit for the whole afternoon. Try that at Applebee’s

Plastic wrapped in plastic

Crimes against the pizza
Sometimes chaotic systems work

The Economic Strategies

The communist North won the war and gained unity and autonomy and that's in the history books for all to read, but the economic model that the North fought for seems to have been abandoned in exchange for capitalism, which was what Ho Chi Minh fought against. So did the South actually win after all?

This photo was taken in the Hanoi airport. We dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on Hanoi in only a 2 week period, and guess what... Burger King takes US dollars. You really think we lost the war? They were going to be capitalists anyway. There's just no stopping it. One of many wars we didn’t need to fight.
Captured war plane in the pouring rain

They aren’t the most sophisticated capitalists however. Compare them to the Balinese. At least the Balinese try to make friends with you first, “Hi, where you come from? What you name?” In Vietnam their unsophisticated level of marketing begins and ends with a gruff, “You buy something from me!” I call it comrade salesmanship. They just haven’t had the number of years in the free market that the other countries have had.

War time tunnel systems

This Life Vs The Last One
I love living my life like I’m riding the metro – I’ve got all my stuff together in 2 bags, and I’m ready to get off at any stop. It has its down sides, but with one country in the bag, so far… backpacking South East Asia has been a winner.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

Friday, May 29, 2020

Vietnam Part 1

Monk goes to a hotdog stand. Know what he says?
 “Make me one with everything”

There’s a hole in the massage table where my face rests. I wrap my belongings in my shirt and place them directly beneath me so I can keep an eye on them and prevent any monkey business (there has never been any monkey business). An hour later I put my shirt back on and there’s a big wet spot. Yep, I fell asleep and drooled all over my shirt. This summarizes my Vietnam experience:  dreamy, luxurious, slow and easy, relaxed and stress free. We didn’t do anything approaching excitement. We fell for the packaged tours and packed on a few pounds while embracing our inner tourists. I am so happy to be a passenger. All the responsibility falls on someone else’s shoulders and I can just stare out the window. I am little more than a lens recording my own voyeurism through the filter of my biased experiences. Your results may differ.
Egg pizza and pajamas

“So I Sold The Camper And Strapped On A Backpack”

Endless hot water, no low hanging cables or tree branches waiting to ruin my day. Tires, filters, leaks, maintenance – Ha! What are those? My biggest concern now is that my zipper doesn’t break on a travel day. Too easy mate.

We drove from Brasil back to our friends’ house in Buenos Aires and left Elsie in the capable hands of Diego and Ana to sell on my behalf. That trip ended. Aleja and I flew back to our respective nations to spend 2 months with family & friends.

In case you’ve just discovered this blog… I traded in my keel for 4 tires and a camper, and after 4+ years I sold the camper in South America. Now we are backpackers in South East Asia. Or for those conspiracy fans amongst you… We’ve changed sound stages on the Hollywood lot.  Spanish got replaced with some tonal alien screaming, the back drops have all been rebuilt to reflect the vastly different architecture of this side of the world, and the food went from high cholesterol to super healthy.
Last chopper out of Saigon 1975

Saigon / AKA: Ho Chi Min City
We spent a week acclimating. It took Aleja 6 days in transit to arrive here. That’s the difference in our ages. She loved her day long lay overs in Mallorca, Hamburg and Bangkok. It sounded like misery to me sleeping in airports for a week but she’s a rock. We ate snails, guzzled gallons of cold beer and drank the world’s best coffee. We liked HCM and gave it 2 thumbs up. Then we got conned into going south
I found the building 45 years later

Can Tho
The original plan was to go to the Mekong Delta and live on a boat for 4 days. Ha! I’m glad we shortened that to 2 days in a hotel. The truth is you need exactly 2 hours in an early morning boat to catch the golden hour of light at sunrise and then get the hell out of that tourist trap. There were more tourist boats then vendor boats. It was tourists taking pictures of tourists, or more accurately: tourists trying to take pictures without other tourists in the frame. There was a lot of cropping going on. In fact, that might be a good question to ask of anyone returning from a trip to see if you might want to go there: “Did you have to crop a lot of your pix”? We got stuck there for 2 days. Great street food. We managed to have soup only once per day.

Vietnam - The Menu
The coffee is abundant & fantastic and the food is even better, but good luck trying to buy both in the same place. Cafes usually don’t sell food, and restaurants usually don’t sell coffee. They are either silly capitalists or very generous with their neighbors for voluntarily losing market share. We ate everything and were damn proud of ourselves. If you don’t gag once a week you aren’t pushing your boundaries, and you should be.

One popular question for our first week: “Are you hungry? What kind of soup do you want?”

If an alien beamed down to the planet and had to report back a brief summary this would be the synopsis: “It's a soup based pajama culture. Visually it looks like they are on the brink of a countrywide sleep over and we believe many of them don’t feel well, hence the abundance of soup.” We ate a lot of soup. It was good. I like soup.
Frog legs

We loved Vietnam so much that we volunteered to create taglines for their chamber of commerce. Here’s a few we came up with:
Vietnam – Where every meal is soup!
Vietnam – Eat all you want and still lose weight with delicious food & dysentery
Vietnam – With coffee this strong you can finally quit meth!

It is, however, impossible to get a dry napkin. Every napkin offered is actually a wet baby wipe. What if you just need something absorbent to get the soup off your face? And it’s mostly soup, most of the time. Did we cover that?

I ate more snails then you ever could

They always want to show you an “autograph book” with testimonials from their past clients about how great everything was, but what the savvy tourist looks for is how many pages have been torn out of that book. The few derogatory entries that are clever enough to slip past the censors make for some humorous reading: “She promised a long trip and it lived up to her promise. I’m sure glad she included the noodle factory as part of the tour.”
War as tourism

Then we went north to Dalat for some higher elevation coffee plantation relaxation. We essentially snuggled in bed for a week only donning our ponchos and umbrellas to go out doors for a meal in the wet downpour. It literally rained 23 hours per day every day but one. We sang karaoke and spent a lot of time indoors.

Vietnam The Sequel When We Return
This concludes part one for the Vietnamese dispatch. I’ll be posting part 2 in a week.

Your man on point,
Captain Bobby

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Road Trip Wrap Up

“What is too foolish to be said must be sung. Lyrics are written on bubbles” ~ Blaise Pascal~
It’s the last dispatch for the Latin American Overland Trip. I thought I’d have some fun by punctuating the paragraphs with songs stuck in my head. I hope you have enjoyed the road trip and stick around for the next adventure.
The Beagle Channel

They call me Captain Lucky
“Change. Nothing stays the same. Unchained. Hit the ground running!” ~Van Halen~
What happens when your dream becomes a reality? When it becomes an actual persisting reality? The answer is it gets taken for granted. I work hard to remind myself of the following:
Not only was I born birth defect free, white, male, and in a developed nation, but I (we) were born at the perfect time. 2 generations either way and life could have sucked. And this on a timeline of 300,000 years of being Homo Sapiens. Way to catch The Sweet Spot.
Think about this: life didn't change for Homo Sapiens for 290,000 years (we were hunter gatherers and life was brutally hard). Then it didn't change for 10,000 years (we were sedentary agrarians and life was a different brand of brutally hard). A couple hundred years ago we were welcomed into the industrial revolution (Do you know the photos of Lewis Hine? Jacob Riis? Still brutally hard unless you were a Vanderbilt). But gradually - Electricity Elevators and Plastics made room for Microwaves Television The Internet and all you can eat buffalo wings. We lucked out. And I'm serious about two generations in either direction and it could have sucked. Your grandparents didn't have our options. Their menu was a single page with only one condiment, and all dishes were hand washed. And the kids of the future? What if you were born in 2020? That means you're 50 in 2070. You think the world will be better? Not with an extra 3+ billion people and a middle class in China & India. Civilization as we know it is untenable. We scored in so many ways. Soooo Lucky! Not grateful? Get grateful!
This is how bad it could be: Homeless & Insane & Trapped in the 3rd world
Trimming Trees And Doing As We Please
Trimming trees means breaking things on my roof

“We ain’t got no government loans and no one sends a check from home and get this, we just do what we wanna” ~ Cracker ~
The Motto: “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. A list of goals? A mission statement? – You’re thinking too small. We made a declaration of independence. We wrote a constitution for maximum freedoms. We were a mobile nation of 2, in the front seat of a massive truck with the biggest camper I could fit on the back. “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. Our bill of rights mandated throwing our arms around those we met and embracing new cultures head on. At times it was expensive, risky, and even dangerous, with lots of hard work. We weren’t on holiday. This was travel. “Go everywhere, Do everything, See it all”. Sometimes our moxie gave way and we came up short. Sometimes our frontier spirit sagged and we asked too little of ourselves. But sometimes . . . we caught a glimpse of that noble splendor that makes one squint into the klieg light of actualization.
But What Did You Learn?
"And the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear" ~ Fleetwood Mac ~
It truly was a research vehicle. The drone and the metal detector are among the most obvious items for evidence of this, but it was more than that. I learned so much. We’d hear stories but then we went to see it with our own eyes. Here’s the laundry list:

Most of life’s problems can be solved with these simple words: “less pressure on the accelerator”. Just slow down. Think it through. Don’t be in a hurry. Take your foot off the gas please.

I learned a lot of Spanish which is good for 2 reasons: 1.) I can now ignore people in a second language and 2.) Pixies songs have taken on a deeper meaning

Midlife crises: I never had to get divorced to have mine. I'm 52 & living with a 25 year old. That's every mentally defective married guys dream. No ex to pay for. No kids get hurt. This is the new model. Maybe we should rethink the institutions of marriage and procreation?
In Latin America - even the mannequins are different

Do 2 rivers converge? Guaranteed there was an ancient civilization at the confluence. Guaranteed. Start digging.
Geology and geography shape the economy of a given locale and that in turn shapes the culture. Is the soil chalky with cool night air? They will probably end up growing grapes and making wine. That shapes the culture. Is it cold with very short unreliable summers? Then they will be industrious or they will die. Congratulations you are in Patagonia or Scandinavia and that shapes the culture. 

Hero worship is for ninnies on both sides of the equation but there is something to being on a sustained trip of this magnitude that tends to bring about immediate acceptance (respect) from the new people you meet. Undertake big things and people will embrace you.

I've got no gripe with the third world. I've lived in it for ten years. I've hand knitted a formula to make it wonderful. Earning $USD$ and spending it abroad is the easiest way to guarantee a sweet existence. If I had it all, I'd split my time in thirds: Asia, The Americas, Europe. Good contrast. Delicious food. Wonderful people. The only flaw in my algorithm is the flight costs.

Smile, it’s like giving yourself a facelift. Wanna know what you’re gonna look like in 10 years? Stay up all night. Old age looks just like exhaustion. 

My many years of adventuring have given me some measure of enlightenment but I confess to still having an ego. I was once told that I was not an adventurer. That may be. Everything is relative, but I wasn’t going to hear it from this pudgy yob with his neon dayglow “Sunday Funday” wristband still on from 3 nights ago like it’s jewelry. “I stay gone for years, and I learn the language. I did it in Indo and I did it here. And, I date the locals. How many weeks have you been in country? Do you even know what a Michelada is? No, because you’re still jamming a lime wedge in your beer. That’s not even beer anymore. You’d be right at home in a Munich beer garden. And now how are they gonna get that lime wedge out of there you stupid git? You just set recycling back 2 generations. Do you know how hard it is to find a Colombian small enough to climb into that bottle and push that lime wedge back out?” It may have been my finest moment. 

The sign off “Ciao” is like the metric system, used everywhere but the US. – Max Guarnaccia

Aleja likes to say; “The Transformation Is Complete”. We laugh that I’ve gone “Full Colombian”. I lie around naked, I eat crackers, I put salt on everything, I’ve developed a taste for fried plantains. I even eat rice with eggs & I like marmalade with cheese. But she is addicted to S’mores. So I ask you . . . Who do you think won?

As you might know, Richard Henry Dana wrote a book entitled “Two Years Before The Mast”. I’m a guy who has spent 10 of the last 13 years traveling by boat and camper in the tropical 3rd world. My hiatus in the USA should have been called "Three Years Without Mildew". I gotta give my lungs a break at some point. I don't know which is worse; the mold or the smell of the vinegar that erases it. 6 YEARS BEFORE THE MAST AND 4 YEARS BEHIND THE WHEEL. MY PULMONARY NIGHTMARE. THE MEMOIRS OF ROBERT SEAN FRIEDMAN.

I thought I had fleas. I am so happy to be wrong. I have since realized they are in fact called “Springtails” and they are attracted to wet wood. I had a leak and these little buggers got inside the camper. Vinegar, some mild bug spray and constant fans to dry everything out has done the trick. 
Cocoa Bear; The Seal Pup Of Love (& her dinosaur)
I used to say: “Fortunately for me, I’ve suffered my last gut wrenching heartache and I’m finally dead inside. It’s all black in here.” I used to think of myself as a cold dry husk of a man, and that love would forever see me and hurriedly cross to the other side of the street. I was pleasantly wrong. Sure, I'm a wizened old flank steak now, but I used to be almost handsome, and in those final waning years of “barely acceptable” I met a girl. I am not a “hopeless” romantic. There is nothing hopeless about me. I am a “pragmatic” romantic. We fought, we struggled, we healed. We took on an enormous adventure, and we did it together. Because I was with Aleja it became a much richer experience than I could have ever hoped for. I was 2 years into this trip before we met, so it’s very easy for me to compare. There is no comparison. I won the lottery with that little Cocoa Bear; The Seal Pup Of Love

Zorba Sponsorship
“If the life you have created, has buried you in luxuries outdated, and you ask, what is the purpose, too weak to claw your way up to the surface” ~Grant Lee Buffalo~
I find I learn much about humanity from the ones who are willing to scrape food from the finished plates of others, and sleep on rooftops without mosquito nets. I’m no longer willing to dip that low but I can support the lifestyle. Do you know the character “Zorba the Greek”? If not you should read the book. His attitude of being completely absorbed in whatever he is doing or whomever he is with is the essence of the “be in the moment” movement. His zest for life is on equal footing with Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady), a character that Jack Kerouac wrote at the same time Kazantzakis wrote “Zorba”. I’ve lost that skin, but I can still appreciate it and how they can feel as much as they do with their callouses so coarse. I find the feral Zorbas in every country and from every country. I was 23 and living in a cave on a Greek island with some South Africans. They were wonderful people and we shared our food and stories and we were young and we were vibrant. I suppose I’ve spent the intervening years trying to feel that again. Travel does it for me and I’m sure that in some ways I’m just a parasite trying to soak up the glow that those Zorba types give off. I’ll always buy them a beer or pay them for their wrist tie jewelry. Zorba on brothers and sisters. Zorba on!
I hired this Zorba to do some work. Rum was his tip
There are some maxims that are absolute and should never be challenged: “It’s always colder on the water”. “There’s always free cheese in a rat trap.” “Never go to a second location with a hippy”. Here’s one more: "I’m never going back". None of us are. We are only going forward. Make sure you pick the path that makes you the most alive. I’ve made lots of bad choices, but this road trip - I got it right. 
“Playing in the dust. We find the seeds of doubt. Don’t water them with your tears. Don’t think about all the years. You’d rather be without”. ~INXS~
I Cuss At Inanimate Objects
“I walk from my machine” - Bush 

I’m the oldest son, of the oldest son, of the oldest son. Talk about a douchebag (baggaducci in Italian) with a ridiculous sense of entitlement. I somehow feel that I deserve this incredibly lucky life based on my birth order lineage. How is that for the epitome of nonsense? Here’s more nonsense: I cuss at inanimate objects. I learned it from my intolerable father (great band name). I might not be masterful with the “F” word, but I say “Goddamn it” better than just about anyone. Know why? Cuz I’ve said it more times than just about anyone. Practice makes perfect and I’m no quitter, goddamn it. I think Elsie generated more swear words than anything I’ve ever owned before. But, having said that….When we parted company - I hadn’t cried that hard since my grandma died in 1991. Walking away from Elsie absolutely broke my heart. All you really get to keep of anything is the memory. Elsie was indeed a Freedom Machine and deserves every superlative with which I could possibly label her. I cuss at inanimate objects and apparently I fall in love with them too. It’s been odd to realize. It was a hard, gasping, uncontrollable sobbing. I suppose beneath the callouses there might be a sensitive soul inside after all. 
Next Up – Asia
“Now's the time to have some big ideas. Now's the time to make some firm decisions. We saw the Buddha in a bar down south, talking politics and nuclear fission” ~Shriekback~
It was 4 years, 3 months and 9 days. It was 20 countries: 42,000 miles driven and 3,000 miles sailed. It was the trip of a lifetime, and now it’s over. The overland trip is dead! Long live the trip! What’s next? - Aleja and I return to the lands of our birth for 2 months and then we rendezvous in Vietnam. We’ve been demoted to mochileros (backpackers). We’ll be taking public transport and sleeping in a hundred different beds as we crisscross South East Asia over the course of the coming year. And so begins the next chapter. . . 
“Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing. Many many men can’t see the open road“. ~Led Zeppelin~
Your man on point,
Captain Bobby