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Dave Go Round

I am a world traveler. These are my stories.

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Sat
27
Sep '14

Reiki and the Yogi: Simonisms.

In another world, I was a warrior.

Maybe it was another life. Many months ago, I left Thailand behind. I left with bruises, for sure, though disproportionately less than I should have considering the beatings I had been taking. I credit much of this to the healing properties of yoga, Reiki, thai massage, and what the Thai call pran.

I left on this journey around the world to finish something I started a long time ago. To change the direction my life was headed; to bring new things into my life. That’s exactly what I have done.

Meeting Simon was really just the next step, I suppose.

Zsofi and I were both excited to get to Thailand. I was much more interested in Muay Thai training, and she was more into cooking, yoga, kiteboarding, and all the other fantastic things that are right at your fingertips on Phuket.

Part of my training was early morning yoga with Simon the Yogi. It’s hard to just jump up and run off to being beaten on all day without a little warm up and stretching first. I watched trained fighters make this mistake and pay for it with their bodies. Only part of the yoga was physical, though. Simon spoke to us through the whole hour, waking up our minds and getting us ready for a day full of possibilities.

“This is not an ashram or a temple: life here is different. With the sounds and clatter of battle around you, you cannot fool yourself. You are not a monk. You are a warrior.”

Also, he often sounded like a complete madman.

Simon didn’t just do yoga, he taught weapons classes; stick fighting, krabi krabong, and knife offense and defense. When he spoke about using weapons it was again with mysticism.

“You are performing sorcery. You are causing solid objects to move around your body in geometric patterns.”

Given all the exposure I had to Simon’s particular brand of  acceptable lunacy, I had a great deal of time to chat with him about energy, pran, ki, chi, chakras; the intangibles.

One afternoon, somewhere between the spirit house and the giant golden Buddha, over the sounds of battle, Simon told me he did Reiki attunement, and I was immediately onboard.

Sundays are the only day of rest at Tiger. Hence on Sundays, when Simon wasn’t off in the jungle somewhere, he would sometimes initiate the curious into the world of Reiki.

I was concerned that it wouldn’t ‘work’ for me. Somehow, after traveling halfway around the world, running with the bulls, working with the IDF, riding camels through the Sahara, making friends in every corner of the globe, I still believed that there was something uniquely and fundamentally ‘wrong’ with me; that I couldn’t do it.

Simon tapped into this and in his own way, tailored everything he said towards it.

“Inadequacy is an illusion,” he would say to me. “You can do all of this. Effortlessly.”

Effortlessly. He kept saying that word all day, it just kept coming up; through the smoke, over lunch, through meditation and Reiki sessions.

Years later, I have been given more Reiki attunements. I have experienced numerous healing modalities, and even endeavored to make some of them my own. If you are interested in learning more about Reiki or Yoga, just google your area. Enlightened people are everywhere. It may change your life in some small way. For me, I can say it has given me a number of tools for making my life easier, though perhaps not quite “effortless” as was promised. I still hear his words sometimes, echoing in my memory. And so I offer them to you, dear reader.

“Protect me. Evolve me to the highest good. and all else too.”

 

Tue
23
Sep '14

How to not lose your job…

Amazonian Tributary, Bolivia

 

So many people talk to me about a desire to travel and see the world. People who have their lives together; a career, a house, maybe a family.  While none of these are going to stop you from traveling, they may seem daunting at first. I ran across this article speaking specifically to people who are looking to travel and concerned about their job and career.

Here’s a quick quote to whet your appetite:

You dream, what seems like, a very impossible dream. I’m here to tell you: It’s not impossible. It’s actually quite possible. You can take time off from your job to travel and return to it, career intact.  It’s a matter of some planning, preparation, and a thoughtful conversation with your boss.

It’s rare to find well articulated planning advice for this sort of thing. When I left, I looked long and hard for it, and finally just decided to wing it, throwing caution to the wind, and trusting in the Universe to sort things out for me on my return. For those of you who are a little more structure minded than I, click the link below and start turning that dream into a reality!

http://takeyourbigtrip.com/2014/09/21/how-to-talk-to-your-boss-about-taking-time-off-to-travel/

Bosphorous Channel, Istanbul

 

 

Mon
24
Jun '13

Wishes and fishes

Driving home tonight, I am reminded of the things I wanted most when I was lost in the rest of the world; the warm embrace of a loved one, and to drive my own vehicle wherever I wanted. So simple, but so hard to find.

I look at the luxuries we afford ourselves; psychotherapy, massages, xxx, chiropractic care… and I marvel that anyone could be unhappy here.

I told everyone I encountered from any walk of life that I still believed the USA was the best place to live in the world. I believe that to this day. We have our issues here, for certain, and we have a quality of life that allows us to either overlook them or address them as we choose.

I am so fortunate to have the things I wanted most. A vehicle and the freedom to use it when and how I like. Loving friends and a beautiful significant other.

If someone hugged you today, and if you have freedom of movement, consider yourself fortunate, and please don’t squander those precious gifts. You already have everything you need.

Fri
1
Jun '12

The Singapore Sling

Early in life, I remember hearing about the American teenager, Michael Fay, who was caned in Singapore for vandalism in the 90’s; flesh flayed from his buttocks by a bamboo staff. Prior to that, I remember thinking Singapore was a place in China. At no point in my life did I expect to get arrested there.

To get from Thailand to Vietnam, one must cross a decent portion of Asia. Given my experience with mass transit in Asia, I decided it was best to catch a flight, as my odds of surviving the plane crash were roughly equivalent with those of surviving anything else in Asia. Tiger Airways, a Singapore based company, had a good flight routing through Changi airport near Paya Lebar, Singapore ; a place which is not, it turns out, in China.  They layover was long, the better part of 8 hours, but that was going to work out well for me, since I wanted to wander around and get a feel for the place.

As day precludes night, I had to pack my bag before I could get on the plane.

Packing has become “old hat.” I have a packing system for my bag, that allows me to retrieve any item or group of items I may need with relative certainty and alacrity. I know where everything goes, and I know what items need to be transferred to my “checked” baggage as they will not be allowed into the airport.

Once or twice I have forgotten something, true (like when the Atatürk Airport security took my spray deodorant and let me through security with the knife in my bag), but I’ve learned my lesson. I put my pocket knives away in my special bag in my checked bag and got on the plane with no issues. A quick flight filled with the atypically pretty girls so typical on Asian airlines trying to refill my drink and bring me napkins, placed me promptly and safely at Changi Airport in Singapore.

Each new country is cool to me. There is a little magic, kindled from childhood when all was new and bright and sparked the soul with each sunrise, that lifts the feet and heart as I cross each imaginary boundary into new lands. Singapore in-processing was not unusual and was going well until I noticed this giant x-ray scanning machine that was checking all our bags. I watched my bag go through, and a couple guys picked it up and set it aside. I was then called over to, I assumed, collect my bag and take it somewhere.

This was not the case.

The officials asked me to open my pack, and remove some things, and then started looking for my pocket knives. Yes, this was still my “checked” baggage. One of the knives had a pushbutton release on it. They weren’t thrilled about this.

I was escorted to an auxiliary police station nearby and placed in police custody. There was a Canadian guy, whom we’ll call Chuck, being held there also, under similar circumstances. His crime was leaving an empty pistol shell casing from a shooting range in his bag. Yes, empty, as in a useless piece of copper, incapable of hurting anyone unless one managed to swallow it, sideways. Yet, by merit of the fact that it was once in contact with a firearm, Chuck the Canuck was arrested and held in police custody until such time as it could be verified he was not, in fact, some Canadian Terrorist sent to decimate Singapore with an ounce of copper.

Chuck and I spoke back and forth, when we were held in the same area, sometimes being asked to go to another room and talk to someone ro sign some papers. Largely, we were treated like someone who had come in for a job interview: an interview for a caning.

It was hard to shake the idea that I would be detained, miss my flight, then possible punished corporally with a giant rattan stick by a man whose name I didn’t even know, leaving my bottom in somewhat less pristine condition than I had arrived; to steal an American colloquialism, leaving my ass in a sling.

I was called again into a side room with a woman in an unassuming polo shirt bearing some sort of police insignia who bade me sit at the other side of her desk. She spoke to me in the earnest, direct speech of one who is relaying a message that will not be well received, indicating to me that switchblade or pushbutton release knives are illegal in Singapore. That, regardless of the fact I was supposed to continue on to another country, the minute I landed on the ground, I was now an international weapons trafficking offender and under arrest and subject to the laws and punishments of the Republic of Singapore.

Skin whitening is something of a rage in Asia. Walk into any pharmacy anywhere and you will find dozens of bottles claiming to lighten your skin through all manner of chemical methods. The bloodless white pallor of the Asian  faces adorning the bottles is disturbing to say the least.  It’s not a good look for them.

As I sat, captive, and listened to my “crimes” recounted by the unassuming lady, the blood drained from my face, pooling up somewhere in my shoes along with my courage; I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a good look for me either.

She slid me yet another paper to read and sign, written mostly in English, which stated I understood the charges as they had been read to me. I signed, swallowed hard against the lump in my throat, and waited.

After a long rest, verifying I had signed as indicated, she explained to me that as I was a first offender, being newly introduced to my life of international crime, the great Republic of Singapore was allowing me to go free and suspend any sentence pending further criminal action on my part. She made sure to tell me that “this would go down on my permanent record” and should I decided to visit Singapore again, which they truly hoped I would, I should try not to bring any more illegal items as I was now a criminal and I wouldn’t be treated so lightly for repeat offenses.

All I heard was that I was going to be able to leave with my buttocks un-violated.

I promptly signed several more papers, nodding my affirmations, and exulting in the feeling of blood flow in my face again. Looking at the clock, I noticed that I still had enough time, maybe, to make it to my connecting flight if they let me out of there with my bags; which they did.

Having recanted my villianous deeds and turning over a new, less criminal, leaf in life, I was a free man to play with the childrens crayon table, making myself a souvenier picture, or eat some of the delicious local fare… which looked like the food in most airports in the world.

About 6 hours after touching down on Singapore soil, and an hour or so after being released from police custody, I was marching happily up to the counter to board my connecting flight and leave my checkered Asian past behind me and my undamaged bottom.

The lesson here is simple. Don’t take up a life of crime, kids. It will catch you in the end. Whether in a Turkish prison, or at the end of a bamboo pole; you won’t be sitting pretty.

Wed
30
Nov '11

Selling the bikes; parting with friends.

I’m selling the bikes today. I’m a little sad, and a little relieved. They weren’t free, and they were quite troublesome. That being said, these two monstrosities truly were the other members of the trip. They had personalities and problems just as much as did Michelle and myself. They became our friends.

The bike sales issue is one that I am sure many people will run into when motorbiking Vietnam, so I’ll try and dig into that a little bit before I get all nostalgic.

Everyone will tell you that there are more bikes in Saigon and less in Hanoi. This is true, but that doesn’t mean the bikes are any good in Saigon or that hard to come by in Hanoi.

Buying the bikes as I did, in Saigon, I had a week to ensure that the repairs on them were made and they were road worthy. Even after taking each of the bikes back to the mechanics and asking him to make further repairs, very little was done. The bikes were repaired only in as much as they looked serviceable and no further. We purchased from a guy named Kevin Raven, who I quite like and who was full of information. The problem may lie in the communication barrier between him and his mechanic, Anh. By the end of the first day, parts were literally falling off of our bikes.


We have spent the first several hours of every day fixing the bikes, and when we finally arrived in Hanoi, the mechanics that Mr. Raven referred us to were too busy to meet for several days until the day before I had to leave Vietnam. The mechanic was brutal in his evaluation of the bikes, and when I made any attempt at negotiation he simply said he would not purchase the bikes and attempted to leave. We got bottom dollar.

This is a tough market, and “the other guys” have the upper hand. Just consign yourself to dealing with it and realize the money isn’t everything. I would recommend going somewhere other than Kevin Raven’s shop for a bike, as the faults we experienced could easily have been deadly if they had happened at the wrong moment. “Gross negligence” is a phrase I would use to describe it… “complete disregard for human life” might be another. Nothing against Kevin, he’s a likable bloke, but I’d rather live to see another American smile.

Today, I can smell the Vietnamese coffee wafting up from the cafe downstairs. I know I’ll miss that, so I have purchased way too much of it to mail back home. My coffee purchase and subsequent shipping costs may amount to the most expensive cup of coffee ever.

I’ll miss Bahn Bao for sure… and even skinny girls, sometimes.

Vietnam hasn’t touched me the way that I thought it would. Most of it I could live without, but it’s the discovery of such personal facts that requires one actually go and sample the place. This country taught me a great deal about myself, people, tolerance, and about my good friend, Michelle. I’ve never seen a Vietnamese family; not  in America. I have seen, kissed, and enjoyed the friendship of Vietnamese girls in the USA, but that’s about as close as I’ve gotten to seeing the other side of things.

These bikes have enabled me to have the most exciting day of riding in my life. They also allowed me to fulfill a dream I shared with one of my closest friends to ride the Hi Van pass. The have allowed me to get away from the cities in Vietnam, where it is so hard to find anything redeeming, and get out into the country and find real people, see the amazing green landscapes and truly find something to love about this place. These two wheels, as usual, spell freedom and peace; things so rare and hard fought for in sections of the world.

Today, though, with the sale of the bikes, comes a different kind of freedom. The need to maintain them, gas them up, lock them up, worry if they are going to kill us; all this is gone. While the bikes ultimately were something of a failure monetarily, they were an enormous success in the memories they helped us create.

This is the lesson Vietnam has driven home. Today, the bikes will be gone. Tomorrow, the money will be gone. The memories and the bonds of friendship forged on this trip will never leave us. The silent moments as we stood on mountain peaks and stared over an emerald series of chasms, the moments the brakes failed, the crashes, and the broken cookies eaten in wonder over Hi Van pass; none of this will ever be lost or can ever be duplicated.

These thoughts are what make days like this tolerable. We are reminded that we get to have more adventures and that we will see these friends again, and that we will make even more friends between now and then. We pat the bikes a solemn farewell and kiss the cheeks of friends and we say our goodbyes promising each other it won’t be forever. Even if it is, even if we never meet in this life again, we will both be richer for these memories we have shared and we should never regret these moments that made us smile.

Tue
18
Oct '11

Chicago: The Main Event!

I’m loose on the town for the next two days, and tonight I have the decided honor of being part of the panel of experts to take part in the MeetPlanGo National Event for 2011. And that isn’t even the best part…

They say, “Never meet your heroes.”

Today, I couldn’t disagree more. One of the largest influences on my taking the plunge and going around the world as I did, was a girl named Lisa Lubin. She answered all my tremulous questions with candor and solid information, and provided enough gentle prodding to continually motivate me to take the next step; whatever it may have been.

Lisa is the “Kick Ass Host” for the Chicago MPG event location, and invited me to be a part of the panel (waow!) and is hosting ME at her place for my time in Chicago.  To say she has the whole thing under control would be a gross understatement. Anyone who is fortunate enough to be in Chicago for the event tonight and listen to Lisa unravel the mystery of Global Domination is in for a rare treat.

I’m super pumped to be here, along with Lisa and the other panelists. I’m obviously biased in thinking that this is going to be the best of the National Event locations, but there are several more across North America. If you haven’t checked into this yet, please do so and if you have the chance, get to your local MPG event and hear what people who have “done it” have to say in response to your questions. This is an opportunity that only comes once a year, so go and get it!

Mon
12
Sep '11

Meet Plan Go 2011: Chicago!

I am really excited about this!

Since I’ve returned I have had a lot of conversations with people about the trip, and it’s been good, and sometimes hard, for me to talk about things; once I start really describing a place or event to someone else the memories come back and I start to remember all these little things that happened and it really takes me back there. I’ve even been told by a few people that it was inspiring and changed their lives for the better. I like that.

Now, coming up in October, Tuesday the 18th, I’ve been giving the opportunity to speak to an audience on a panel with a number of other people who have done similar amazing extended trips of their own.

Meet Plan Go is an organization that helps people to take career breaks (sabbaticals), and extended travels.  The group is full of inspiration, how to’s, and excuse-bashing-help for anyone trying to get away from a desk and off to the trip of a lifetime.

The Meet Plan Go National Event will be  held in 17 cities across the United States and Canada simultaneously on October 18th, and will have different panelists for each city to relay all their experiences and answer your questions about how you can achieve your travel goals.

If you are even curious about what a trip like this is comprised of or how your life would change if you decided to go for it, please take a look at the web site and see if there is anything there for you. Aaaand, heaven forbid, if you decide you would like to hear what I have to say about it in person, pick up a ticket to the Chicago event and let’s make it happen!

Wrap-Up:

Date: Tuesday, October 18th | Doors: 5:30pm
Kendall College | 900 N. North Branch Street

http://meetplango.com/national-event/

 

 

Wed
7
Sep '11

Asian Stereotypes: Fact or Fiction?

In many parts of the world, groups of people are often generalized or stereotyped:

  • Americans are all fat.
  • Germans are all beer loving engineers.
  • Russians put vodka on their cereal.
  • Africans get dinner with a spear.

Asians are no exception to this rule. After spending some time among them, I thought about this and some of the stereotypes I had most often been told of Asians. Have I found them to be true? Take a look.

1. Asians are bad drivers.

This is utterly untrue. Asians by and large are capable of operating a motor vehicle in arenas that would cause most North Americans I know to break into sweat and go back to bed. This place is damn challenging and requires constant vigilance and split second pinpoint accuracy. Asians are amazing drivers. The myth arises from when Asian drivers have to go to areas where the rules are different, like the USA. This driving method, somewhat akimbo, is less effective there.

2. All Asians are good at Math.

I’m afraid not, kids. From the moment I arrived in Asia, everyone was using huge calculators to perform even the simplest of math. 200 minus 50? Better use that calculator, base 10 can get away from you pretty quickly.

3. Asians eat dogs and cats.

Not once in my time in Asia was I ever offered dog or cat meat. This does not mean that I knew what I was eating every time I sat down, or that I didn’t eat some really weird items while I was there, however.

 

4. Asians are short.

Actually, this one is largely true. While Asia does produce the occasional vertical anomaly like Yao Ming, I was mostly awash in a wading pool of black haired people who couldn’t have looked me in the eye without a stepladder. This was neat at first, though if you are over 6 feet, you may want to watch out for the door frames. Concussions just aren’t cool.

5. Rice.

True. The one thing you can count on with every meal in Asia is rice. Sometimes rice is the entire meal. It’s odd for me to say, coming from a largely carnivorous diet, but the rice is delicious! Plenty of calories to get through the day. The word for rice is sometimes substituted for the word for meal or food, and the breathtaking green of fields of rice give you views like you don’t see elsewhere. Just Google up some pictures of Sapa in Vietnam.

All in all, the lesson to be learned here is that you can’t judge a book by the cover that you never saw but someone else told you about. No matter how reliable or instantiated the rumor was that you heard it will never sum up the technicolor wonderland of experiencing another culture first-hand.

Take a chance, find a way, get out there and do some exploring; even if that just means just trying a new Nationality of  food that you haven’t ever considered before. (I dare you to take a look around for a Malaysian restaurant near you and try Nasi Lemak.) See for yourself. I promise you the experience will be worth it.

Mon
5
Sep '11

Ha Long in a day

Be Careful. Everything you can read online about Ha Long Bay says this. It’s for real, you can spend a great deal of money quickly and unnecessarily while experiencing Ha Long Bay.

Upon arriving in Hanoi, Michelle and I were, for the first time since we got them, without our bikes. It was strange and a little sad to be missing two members of the expedition, but the bright side was that we got our passports back as soon as we saw Zofi. I barely had time to take pleasure in the return of another friendly face before Michelle and I were throwing ourselves in to a taxi and riding the two hours to Halong City. This is the expensive way. It cost us upwards of 1.3 million dong.

If you have the time, grab the local transport. buses run this route every day, and are reliable and about as comfortable as one would expect. If you have less than 24 hours to make it to Halong and back to the airport (as did Michelle), then you might just have to pony up and pay the cash.

Once in Halong city, there is a main street that is filled with the same style of hotel that exists everywhere in Vietnam. lots of stairs, decent amenities, really clean floors. The one thing that seems to differ between them is the bathroom. Make sure to see the bathroom in the actual room you will be staying in before you pay.

In the morning, everyone rushes down to the seaside to jump on a boat and go check out the bay. If you are hungry beforehand, check out the little streetside carts in town. Miche and I grabbed some great scrambled egg sandwiches and bahn bao! This was the first time I have ever had this devilish little treat, usually steamed up in a big bin like you see here, and it definitely won’t be the last! Notice the gigantic pipe next to it.

Everyone, honestly everyone, will try to tell you about the “best” way to see the harbor on their friends/brothers/husbands/dentists boat. Don’t fall for it. Just do what you can to book it ahead of time or from a reputable tour group; ask around. If you aren’t leaving from the main dock area, you probably aren’t getting “a deal,” you are most likely about to get really ripped off.

How do we know this? Take a look at Michelle’s face after they told her how much her lunch was going to cost!

In fact, the only good part about lunch was how it started. There are big holding areas of fish that you can select a meal out of. Once your meal is selected, the fishmonger will haul the fish out with a net, drop it on the deck, and then proceed to beating it to deal violently with a giant piece of wood. It is a sight to see.

 

Pay close attention to the price of things. Ask for the price up front and be very clear on whether the price is per fish, or per kilo! Also, ask if there is a service charge.

The bay itself is massive. It’s not surprising that people actually live their entire lives on the water here. If I went out on a boat, I would probably do the same because I would never be able to find my way back again. Both times I have been there, the bay has been completely overcast and misty the whole time. It’s not unpleasant, as the bay is really something beautiful to behold, but it’s rare that you ever get any sun (as in the Top Gear special) from what I have been told.

Another thing you don’t see on top gear are the panhandlers; people asking the rich foreigner for “something for nothing.” In this scenario, the part of the rich foreigner will be played by… you. Contrary to the evidence at hand, my extended sabbatical trip round the world, I like to work. I enjoy being part of a team and building something greater than myself. I also like getting a paycheck. I’ve tipped street performers on almost every continent in the world. Not because I needed to see that guy spit fire, but because he did it for my camera and I thought it was cool. There are even countries where it is ingrained in the culture like bakhshish (bak-SHEESH) in Islamic countries, so you wind up tossing someone a few coins for just about anything. What bothers me is when folks try to bring children into it. It happens over here, too. Might as well get ready for it.

 

A day in Ha Long Bay really isn’t enough (which is why I came back), but if you are short on time, it can be done. Keep your head on straight, always ask the price first, and do what the other tourists are doing… within reason. Realize that, if you are taken out on a private boat, and suddenly one of the crew materializes a briefcase full of jewelry to sell you at “special rates,” that this is likely not the best place to spend your money.

Wrap Up:

  • Check the shuttle and bus times. They run regularly and can be very cheap. You can get a taxi or private car, but it will cost you 10-15 times more, and they may try to get more from you once you are en route.
  • If you stay in a hotel, check the important things first. Visually inspect the bathroom in the room you will actually be sleeping in, and if you are using a computer be sure to connect to the wifi before paying.
  • Book through a reliable hostel or go straight to the dock and sort it out there. You’ll get better service and a better price.
  • Always ask the price ahead of time. If you don’t like it, you can bargain/haggle or just walk away and try someone else. Never assume it is “included.”
  • When someone is begging… consider the situation. If the person is a fisherman by trade, complaining he has no food and lives in a bay on a boat… they may be trying to fleece you.

 

Thu
7
Jul '11

Saigon Tom’s intro to Vietnam

From roughly March, 20, 2011

What a jumpstart… what do I talk about first…

My guide to Saigon, the city actually named Ho Chi Minh City but I think that name sucks so I am calling it Saigon, is a local named Tom. Tom speaks English. He is self taught… from watching porn and talking to tourists. You can imagine what sort of vocabulary that produces.

Tom is awesome.

I’ve spent the last few days caroming around the city with Tom and have never ceased to be in unabated awe of the things that come out of his mouth in front of other humans.

We sang karaoke in the kitchen of the Reunification Palace.

 

He took me to the best park to get local coffee and people watch.

Showed me how to navigate the traffic of Saigon and even experience my first traffic accident with me.

We both watched in awe as our taxi driver took off with my phone in his hand. And then Tom loaned me his stuntphone for the week.

True blue cool.

Tom and I went out on the town the night before Michelle was to arrive to see what would happen… and “happen” things did. Tom immediately began chatting up some western girls we met and we all agreed to meet up at a bar later in the night.

The bar seemed cool from the outside, though once we were inside, it was pretty clear that we shouldn’t be there. Old westerd guys were being doted on everywhere by beautiful Asian girls in tiny outfits. Fun, and harmless enough, but not what we were looking for. Later that night while walking back to my hotel, two girls on a scooter pulled up alongside me on the curb. The one driving spoke pretty good english, though it was clear from the blank looks that the pristinely beautiful young girl on the back did not.

Then it got weird. The girl on the front explained to me that this was her sister on the back. The driver explained to me that the sister was 16 years old and that she was very clean and I could have  her for a one hour “boom-boom” for $20.

Yes, she used the words “boo-boom”.

At this point, my travel radar was going into high alert. I knew that I was somewhere I should not be and talking to people that I did not need to be talking to, so I quickly checked all around me told the girls, No, thanks,” and got the heck out of there and back to relative safety with Tom.

It is due in no small part to Tom’s help that I was able to quickly and efficiently locate and procure the big blue atlas (the best book for the job), and the two steel horses that will transport Michelle and I across the length of this country; from Saigon in the south, to Ha Noi in the north.

 

Thanks to Krystle from PR, my bike was named Dodge, which encompasses the most basic driving survival skill for riding a motorbike in Vietnam. Michelle, when she met hers, christened it, Jenky. I still don’t know what that means.

Michelle landed in textbook fashion: late. Though, since she was only about 30 minutes behind, she was still about 90 minutes early. It’s hard to describe how your heart can seriously grow wings and shoot through the ceiling when you see an old friend after such a long time. It was like winning the lottery.

Michelle was also kind enough to bring me things from the USA. Things I hadn’t seen in a while and I was pretty happy to get my hands on; deodorant, a watch, a helmet. Important things. Survival things.

There is a shortage of deodorant in Asia.

The following day, Michelle and I ran off to the Ku Chi tunnels for a day or surrealism, and went to meet up for a last night in Saigon with our man about town: Saigon Tom.

  

Many hours of beer, hammers, and bowling later, Miche and I bid a lengthy adieu to Tom and went to get some sleep before we started out long journey up the length of the country the following morning.

It was an early day getting out of town, and we spent a bit too much time talking to Kevin, the guy we got the bikes from, but soon enough we put the rubber to the road for the first time on our great adventure together. The air was wet and electric and charged everything around us with a sense of excitement and danger. In retrospect, that could have just been the feeling of being on the road with so many Asian drivers.